How to create a safe home following surgery, illness or injury

If you're 55 or older, you may find yourself at a new stage of life that presents some limitations. Due to arthritis or joints wearing out, you may be ready for hip or knee replacement surgery. Pain in your joints or lower back may cause you to rely on a walker or cane for assistance. Or, a stroke, chronic illness, or major injury may have altered your lifestyle.

Even if you're an active senior, you'll want to create a home environment that's safe and easy to negotiate so you can enjoy your golden years to the fullest.

Illinois Bone and Joint Institute physical therapist Shannon Brekke, who helps patients prepare for a variety of orthopedic surgeries, offers advice on how to create a safe home environment.

Clear out the clutter

Most people are aware that seniors are at a higher risk for falls. You can lower this risk by taking a good look at your home. Do you have clear pathways for moving from point A to point B? If not, clear the floor of shoes, magazines, laundry, and anything that may be blocking you in or posing a tripping hazard.

"I advise patients to watch out for, or move, throw rugs and cords," Brekke says. "Get them out of the way, as well as anything else that can be a tripping hazard."

You can get help from a loved one to rearrange the furniture in a way that creates more open spaces so you can move freely in your home. Consider a storage unit, even if it's temporary, to clear out excess furniture and personal belongings if that's what you need to do to create a safe and healing environment.

Clean prior to surgery

It may be a good idea to do a deep clean of your home, including organizing items in bins, ahead of surgery so that you won't be tempted to do household tasks while you're recovering. Focus on some quiet and calming hobbies, such as knitting, reading or crossword puzzles to pass the time while you're recovering, but make sure you aren't sedentary. "Motion is lotion," Brekke says.


If you're recovering from a surgery, illness or injury, it's important to make sure your pets are safe and cared for, but also that they're not going to go anywhere near your healing incisions.

Place food and water dishes on a mat and out of the way so that spilled water doesn't present a slipping hazard. Ensure that someone else - a dog walker or loved one - can manage feedings, play with, and feed your pet(s) while you're recovering.

"I always tell patients that if they have pets, make sure they are safe around them," Brekke says. "They need to make sure that their dog is not going to jump up on them after surgery."

Tip: Large dogs may need to be kept in another room while you're recovering, or placed under the care of a friend or relative while you heal.

Medical equipment

At IBJI, equipment is available to help patients recover well. Things like canes and walkers are referred to as durable medical equipment and can make your life a lot easier. An elevated toilet seat with rails and a shower seat often are recommended post-surgery.

"These things make getting up and down easier," Brekke says.

Reachers or grabbers are important so that you're not bending over after surgery to pick things up.

"There are devices like a sock aid that people will use to get their socks on without bending," Brekke says. "If patients have a tub, getting grab bars to get in and out is a good idea. There are temporary grab bars that have good suction on them. The goal is to help you become independent and safe within your home."

If you're having scheduled surgery, check your local lending closet. Many times, you can get some of these items for free or borrow them and return them when you've recovered. IBJI offers a list of local lending closets with phone numbers to secure what you will need for your recovery in advance.

Fill prescriptions in advance

Consider mail-order medications or have a conversation with your physician about the potential medications you'll need to take and then fill the prescriptions and/or purchase over-the-counter pain medication ahead of time.

Climbing stairs after surgery

"The way you climb the stairs after joint replacement surgery is by going up with the good leg and down with the bad leg," Brekke explains. "You will learn this by doing physical therapy in the hospital, and if you go home, IBJI will ensure a therapist is at your home that day to help with this."

Staying hydrated

Keep a large water bottle that shows measurements in ounces nearby. It's important to track how much liquid you're drinking and stay hydrated, whether you're recovering from surgery, an illness or an injury.

Stock up on nutritious meals

You may want to invest in a food delivery service or prepare meals ahead of time if you're planning surgery. If you're immobilized, don't be afraid to ask for help. Consider asking a loved one about scheduling a meal train. You'd be surprised how easy it is to have your meals covered when the word goes out to your family, neighbors and friends that you've been injured, ill or are having joint replacement surgery.

If you are able to prepare meals, choose premade frozen entrees. They're the easiest to prepare and clean up after since they only require heating in the microwave.

"For the first couple of days following surgery, you'll be tired, so you can try reheating meals that are high in protein," Brekke says. "With recovery, you'll want to ensure you're getting enough protein."

She adds that protein is important for energy and strength following surgery. Ahead of time, she says, you can prepare by "stocking your fridge with eggs, nut butters and chicken. These are all good options."

Since your body is healing, it's going to use up a lot of calories, so make sure you're consuming enough calories each day.

Keep contact information in a central location

Patients who leave a hospital are generally given post-op care information. Keep this information close by so you can access it easily.

Consider giving your house a deep cleaning before a planned surgery so that you're not tempted to clean during recovery. stock photo
Shannon Brekke Courtesy of Illinois Bone and Joint Institute
Simple medical equipment, such as a device to grab items you can't reach, help keep you safe during recovery. stock photo
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