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Real Estate & Home

Holiday safety tips when hosting parents, older guests

12/12/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Tom Kelly

Gimme Shelter

We often host an older friend who prefers to stay up late at night to check college sports scores and catch the monologue of a particular TV celebrity. For years, we’ve put him in the only bedroom that features a TV.

On a recent visit, I grabbed his suitcase and computer from the car and stowed it in his usual digs. Returning to the kitchen, I was surprised by his request.

“If it’s OK, maybe I could take that little room next to the bathroom,” he said. “Getting up more now in the middle of the night.”

We learned during his visit that he not only needed to use the facilities more often, but was embarrassed to turn on the lights in the hallway while getting there.

The holidays can bring all kinds of company. If you are among the 76 million baby boomers in the United States who could soon be hosting parents or a member of the younger generation, it might be wise to take the time to “parent proof” your home for the holidays.

Hosting parents or older guests, especially those scheduled to stay overnight for the first time, requires particular preparation. Homey seasonal touches can make friends and family feel welcome, yet safety is often an underestimated issue.

Lowe’s Home Safety Council, an organization focusing on home safety and education, recommends injury-proofing your home to reduce slips, falls and other common holiday-related injuries that occur to seniors. 

According to the Council, slips and falls remain the No. 1 cause of unintentional injury and deaths in the home for Americans age 65 and older. Toys, decorations and winter weather combine to create an extremely high-risk period for seniors who are already prone to stumbling.

Kathleen Henning, an emergency management consultant, said she always took time to prepare and make sure her folks spent time enjoying the holidays in her home and not in the emergency room.

“I’m one of those kids who fell and cracked their head on a coffee table with corners,” Henning said. “Before my folks arrived, I’d put any table like that away and replace it with one with rounded corners. Seniors can bump into things very easily, and I think it’s important to try to minimize the chances of injury.”

According to the Home Safety Council, nearly 11,000 Americans are injured in the home every holiday season. Here are some tips to help create a safer home for older guests:

  • Ensure ample lighting in all hallways and stairways, both inside and out.
  • Check all handrails and tighten loose railings.
  • Inspect stairs for worn or loose carpeting and make any necessary repairs.
  • Secure rugs to the floor with double-sided tape or rug gripper pads to avoid slips and trips.
  • Arrange furniture so that it is out of high-traffic areas.
  • Keep stairs free of obstacles, such as toys, plants or decorations.
  • Install grab bars and safety rails in the bathroom. Temporary products exist that can be installed when guests arrive and removed after their departure.
  • Apply nonskid strips or bathmats to bathtub surfacing
  • Never use towel racks or wall-mounted soap dishes as grab bars — they can easily come loose and cause a fall.
  • Clear all snow and ice by salting and sanding walkways leading into the house.

Chances of falling also are increased by illness, fatigue, haste, use of alcohol and even prescription drugs. The best method of prevention is observation, so keep a watchful eye on senior guests and assist them as necessary.

Henning suggested increasing the wattage of fluorescent kitchen lights and also advised caution when selecting large, natural Christmas trees.

“Some seniors have problems with asthma, and natural trees can sometimes spark a reaction,” Henning said.

Henning’s home features electrical figurines instead of holiday candles, lighter-weight pots and pans (to better facilitate her parents’ cooking), seasonal potholders and liquid soap in pump containers for all washbasins and tubs.


Tom Kelly, former real estate editor for The Seattle Times, is a syndicated columnist and talk-show host.

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