‘Tis the season for all kinds of company.

If you are among the 76 million baby boomers in the United States who soon will be expecting that special visitor in the big red suit, it might be wise to take the time not only to “kid proof” but also 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.

The Home Safety Council, a North Wilkesboro, N.C.-based organization focused on home safety and education, recommends injury-proofing your home to reduce slips, falls and other common holiday-related injuries that occur to seniors. 

“Slips and falls remain the number one cause of unintentional injury and deaths in the home for Americans age 65 and older,” said David Oliver, former president and executive director of the Home Safety Council.

“Let’s face it . . . toys, decorations and winter weather combine to create an extremely high-risk period for seniors who are already prone to slips and falls. It’s important to take the time to rid homes of potential hazards so your parents spend the holidays in your living room, not in the emergency room.”

Kathee (CQ) Henning, Home Safety Council board member, said she takes inventory before her folks, Clyde and Molly, arrive for a visit. Clyde is legally blind and Molly has arthritis.

“I’m one of those kids who fell and cracked their head on a coffee table with corners,” Kathee said. “Before my folks arrive, I try to put a 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 non-skid 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.  

“This is also the time of the year when extension cords and extra electrical devices crowd living spaces,” Oliver said. “Make sure that cords are not placed in walkways where they become a tripping hazard.

“And, an extra nightlight to a bathroom or hallway is another simple tip to help guests find their way in the middle of the night.”

Chances of falling are also 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. “Some older persons don’t notice how trees can get so dry so quickly, and thus become a fire hazard.”

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

Looking for a special touch? Lindsay Steenblock, owner-operator of Laguna Beach, Calif.-based County Clare Interiors, is a big believer in displaying family pictures when family members come to stay. Parents especially enjoy and appreciate pictures of special moments with the hosting children or grandchildren.

“Old pictures can be copied, cut and placed on cardboard to make terrific tree ornaments,” Steenblock said. “If specific members of the family are visiting, pull out old pictures of them and place them on the mantle. Everybody will notice.”

To get even more valuable advice from Tom, visit his Second Home Center.

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