Betty Franzen now feeds her beloved birds and hangs clothes on the line without being afraid she'll lose her balance on the way to the back...

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DALLAS — Betty Franzen now feeds her beloved birds and hangs clothes on the line without being afraid she’ll lose her balance on the way to the back yard. She can get from her house to her attached garage without tripping over the step separating them. The self-described “bathtub old lady” also climbs in and out of the tub without fear of slipping.

The reasons? A new railing on the patio, two shallower steps where once was a deep one, a grab-bar in the bathroom. All brought on because her daughter called an agency to help her mother.” She sic’ed ’em on me,” Franzen says mischievously. “I said, ‘I don’t need a caseworker coming out here!’ “

Says Carol Franzen, herself a geriatric-case manager: “She was a little resistant at first. I told her, ‘You don’t want to fall and break your hip.’ “

That’s what had happened to Mrs. Franzen’s own mother, Carol’s grandmother. Osteoporosis runs in their family. With that sobering reminder, Mrs. Franzen relented.

So the younger Ms. Franzen called Senior Adult Services where her mother lives. The organization did an assessment and arranged to have the work done. The cost: not much more than materials.

Although the organization has a stated price for each service, says director Mary Joiner; financial help is available if needed.

“These changes make a huge difference in people’s lives,” she says. “One is truly a safety issue. The other part is the independence factor: You can feel better and do more for yourself.”

Aging at home is vitally important to seniors’ mental and physical well-being, says Myra Richardson, eldercare specialist at The Senior Source, Senior Citizens of Greater Dallas.

“When you can age in place, you see less decline in both physical and mental capacities,” Richardson says. “You want an environment that fits. It shouldn’t be too stressful, but stressful enough so they feel they’re independent. Too stressful can cause decline; not stressful enough can, also.”

Simple changes can make a huge difference in seniors’ home safety, says Kay Paggi, a geriatric-care manager:

• Remove throw rugs, which are a hazard. If you must have one in the bathroom, put it away after you bathe.

• Use nightlights.

• Keep a phone close by. One should be near a favorite chair or your bed and reachable from the floor in case you fall.

• Watch out for thresholds. “They’re fall hazards,” says Paggi. “They’re raised one-fourth to one-half inch and can make a big difference. A handyman can even them out. They might not look as good, but that might save your life.”

• In an emergency, you might not be able to think clearly. So write the numbers 911, plus your name, address and phone number on a piece of masking tape and stick it to your phone.

• Invest in devices that activate indoor lighting based on how dark it is outside, rather than a certain time of day. That way, lights come on automatically when, for instance, the sky darkens before a storm.

• Hire an electrician to move outlets 36 inches from the floor so you don’t have to lean down to plug in cords.

• Make sure rooms are well-lighted. You need three times as much light in your 70s as you do in your 30s, Paggi says.