#11 – We are spending our vacation with my mom at her house in Carrboro, NC. How can we make her house safer?

Click here to see the prior item in this series:  How can I find information about financial assistance for my parents?

This year, my wife and I decided to spend our vacation with my mom at her house. My brother and his partner will also be there. We’d like to see how we can make the house safer for my mom who is a little frail. How can we make the best use of our time?

You can’t anticipate every problem, but go through the house room by room and check. Some things will need to be taken care of right away. Pay careful attention to your mom—especially how she seems to be and how she manages in her home.

  • If your mom is still driving, can you assess her road skills?
  • How is your mom’s health? Is she taking several medicines? If so, could the pills be better organized?
  • What about her mood: does your mom seem depressed or anxious?

If you feel that your mother is unsafe alone because of her health, make note of which behaviors have become most dangerous and discuss these with her primary caregiver, if there is one, and her doctor. This is one way a long distance caregiver can be helpful. You can provide a fresh look when evaluating the situation. Behavior that is unsafe or unhealthy may have become familiar to the primary caregiver. Discuss your concerns and offer to help adapt the environment to meet your parent’s changing safety needs.

There are a variety of things you can do that will make your mom’s surroundings safer, more accessible, and more comfortable. First, quickly correct any real dangers. Don’t wait until the next visit. Once the urgent issues are addressed, you and your brother can start  working on other ways to make sure your mom will be out of harm’s way. Use these home safety suggestions as a starting point:

  • Are the stairs manageable, or is a ramp needed?
  • Are there any tripping hazards at exterior entrances or inside the house (throw rugs, for example)?
  • Are any repairs needed?
  • Is the house well lit, inside and out? Do any bulbs need to be replaced?
  • Is there at least one stairway handrail that extends beyond the first and last steps on each flight of stairs?
  • Is there carpeting or safety grip strips on stairs?
  • Is there clutter, which can cause disorientation and confusion and increase the risk of falling?
  • Are all walk areas free of furniture and extension and electrical cords?
  • If a walker or wheelchair is needed, can the house be modified? Perhaps putting in a ramp to the front door?
  • Is there food in the fridge? Is any of it spoiled? Are there staple foods (such as cereal, sugar, canned soup) in the cabinets?
  • Are bills being paid? Is mail piling up?
  • Is the house clean?
  • It is sometimes easier to change a place than to change a person. some steps include:
  • Talking with her mom about ways to remember to lock all doors and windows to prevent her dad from wandering.
  • Making sure all potentially harmful items, such as medications, weapons, machinery, or electrical cords are put away in a safe, preferably locked place when they’re not in use.
  • Using child-resistant caps on medicine bottles, childproof latches on cabinets, and childproof plugs in unused outlets.

Click here to see the next item in this series:  How can I keep up with my mom’s medical care?

Acorn wishes to acknowledge the National Institute on Aging for this valuable content.


Within Acorn’s service area of Chapel Hill, Durham and surrounding areas in North Carolina (Carrboro, Hillsborough, Pittsboro, Morrisville, Cary, and Apex) the following resources may be especially helpful:

  • Orange County Department on Aging, 2551 Homestead Road, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27516, (919) 968-2070
  • Durham Center for Senior Life, 406 Rigsbee Avenue – Suite 202, Durham, North Carolina   27701, (919) 688-8247
  • Chatham County Council on Aging, 365 North Carolina 87, Pittsboro, North Carolina   27312, (919) 542-4512
  • Triangle J Area Agency on Aging, 4307 Emperor Boulevard
- Suite 110, Durham, NC 27703, 919-558-2711
  • Resources for Seniors (Wake County), 1110 Navaho Dr.  – Suite 400, Raleigh, NC 27609, 919-872-7933