|How you can celebrate Home Safety Month
Since June is National Safety Month, this is a great time to make sure there aren’t any home safety hazards you might be overlooking in your senior loved one’s home. Go to www.MakingHomeSaferForSeniors.com for a home safety checklist, interactive home safety guide and more. Recent research conducted by Home Instead Senior Care provides a compelling look at senior home safety. The survey of emergency room doctors, seniors and adult children reveals that home isn’t always the safe haven that seniors and their loved ones dream about.
And adult children, their aging parents and emergency room doctors don’t always see things the same way. For one thing, 100 percent of ER doctors in the United States say it’s very important for adult children to take one day each year to perform a safety check of their aging parents’ homes. But in the last year, only 44 percent have done this. These resources identify hazardous areas in your senior loved one's home, ways to fix them and ways to prevent accidents from happening. What are the least safe areas of the home for seniors? Bathrooms and bedrooms lead the way, according to a survey of ER doctors in the U.S. Physicians say that injuries are most likely to happen in these areas of the home: bathroom 69 percent, bedroom 13 percent, kitchen 9 percent and stairs 5 percent.
An overwhelming majority of ER doctors, adult children and seniors agree that falls are the most common home accidents for older adults. So what can older adults who want to stay at home do? ER doctors are unanimous. One hundred percent agree that an annual home safety check is very important to a senior’s home safety. A room-by-room check can make all the difference in keeping seniors safe and independent at home.
Below I had a partial checklist, from Home Instead Senior Care, to help determine if a senior’s home is safe from hazards that could jeopardize well-being and independence. This checklist on our website www.caregiverstress.com/home-safty-checklist explores nine area rooms of the home, including the bedroom, bathroom, living room, hallway, kitchen, laundry room/basement, garage and front yard.
Here is a sampling:
• Do throw rugs create a tripping hazard? Is the carpet torn? Remove throw rugs or use double-sided tape or a rug pad to secure the rug to the floor. For small tears, a little glue or carpet staples can fix the problem.
• Is the room cluttered with clothing, magazines, newspaper or other items? Is there too much furniture for the space?
It might be a good time to work with your senior and clean out closets and drawers of items he or she no longer wears or uses. For other items, build or buy shelving for closets to store sweaters, blankets or shoes.
• Does the senior lack access to a telephone or cell phone, especially at night? Consider a cordless phone. If the senior is not agreeable to having a phone in the room or he or she doesn’t own a cell phone, suggest an emergency alert system. An Internet search for emergency alert or medical alert systems will provide you with a variety of options.
• Is there enough light? Nightlights are a good option for dark rooms at night. If the senior likes to read in the bedroom at night or turns on the light in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, make sure the bulb wattage is high enough (within allowable limits) to properly illuminate the room. Rope lighting is another good option for hallways that connect the bathroom and bedroom.
• Is the bed too high or low? The bed is too low if the senior’s knees are above the hips when sitting on the bed. Bed risers under bed legs can raise the height. The bed is too high when legs do not touch the floor when sitting on the edge of the bed. Remove the bed frame or use a lower profile mattress or box springs.
• Do tangled electrical cords obstruct pathways? Use extension cords to run electrical cords behind furnishings. Rearrange furniture that must be plugged in to areas near an outlet. Consider a power strip where several cords can be plugged into one long power source.
• Does the furniture provide proper support, if needed? Make sure bedroom chairs are the proper height, so the senior’s feet touch the floor. Chairs should have sturdy legs and arms.
Bathroom and shower
• Are grab bars available near the tub, shower and toilet? Loose towel and curtain rods could be a sign that an older adult is grabbing on to these for support. Adding grab bars near shower/tub units and the toilet can help prevent falls and other accidents.
• Is the floor slippery? Is there a lack of bath mats? Add a rubber mat or adhesive non-stick decals to the bottom of a tub. Check online or at a bathroom or discount store to find what you need.
• Is the bathtub too high? If the bathtub is too high, such as a claw foot tub or antique tub, add a tub transfer bench. Check online or at a medical supply store for various options.
• Is the toilet the correct height? Add a raised toilet seat for stools that are too low. Contact a plumber about installing a lower profile stool if your senior’s toilet is too high.
• Is there the potential for bath water to be too hot? Set the water thermostat to 120 degrees so the water in the shower and sink faucet does not exceed dangerous or uncomfortable levels. Another good idea is to make sure the hot- and cold-water faucets are clearly labeled. Painting parts of them red or blue will help distinguish them.
• Are medications stored properly: not too high or too low for the senior to reach? Make sure medications are stored in cabinets that are easy to reach. If the cabinet is too high, an older adult might have problems reaching into it. If it is too low, the senior could have trouble bending down to find the medication. Consider a medication organizer for pills that can be set on a countertop or shelf.
• Are mobility and joint problems making it difficult for the senior to reach into overhead cabinets, comb his hair or lift her leg to get into a bathtub? Perhaps your senior could use assistance at home if the effects of aging are making personal care difficult. A non-medical in-home care company may provide the support to keep an older adult independent for as long as possible.
• Are cabinets too high or low? Move items to the shelves closest to the counter that are the easiest for a senior to reach. Install hooks in the walls for pots and pans a senior frequently uses.
• Is there clutter on countertops or throughout the kitchen? Are pathways obstructed? Using a “Lazy Susan” can help organize items on a countertop. Move a kitchen table closer to counter for additional work space. Or use an island for added workspace.
• Is there adequate light for cooking? Increase light wattage to allowable levels. Many options exist for under-counter lighting including battery-operated pucks. Or, contact an electrician for under-counter or overhead lighting.
• Are dangerous chemicals and cleaning materials secure? Household kitchen cleaning and other supplies could pose a danger to older adults, particularly those with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. Consider higher storage or locked cabinets.
• Is emergency contact information within easy access? A refrigerator is a good place for emergency contact information. So is a senior’s wallet, billfold or purse.
Eighty-five percent of seniors have done nothing to prepare their homes for aging. Many issues could impact an older adult’s ability to remain at home, including the effects of aging on the home. Don’t shy away from talking with an aging parent about sensitive issues such as home safety.
For more information, go to www.MakingHomeSaferforSeniors.com.
Julie Ann Anderson is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park; mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors and caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.