By Dr. Marion Somers, Ph. D., Ask Dr. Marion

QUESTION: I have heard that most accidents involving the elderly happen in the home. My parents are approaching their 80s. What can I do to make their house a safer place to live? Jen in Alaska, 55

ANSWER: That's true. It's more likely one of your parents will be injured in their bathroom than anywhere else. Many elderly residing at home have endured unsafe living conditions for so long that they are blind to the potential dangers all around them. You can make their home much safer by following a few simple steps.

I recommend you add grab bars in the shower, and affix non-skid adhesives to the bottom of the tub. Even a raised toilet seat can be a huge blessing for older knees. Broken bones and bruises are sure to follow if you don't address my #1 pet peeve: scatter rugs! They are an accident waiting to happen. Get rid of them. If they hold sentimental value or are in good condition, affix a sticky rubber adhesive backing so the rugs don't slip and slide around. If they have significant value, store them away and out of sight.

I usually recommend that a professional installation expert be brought in to install grab bars. But if you or your husband is already a skilled handyperson, feel free to execute these steps yourself. It will usually get done quicker if you don't have to hire anyone. Surgical supply stores often have someone who will properly install the safety bars if needed.

Check that all of the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in perfect condition. Many of them have not had new batteries in years. Also check the wiring to all of the lamps. Often, you will find at least one frayed wire that could cause a fire. Many electrical outlets are overloaded and can shoot sparks. That problem is easily remedied by purchasing surge suppressor strips. Check all bulbs in the home and increase their wattage where possible so it is easier for your elder to see. Be sure that any sharp edge or glass table is thoroughly protected and padded. You'd be surprised how often the elderly bump into these items and do real damage to themselves.

We often hear and read about "childproofing" safety tips. I think it's a shame that "elderproofing" doesn't get the same amount of attention. It should also be required. It's up to you to be proactive. You can make your elder's living environment much safer with a little effort and a lot of common sense. Good luck.

©2006 Elder Health Resources of America, Inc.