If your house is home to either a small child or an aging relative, one of your highest priorities should be making sure that the home is as safe for them as possible. It can be overwhelming to think of the changes you may need to make to reduce risks. The truth is it is easier than most people think, and we have many quick resources to help.
Still, sadly, thousands of home accidents happen every year involving children and seniors alike that could have been avoided by taking simple precautionary actions.
However, by paying careful attention to your home’s possible risks, and following a few simple guidelines, you can rest assured that everyone living under your roof is safe and sound.
Baby Proofing Basics
When our daughter was born, we immediately felt anxious at the thought of her soon crawling around our apartment. Everyday things such as loose cables and low-hanging curtains were once harmless. Now they seemed suddenly frightening.
While it was daunting getting started, we learned quickly that most risks were easy to remove or block. While I highly recommend conducting some thorough research on baby proofing (see more baby proofing tips here), it’s also a good idea to spend some time crawling around your own floor yourself to get an idea of what your little adventurer may find himself getting into. You might feel silly doing it, but it’s the best way to scope out any hidden risks unique to your own home.
The good news about newborns is that they won’t be crawling for several months. But well before that time comes, you’ll want to have covered these 6 basic areas:
1. Make sure your home is current on all general precautions.
- Check the batteries on smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. If you don’t have them, get them.
- Be sure to have on hand an easily accessible first aid kit, burn kit, a fire extinguisher. Attach emergency contact numbers to your fridge, not just in your phone’s contacts.
- Have flashlights in easy to find places (and make sure they have batteries) in the event of power outages, and be sure to secure furniture to the wall—especially if you live in an area more prone to earthquakes.
2. Electrical and burn safety
- Plug up all unused outlets. Tie cables neatly and keep them out of reach.
- Keep all appliances out of reach, and a safe distance from the edge of your counter.
- If you use a fireplace or a wood stove to heat your home, never leave your child near it unattended. The best option is to fence them away from the room it is in. But do not rely solely on flimsy fireplace screens—they can be easily pushed over and are virtually unsafe.
3. Kitchen safety
- Try to avoid using the closest burner.
- Also, it’s never too early to install preventative latches. Most importantly, install an oven door latch, knob covers, and door latches on all accessible cabinet drawers and doors, especially those with sharp objects.
- You can keep a couple cabinets with safer contents, such as plastic storage containers, unlocked for the kid to play with so that it does not feel locked out of everything.
4. Choking and drowning hazards
- Exercise extreme caution when taking your daily meds—a dropped pill can be hard to find and may cause harm to your baby if swallowed. Familiarize yourself with the most recent First Aid Guidelines, as well as the Heimlich .
- Store away toys that are for older children, and regularly check current toys to make sure they have no broken parts. Balloons are fun, but be careful with them because babies can easily choke on the pieces once they’ve burst.
- Ask your pediatrician which foods to avoid once baby can start eating solids, and always keep an eye on them as they eat.
- Keep all cleaning supplies and other chemicals locked in a latched cabinet, and laundry chemicals stored up high.
- Never remove the labels of your chemicals, and never leave open bottles out.
- It’s also advisable to shop around for alternative cleaning supplies that use vinegar based solutions rather than dangerous toxins.
6. Sleep Safety
- Keep baby on the back, with no loose items in the crib or bassinet.
- If baby sleeps in a different room, use a reliable baby monitor.
- If using a sleep sack or swaddler, be sure that it is made from a breathable material to avoid overheating. Remember that babies don’t always let you know when they are too warm.
Basics of Home Safety for Aging Relatives
Opening your home to an aging parent is one of the most beautiful loving things you can do for them. It may not be the best option for everyone, but if you find yourself taking that route, there are a few things you’ll need to take care of to decrease their risk of falls or other injuries in your home. Again, it is advised to spend some real time researching this as well as assessing bigger questions about the construction of your house, such as: Are your doorways wide enough for a walker or wheelchair to fit through? Or will you need to install a ramp or two if stairs are an issue? It may warrant more help than what you can do on your own. If this is the case, you can get help from a Certified Aging in Place Specialist.
But there are many simple steps you can take. Consider these 2 basic areas as a starting point for reducing risk in your home:
1. Fall Prevention
The biggest risk of injury at home in seniors is falling. You can take these steps to reduce those risks:
- Declutter all pathways, in every room. Break habits of dropping clothes, piling up shoes, etc. in walkways. Avoid plants, decorative display tables in hallways, etc. Keep floors as clear as possible at all times.
- Remove rugs, especially those that are thin and have little traction.
- Use strips of brightly colored tape to mark areas where the floor may change from tile to carpet, carpet to wood, etc.
- Improve the lighting in your home. Things that you can see clearly may go unnoticed to them and pose fall risks.
2. Make bathroom and kitchen more accessible and safe.
- Install an accessible shower or tub that does not have to be stepped over. Also install rails and support bars (or have a professional help you if you’re unsure how).
- Make sure all the pertinent contents of the bathroom or kitchen cabinets/drawers are clearly marked so they don’t have trouble reading the labels and use the wrong items by mistake.
- Also make sure your faucets are clearly marked with “hot” and “cold” labels to avoid scalding.
If your aging relative happens to have dementia or Alzheimer, see this list of further tips to help make your home safe for them.
Further useful articles:
- A Guide to Baby Swimming
- Should You Make Your Own Organic Baby Food?
- Moving a Parent In: Creating Boundaries and Expectations