Common Risks, Dangerous Consequences: Selecting Safe Senior Housing

By Eric Stevenson

In addition to the obvious concerns when picking senior housing, including cost, staff approachability and services, individuals need to consider threats that can jeopardize the health of an elderly relative. Besides considering whether an elderly relative needs the supportive care of an assisted living facility or the independence of a retirement living community, specific chemical and environmental issues can turn a senior’s remaining years, meant to be a time of peace and relax, into a distressing struggle with ongoing illness. 

One of the greatest risks to seniors remains the danger of a serious fall. Despite the variety of notifications devices and systems available to alert emergency responders to a fall, prevention remains the best choice when deciding how to keep an elderly relative safe from a fall. With the reduced strength of bones brought on by osteoporosis, elderly patients frequently suffer far greater traumatic bone damage from these falls. In addition, traumatic brain injuries from falling led to 8,000 deaths in 2005. Furthermore, as the Baby Boomer generation ages, we can only expect these frightening trends to increase.


One of the reasons seniors remain so susceptible to falls is that their reduced reflexes do not enable them to react quick enough to brace for a fall. In addition, reduced reactions and decreased physical strength makes avoiding a fall through quick adjustment or repositioning far more difficult. However, exercise that improves strength, balance and coordination can help. Also, patients should ensure retirement facilities are large enough to hold all their possessions. A small apartment or room can lead to improperly stored items that present another tripping hazard.

Furthermore, proper lighting and well maintained steps are essential in a facility. Even throw rugs present a threat to seniors when not securely anchored by double sided tape. In addition, stairs should possess railings on both sides to give seniors the added stability they need. Finally, bathrooms should be fitted with non-slip pads in the bath tub and railings near the toilet and tub to help seniors who might have fallen or need support getting up. Residents can also paint or add tape to stairs or doorsills to ensure they are visible, in all lighting.

Although a sad fact, senior housing facilities often fail to receive the functional repair, updating or cleansing they require. Besides the immediate threat of a fall, seniors also risk numerous health consequences of improperly-ventilated housing and chemical pollutants. Because of the senior reduction in resistance to chemicals and germs and their diminished resilience, it remains especially important to ensure senior housing is free of toxins that might take a heavy toll on their health. The presence of asbestos, which can lead to mesothelioma, and mold are two of the most common and dangerous chemical threats to elderly residents.


Although typically possessing a latency period of 20 to 50 years, mesothelioma can develop relatively quickly in elderly patients because their bodies might not be strong enough to fight off the development of this disease. Resulting from exposure to asbestos, this common insulator in homes is most dangerous when fragmented, which allows it to be easily inhaled or ingested. Although now banned for use in construction, older facilities that have not undergone recent renovation might still contain this dangerous material. Furthermore, facilities with deteriorating flooring, insulation or ceilings put residents at risk, as asbestos was a common component of these home areas.

Mesothelioma symptoms also typically seem relatively minor when first appearing, leading many to mistake them for other, less serious conditions. More common illnesses, such as pneumonia, are often thought to be the cause of symptoms, leading to a delay in treatment that can seriously hamper one’s ability to overcome this disease. Despite recent research advances, patients diagnosed with mesothelioma can typically expect to live between eight and 14 months after diagnosis. 

Especially prevalent in humid climates, like Florida, the presence of mold can lead to numerous health impacts on residents, including increased allergies, asthma difficulties and even cancer. Furthermore, individuals with many preexisting health issues, like seniors, need to be aware of the reactions these dangerous spores can trigger. Because mold spores continually travel throughout the indoor and outdoor air, effective, modern air ventilation is a must for seniors. If a facility has improper ventilation or indoor water leaks, these mold spores can land on these damp spots and reproduce. Furthermore, mold can grow on wood, paper, carpet or even foods. Also, no practical way exists to rid a home of this threat. With increasing numbers of retired Americans moving southward and southwest, the risk of this air hazard remains especially important to keep in mind in climates conducive to its growth.

Each of these senior housing threats has one thing in common:  prevention remains the best option for dealing with these potential hazards. If any of these condition problems are present in a facility, either demand it be fixed or do not choose that facility. First impressions speak volumes, and if a senior housing community appears to suffer from neglect or insufficient updating, chances are at least one of these dangers are present. Because of weakened immune systems and an inability to recover quickly, seniors remain at a heightened risk for suffering greatly from these potential hazards, making it vital to ensure the safest facility possible. From the first day onward, the preservation of a senior’s health, happiness and sense of independence should be ensured through the proper selection of clean, safe housing.

Eric Stevenson is a health and safety advocate who resides in the South Eastern US.