Safe, Comfortable Housing for the Elderly

Service in Action
  • Kirby, Sarah D.

Quick Facts
  • The basic need for housing is protection from the elements and intruders.
  • Front and back doors should have strong dead bolt locks.
  • Post emergency numbers and your address by each telephone.
  • Set the thermostat of the water heater at 120 degrees F or lower to prevent accidental scalding.
  • As a reminder to keep the smoke alarm working, change the batteries on your birthday.
  • Keep a lamp or flashlight and telephone within reach of your bed.
  • Make sure handrails are sturdy and securely fastened.


Our homes fulfill many needs for us. Often, the most basic need is for housing to protect us from the elements and intruders. Once we are warm and secure, other needs arise. Comfort and a place for self-expression is vital for our well-being. Home gives a feeling of independence. Our home should also be a place that is safe from accidents and injuries.


One must feel safe and secure in order to be able to relax, so be security conscious. Front and back doors should have strong dead bolt locks. If your situation allows, install a burglar alarm system. A "peephole" for all your outside doors is a good idea so you can see who is at the door before you open it. The peephole should be installed at the proper height for you. The peephole should also allow you to see a range of 180 degrees from side to side.


Not only should your home offer physical comfort, but it should provide emotional comfort as well. Surround yourself with things you like. These could be items from the past. Retrieve mementos from attics and old trunks that stir pleasant memories. There are many suitable places in today's world for objects and pictures from the past.


Home accidents are a major source of injuries and can cause death. The elderly are especially vulnerable to serious injuries from home accidents. Older bones are often less dense and more brittle, causing them to break more easily. A simple fall can become a serious, disabling injury that limits independence.

As we age, our senses of sight, touch, hearing, and smell tend to decline. Our physical abilities are reduced, making it more difficult for us to perform certain tasks such as stretching, lifting, and bending. In addition to these declines, we also experience a slowing of judgment and reaction time. As a result, we cannot respond as quickly as when we were younger. These normal changes in perception, physical abilities, and judgment make us more prone to accidents. Taking simple precautions and making adjustments in our home can help insure a safe, accident-free home.

On the following pages, you will find a series of checklists. Use the lists as you go through your home. Make a check mark next to those items or behaviors that you have. If there are some items that you do not check, then your home is not as safe as it could be. By improving those items not marked, you can make your home a safer and more comfortable place to live.

General Safety

____ Emergency numbers and your address are posted by each telephone.

____ Telephone can be reached from the floor.

____ Inside and outside door handles and locks are easily operated.

____ Lever-action door handles are used instead of round knobs.

____ Door thresholds are removed or are low and beveled.

____ Windows are easily opened from the inside, but have a secure locking system that can prevent someone from entering from the outside.

____ The thermostat of the water heater is set at 120 degrees F or lower to prevent accidental scalding.

____ Medications are stored in a safe place according to instructions on the label of the package or container.

____ Carpeting and rugs are not worn or torn.

____ Small, loose rugs have non-skid backing and are not placed in traffic areas of the home.

____ Appliances, lamps and cords are clean and in good condition.

____ There are no exposed bulbs in lamps or fixtures that can cause glare.

____ All electrical equipment bears the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label.

____ Enough outlets are located where they are needed in every room.

____ Electrical overload protection is provided by circuit breakers, fuses or ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI).

____ If the house contains do-it-yourself wiring, the wiring has been checked for safety. (A municipal electrical inspector or an electrical contractor can do this for you.)

____ Electrical service has enough capacity to serve the house. (It is up to code. You can call your municipal electrical inspector to have the wiring in your house checked.)

____ Extension cords do not carry more than their proper load as indicated on the cord or appliance.

____ Electrical cords are placed out of the flow of traffic and out from underneath rugs and furniture.

____ Smoke alarms are present in the home and are in working order. One idea to help you remember to change the batteries is to replace them on your birthday.


____ The range and sink areas are well lighted.

____ If you have a gas range, it is equipped with pilot lights and an automatic cut-off in the event of flame failure. (Your local utility service representative can check this for you.)

____ The range is not located under a window with curtains which might fall onto a burner.

____ If you have an exhaust hood for the oven, it is provided with easily removable filters for proper cleaning.

____ The kitchen exhaust system is internally vented, discharges directly outside, or discharges through ducts to the outside and not into the attic or other unused space.

____ Countertop space and height is ample to keep carrying and lifting to a minimum.

____ Kitchen wall cabinets are not too high to be easily reached.

____ Lighting of counter tops is enough for meal preparation.

____ The light switch is located near the door.

____ Shiny or glaring work surfaces are not used.

____ Oven controls are clearly marked and easily grasped.

____ Oven controls are located on the front or side of the oven.

____ A single-lever mixing faucet is used.

____ Flooring is safe and non-slip.

____ When cooking, you turn pan handles away from other burners and the edge of the range.

____ When cooking, you avoid wearing garments with long, loose sleeves.

____ Hot pads and pan holders are kept near the range.

____ The exhaust fan is turned on when using the range.

____ If you have a microwave oven, operate it only when there is food in it. Use potholders to avoid burns.

____ Small appliances are unplugged when not in use.

____ Knives are kept in a knife rack or drawer.

____ Counter tops and work areas are cleared of all unnecessary objects.

____ Drawers and cupboards are kept closed.

____ A stepladder or step-stool is used rather than a chair to reach objects in overhead cabinets.

____ Grease or liquid spills are wiped up at once.

Stairways and Halls

____ Steps are in good condition and are free of objects.

____ Steps have non-skid strips or the carpeting on them is securely fastened and free of fraying or holes.

____ Smoke detectors are in place in hallways and near sleeping area.

____ Hallways and bathrooms are equipped with night-lights.

____ Sturdy handrails are on both sides of stairway and are securely fastened.

____ Light switches are located at the top and bottom of stairways and at both ends of long hallways.

____ Inside doors do not swing out over stair steps.

____ There is enough overhead space in the stairway to avoid bumping your head.

____ Room entrances do not have raised door thresholds.

____ It is easy to see the leading edge or nosing of each stair tread while walking down stairs.

____ Stairways and hallways are well lighted.

Living Room

____ Electrical cords are placed along walls (not under rugs) and away from traffic areas.

____ Chairs and couches are sturdy and secure.

____ Chairs and couches are not too low or too deep to get in and out of easily.

____ Chairs and couches have full arms to aid in sitting or rising.

____ The light switch is located near the door.

____ There is enough space to walk through the room, leaving clear passage ways for traffic.

____ Furniture that might be used for support when walking or rising is steady and does not tilt.


____ The bathtub or shower has non-skid mat or strips on the standing area.

____ Bathtub or shower doors are glazed with safety glass or plastic.

____ Grab bars are installed on the walls by the bathtub and toilet.

____ The towel bars and the soap dish in the shower stall are made of durable materials and are firmly installed.

____ A single-lever mixing faucet is used, or you have faucet handles that are easy to grasp.

____ Bathroom flooring is matte-finished, textured tile, or low pile commercial carpet (not throw rugs or bathmats).

____ Bathroom has even lighting without glare.

____ The light switch is located near the door.

____ The bathroom door opens outward.

____ The bathroom has a safe supplemental heat source and ventilation system.

____ The outlets are ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) that protect against electric shock.


____ A lamp or flashlight is kept within reach of your bed.

____ A night light is used to brighten the way to the bathroom at night.

____ Plenty of room is left for you to walk around the bed.

____ You have an adequate-sized nightstand or small table for the telephone, glasses or other important items.

____ There is a sturdy chair with arms where you can sit to dress.

____ Wall-to-wall low pile carpeting or a smooth surface floor covering is installed.

____ You use a bedroom on the first floor of the home.

____ A telephone jack is installed in the room.

Outdoor Area

____ Steps and walkways are in good condition.

____ Handrails are sturdy and securely fastened.

____ Doorways, steps, porches and walkways have good lighting.

____ Porches, balconies, terraces, window wells and other heights or depressions are protected by railings, closed with banisters, closed with fences, closed with accordion gates, or are otherwise protected.

____ Hedges, trees, or shrubs do not hide the view of the street from the driveway.

____ Garage doors are easy for you to operate, even when snow is piled against them.

____ The garage is adequately ventilated.

  • American Association of Retired Persons. (1985). The Do-Able Renewable Home. AARP: Washington, DC.
  • American Red Cross. (1984). Independent Living Services. Home Safety.
  • Boschetti, M. A. (1990). Reflections on Home: Implications for Housing Design for Elderly Persons. Housing and Society 17 (3), pp. 57-65.
  • Brent, E. E. and Brent, R. S. (1987). ERHAP: An artificial intelligence expert system for assessing the housing of elderly residents. Housing and Society 14 (3), pp. 215-230.
  • Golant, S. M. (1986). Subjective housing assessments by the elderly: A critical information source for planning and program evaluation. The Gerontologist 26 (2), pp. 122-127.
  • Herman, G. As We Grow Older...Housing Needs in Later Years. North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.
  • Howell, S. C. (1985). Home: A source of meaning in elder's lives. Generations 9 (3) pp. 58-60.
  • Raschko, B. B. (1982). Housing Interiors for the Elderly and Disabled. Van Nostrand Reinhold: New York, NY.
  • Stoppard, M. (1983). The Best Years of Your Life. Dorling Kindersly Limited: London.
  • U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. (1985). Home Safety Checklist for Older Consumers. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (Office of Human Development Services Administration on Aging).
  • Weisman, J. Housing as We Grow Older: Design Considerations for a Supportive Environment. Cooperative Extension Services of the Northeast States.

Publication #: 9.913

Service in Action 9.913, Cooperative Extension, Colorado State University. Published June 1992. Reviewed October 1992. Copyright 1992. For more information, contact your county Cooperative Extension office.

Sarah Drummond Kirby, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension housing specialist. Reprinted with permission from Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension.

Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More