What you should know about home safety assessments
HealthMarkets helps ease your worries about home safety with this guide to in-home evaluations, which may be covered by your insurance.
You may think of your home as a safe place. It’s also a source of pride, comfort and an endless supply of memories. And the last thing you want to do is leave it. The idea of moving to a retirement community or senior living facility is still far off, at least in your mind.
But as you get older, your home can turn into an obstacle course. Maybe you’re having more trouble getting around, so you’re not tidying up as often. And you come close to tripping over that stack of magazines. Or you forgot the last time you got your boiler serviced, and it started to leak. That was a close one.
Your home can turn into a daily challenge if it’s not safe. And things can get dangerous quickly. Case in point: In the United States, home accidents injure someone every 4 seconds and kill someone every 16 minutes. And many of those accidents can be prevented.
That’s where a home safety assessment comes into play. It can help identify potential problems such as falling hazards and poor air quality. What’s more, it can identify fixes, some of which may be surprisingly easy and inexpensive. Here’s what you need to know.
Need more information about where to get a home safety assessment? Call a licensed insurance agent at (800) 827-9990 to discuss your options.
How do I know if my home needs a safety check?
If you’re older and are worried that your home isn’t as safe as it used to be, you’re probably right. If you’re not very steady on your feet or are recovering from surgery, your home can become a place of hidden dangers that can cause falls. Those dangers include things such as:
- General clutter
- Loose rugs
- Sidewalks and stairs in need of repair
- Slippery bathroom floors, bathtubs or showers
- Steep staircases
In fact, a quarter of adults ages 65 and older fall every year. While most people come away with just a few bruises and wounded dignity, 1 in 5 falls result in serious injuries such as a head wound or broken bone. Falls are responsible for nearly all hip fractures and are one of the top causes of traumatic brain injuries.
But falls aren’t the only danger. Faulty wiring could lead to a fire, for example, and a faulty furnace could expose you to deadly carbon monoxide.
What is a home safety assessment?
A home safety assessment is when an expert or provider comes into your home and looks at everything thoroughly. That includes both inside and outside your house. They’ll also look at you and how you get around in your home and function in it, notes Kara Welke, O.T.D. She’s the owner of Next Level Occupational Therapy in Grand Forks, North Dakota, which teaches therapy professionals to conduct assessments.
With older adults, home safety assessments focus heavily on fall risk. But they could also look at other things, such as checking that your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order and even how your kitchen cabinets are organized.
Often, the person doing the assessment will ask you to demonstrate how you do different activities, such as getting out of your favorite chair or stepping into and out of the shower. That could also include how difficult it is to get things out of your refrigerator. Again, what’s important is how you function — as in the way you physically take care of tasks and get around — in your house.
Sometimes the person doing your assessment may suggest substantial changes, but sometimes they won’t. “I’ve been to homes where I’m like, ‘This is a train wreck,’ but how they’re functioning and completing their daily activities is working for them and is safe,” Welke says. “So making a change might be more detrimental to them.”
How long does a home safety assessment take?
Welke says you can often expect a home safety assessment to take about an hour. “But it can definitely take a lot longer than that,” she says, “and it can take maybe more than 1 session, depending on the client.” And follow-ups may be needed as your circumstances change. For instance, if your health status is changing rapidly or if you’ve just been discharged from the hospital, that might be a reason for a follow-up visit.
Is a home safety assessment covered by your insurance? Call a licensed insurance agent at (800) 827-9990 to discuss what’s available, or browse your options online today.
Who can do a home safety assessment?
While only health care professionals can practice medicine, anyone can offer home safety assessments. That may include occupational and physical therapists, remodeling contractors and even people who sell equipment such as grab bars. Those are devices you can install in your shower to help prevent falls.
Welke strongly recommends finding an occupational therapist that specializes in home modifications. She recommends avoiding professionals who are doing home modifications with the aim of selling a product. (If you go the contractor route, look for someone who is a certified aging-in-place specialist.)
Welke also recommends finding a therapist who can also tell you about resources in your local community. In her state, for example, people can often get free adaptive equipment, such as grab bars and toilet seat risers, through grant programs.
Does my insurance cover home safety assessments?
Your insurance may cover a home safety assessment if your doctor refers you to a professional such as an occupational therapist. Your doctor may do this if you’ve had a series of falls or if you’ve been in and out of the hospital a lot.
If you’re a Medicare member, your doctor might order a home safety assessment based on the health risk assessment (HRA) that’s part of your “Welcome to Medicare” visit and your annual wellness visits. The “Welcome to Medicare” visit is a one-time visit, while an annual wellness visit takes place every year after you’ve had Medicare Part B (doctor insurance) for more than 12 months. (If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you may have comparable offerings available to you.) HRA topics are supposed to include:
- Assessment of how you perform activities of daily living, such as getting dressed, going to the bathroom, bathing and moving around your home
- Fall risk assessment
- Home safety assessment
Even if you need to pay out of pocket for a home safety assessment, it could save you money over time. That’s because it will help you avoid unscheduled visits to your doctor and/or the hospital.
An occupational therapist may recommend simple steps you can take to stay safer, such as:
- How to reduce clutter
- Installing motion-sensor night-lights on the path to your bathroom or to your house
- Where to fix steps or cracked sidewalks
- Where to install a grab bar in your bathroom or shower
How else can I make my home safer?
In addition to calling in the pros, you or a loved one can do your own check of your house to look for common safety hazards. Here are 2 free home safety checklists that can help get you started:
- Safety for Older Consumers — Home Safety Checklist
- Check for Safety: A Home Fall Prevention Checklist for Older Adults
You can also call a licensed insurance agent at (800) 827-9990 to discuss how to get a home safety assessment and what types of insurance plans cover it. Need a new plan? Browse your options online today.