Home Safety

Parkinson’s disease (PD) can affect mobility.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) symptoms often impact daily life. From mobility challenges — such as PD-related tripping or “freezing” episodes that can lead to falls — to vision changes. Adapting your home to create a safer environment can lower the risk of PD-related injuries and keep you aging in place.

Below we highlight practical, PD-tailored tips that you can make around the home. Additionally, talk to your doctor about scheduling a Home Safety Evaluation — an in-home occupational therapist safety assessment — to help provide you with personalized recommendations that can help.

Aging in Place

Safely living independently and in your own home as you age is called “aging in place.” While not as simple as just staying put, with enough planning for the future it entirely possible.

Every senior adult must consider mobility issues, staying safe physically, nearby services, social support, transportation issues, along with present and future medical needs to continue aging in place. Living with Parkinson’s adds extra levels of considerations.

As you modify and adapt your home, keep in mind that you should always be prepared for an emergency. How will you call a family member or 911 if you fall? Learn more about assistive technology and devices that can help, and talk to your doctor and occupational therapy about creating the best plan.

Learn more with our Aging In Place podcast episode.

Home Safety Tour Checklist

Follow a Home Safety Considerations checklist to ease movement in the home and ensure that your home is safe and easily accessible.

Throughout the House

  • Remove clutter to decrease risk of tripping and falls, such as rugs.
  • Make sure floors are stable with non-skid surfaces. Avoid excessive patterns.
  • Ensure all furniture is secure, sturdy and does not swivel. Chairs should be stable, have arm rests and adequate seat height to make standing up easier.
  • Create good lighting throughout the home to minimize dark or shadowy areas. Adjust blinds and shades to minimize glare.
  • Create wide walking paths for easy access and the use of a walker or wheelchair, if needed.
  • Keep all electrical cords out of the way so as to not become a tripping or fall risk while walking and moving.
  • Install smoke alarms in all rooms (especially bedroom and kitchen), with fully charged batteries.

Bedroom

  • Raise bed height to allow feet to touch floor when seated at bedside.
  • Use a half side rail or bed pole to help with rolling and getting up.
  • Make lighting easily accessible, to avoid walking around the room in the dark.
    • Place lamps where they can be easily turned on and off.
    • Use a bright nightlight to fully light the way to the bathroom.
    • Place a flashlight by your bed in case of a power outage.
  • Make a bedside commode or urinal available for nighttime use if needed.
  • Place clothing rods at an easy-to-reach height, ensure the closet is well-lit and clothes are in dressers that allow access without stooping or bending.
  • Use smooth carpets and rugs to create a safe walking surface and minimize falls.
  • Place a telephone and clock on the nightstand for easy nighttime access.
  • Place slippery fabric or a draw sheet on the middle third of the bed to make rolling easier.
  • Remove the top sheet. Instead, use a lightweight comforter.
  • Avoid flannel sheets and nightwear.

Bathroom

Most falls take place in the bathroom because of difficulty getting on and off the toilet and in and out of the tub; difficulty seeing due to poor lighting; slipping on wet surfaces; tripping on throw rugs; or getting dizzy while standing up from the toilet. Make sure the following safety measures are in place, and check the Bathing & Grooming page for more details.

  • Install grab bars near the toilet, tub and shower: no location should require use of towel racks, faucets or soap dishes as grab bars.
  • Ensure the toilet has an elevated seat and arm rests or grab bar within easy reach.
  • Add a sturdy bench with back support to the tub or shower for safety.
  • Make seating available to perform tasks such as brushing teeth or shaving.
  • Place light switches near the door to avoid walking into a dark area.
  • Keep floors unwaxed and debris free.

Kitchen

Cooking is often a multi-step process. People living with Parkinson’s may have difficulty safely managing kitchen tasks. Balance changes can make opening refrigerator and oven doors harder and falls can occur when trying to reach high shelves or carry objects from counter to table. Try these tips to use your kitchen in a safe, manageable way.

  • Install cabinet handles rather than knobs to make it easier to open and close cupboard doors.
  • Store commonly used items in easily accessible drawers to avoid the need to reach or bend over to find them.
  • Place items used for cooking, such as spices, pots and pans, near the stove to avoid reaching over the stove, which may cause burns.
  • Use a single handle sink faucet, which is easier to control and turn on and off.
  • Grab items on high shelves with a long-handled reacher.

Stairway

  • Keep steps clutter free.
  • Steps should be non-skid surfaces, in good shape and can be blocked for safety if needed.
  • Ensure that there is adequate lighting on steps.
  • Install handrails on at least one side of the steps. Handrails two to three inches from the wall permit good grasp.
  • If you cannot use a walker, cane or mobility aid on the steps, make sure you have two: keep one at the bottom of the stairs and one at the top of the stairs.
  • Install a ramp over the steps when possible if you cannot safely climb steps.
  • Put brightly colored tape on the top and bottom steps to signal the beginning and end of the steps.

Home Renovations and Adaptations

If you are in the process of renovating your current home, or building your dream home, here are some PD-tailored modifications that can help make life easier:

  • Kitchen: design additional space between kitchen cabinets and island for easy maneuvering. Plan to have a continuous surface between the sink and the stove for easy transfer from one to the other.
  • Bathroom: consider zero entry showers and slip resistant flooring in all wet zones.
  • Doors: install pocket and sliding barn doors for ease of movement for those with limited dexterity. Smooth thresholds from one space to the next.
  • Hallways: wide hallways and entry points for easy access, whether by foot or by wheelchair.
  • Windows: optimizing windows and their placement to allow for maximum natural light.
  • Outdoor spaces: install awnings or a cover to enjoy outdoor spaces with UV and weather protection.
  • Ramp access: design points of entry for optional future ramps.
  • Electrical: raise outlets to 36” in selected places for limited motion use.
  • Floorplan: create open spaces that can evolve to your needs — they can serve as an office, exercise space or guest room. Design a plan for dual owner suite opportunity to accommodate a family member or caregiver. Consider creating a private exterior entry, separated from the main living spaces for a sense of privacy.
  • Garage: design to accommodate vehicle with wheelchair lift, with a large side opening with sliding barn doors for easy entry/exit.
  • Exterior updates: when it is time to paint the exterior of your home consider a paint with minimal maintenance that inhibits mold and mildew to grow on the surface.

General Safety

  • Use of power tools: Tremor combined with balance and coordination changes can impact safe use of power tools, even if you have used them for a long time. Slowed reaction time can also lead to safety concerns. Consider all factors when deciding if using power tools is safe for you.
  • Ladders and step stools: PD-related reductions in balance skills and protective reflexes increase fall risk. Avoid climbing, whether on ladders, step stools or chairs.

Resources

  • AARP HomeFit Guide: A free publication that features smart ways to make a home comfortable, safe and a great fit for older adults — and people of all ages
  • Find your local Area Agency on Aging
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