How to Prevent the Leading Cause of Death Among Seniors

Renovating the Home to Provide a Safe Living Environment

Seniors at Home

In our Elder Law practice, many of our client’s most pressing concern is their ability to remain in their home for as long as possible.  In some cases, this desire proves to be impossible because of health issues beyond the client’s control.  For example, a severe stroke that causes paralysis may require almost constant attention that just cannot be provided in a home environment.  However, many of our clients end up unable to continue to live at home because of preventable conditions.  An example of this would be where a person’s health requires they be in a wheel chair, but their household bathroom is too small and therefore inaccessible.  Another example is where the house itself contains tripping hazards that lead to falls which in turn lead to long hospitalizations and possibly nursing home stays.

If a person desires to stay in their home for as long as possible, it is vitally important to make the home into a safe place that will be well suited as the person ages.  Contained in this articles are suggestions and ideas that can be used now to make sure your home will be safe in the future.

One of the biggest risks to seniors is falling.  In fact, falls are the leading cause of death among individuals over age 65.  In an effort to prevent falling, you should consider taking any or all of the following steps:

Remove hazards around the home

  • Remove all rugs, clutter, low furniture such as coffee tables and ottomans, and electrical cords that run across walkways.
  • Increase the lighting in the home with stronger light bulbs and night lights, and have these controlled with remote controls or added switches for convenience.
  • Remove plush carpeting and slick flooring such as tile and replace with commercial grade low-pile carpet or non-slip vinyl.
  • Reduce the water temperature of the hot water heater to 120  or below.
  • Replace circular door knobs with lever action handles
  • Place telephones in each room and close to the ground.  Also, place emergency numbers next to each phone.


  • Install secure grab bars in the bathtub or shower and near the toilet.
  • Replace faucets with single lever controls that are easy to operate.
  • Place non-slip mats on any slick standing surface.
  • Consider replacing existing bathtubs with walk in tubs or showers with built-in seats.


  • Move all items from higher shelves to lower shelves and discard stepping stools.
  • Consider replacing gas appliances with electric appliances.
  • Replace faucets with single lever controls that are easy to operate.
  • Ensure the refrigerator shelves are accessible and remove outdated foods.  Move foods to the middle so they are not too low nor too high.
  • Replace any difficult to use appliance with easier to use alternatives, for example, electric can openers.


  • First of all, if you live in home with multiple stories, consider moving before your age makes these areas of the home inaccessible.
  • Make sure stairways have adequate light.
  • Install or reinforce handrails as necessary.
  • Do not have a door that swings out over a staircase.  Reinstall any such doors so that they open inward.
  • Ensure steps have a non-slip surface.
  • If you are a care giver for someone who may wander, consider making stairs inaccessible with locks or gates.

Living areas

  • Raise the height of chairs and couches to make them easier to get in and out of.
  • Use firmer cushions so that you do not sink into the furniture.
  • Consider lift chairs if standing is difficult.
  • Remove the wheels from any chair.  If you cannot remove the wheels, discard the chair.


  • Your bedroom should be on the first floor of your home.  If it is not, consider moving to a first floor room or remodeling to convert a first floor space into a bedroom.
  • Have a flashlight or lamp easily reachable from the bed.
  • Make sure night stands are large enough for all of your bedside objects (telephone, glasses, etc.)
  • Place a sturdy chair with arm rests near where you dress.
  • Install night lights to provide a clear path from the bed to the bathroom at night.

Garage and outdoors

  • Avoid any steps or other obstacles at the doorways.  If necessary, consider installing ramps.
  • There should be adequate outdoor lighting to provide clear paths.
  • Trim and hedges or trees so that they do not block windows.
  • Install easy to operate electric garage door openers.
  • Have salt or sand available for icy conditions and a friend or neighbor willing to sprinkle it on sidewalks and driveways.
  • Consider covering smooth concrete garage floors with non-slip coating and clean oil or other spills immediately.
  • If yard maintenance becomes difficult, hire someone.
  • Repair any cracks in the sidewalks or driveways that could cause a fall.


It is not possible to prevent all accidents. However, planning ahead can prevent many of the most common accidents, which in turn means safely staying in your home longer. Although the initial cost of some of the suggestions in this article may be significant, they pale in comparison to the cost of an extended stay in a skilled nursing center. The more you can do now to protect yourself, the better off you will be in the future.


Lisa Shoalmire, J.D., M.Tax.  a senior partner of the Ross & Shoalmire, LLP Elder Law Firm, is a senior advocate and Elder Law attorney.  Lisa’s practice is centered on protecting the rights of seniors and the disabled. She holds a Juris Doctorate and a Masters of Taxation from Baylor University and a Certified Public Accounting certificate from the State of Louisiana. Lisa is licensed to practice law in Texas and Arkansas and she is a member of the Board of Directors for Opportunities, Inc. and the Texarkana Community Foundation.  Lisa’s unique knowledge of the interaction between special needs planning, trusts, and asset protection planning has allowed her to assist countless families in maintaining the highest quality of life for themselves or their loved ones. Lisa is also a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.   Lisa is the co-host of the Aging Insight radio program Saturdays from Noon to 1:00p.m. on 98.5 FM  Texarkana and the Aging Insight television program on KLFI-TV Channel 10 Texarkana.