When a baby is expected, families are proactive about safety, doing everything possible to baby-proof the home.
Unfortunately, families often neglect elder-proofing the home against the risk of accidents and injuries. It is as critical that home, sweet home be safe for the elderly as for a newborn.
Falls: The most common cause of injury in seniors
Most falls among seniors occur in the bathroom. Install handrails next to the toilet, the tub and the shower to provide stability and balance. Place a skid-free surface or mat needs on the tub or shower floor. Consider a shower chair and a hand-held head.
Bathroom doorways must provide sufficient space for a walker to pass through without catching on their sides or sills. If needed, widen bathroom doorways to accommodate a wheelchair.
Install nightlights in the bathroom and along the route from the bedroom to the bathroom.
Walkers and canes
Walkers and canes assure mobility but injuries often accompany their use, especially for those over age 85. Make certain that the professionals equipping your loved one with a walking aid tailor design and fit and provide effective training in methods of safe usage.
Strength and balance
Remaining ambulatory and injury free requires regular and continued participation in an exercise program that maintains muscle strength and balance. Walking is recommended for everyone. Also yoga provides excellent stretching and balance exercises that can be modified to meet an individual’s unique capacities.
Slippery or uneven surfaces
Slippery or uneven surfaces create a major hazard for seniors. Replace bunched or puckered carpeting and remove throw rugs throughout the home. Uneven patio, driveway and sidewalk surfaces should be repaired or replaced with smooth surfaces. Spills should be cleaned up and surfaces dried immediately.
Make sure the senior wears low-heeled, supportive shoes at all times and avoids walking in slippers, socks or stockings to help prevent slipping.
Pick up items from the floor or ground and move indoor and outdoor furniture to create clear pathways for travel. Place telephone and electrical cords out of walking areas.
Steps and Stairways
Steps and stairways should be well-lighted with switches installed at top and bottom. If the top and bottom steps are not easily visible, add a contrasting carpet color or a brightly colored strip of paint or tape.
Install railings, preferably on both sides, of all stairways.
Do not store anything on steps, indoors or out. Maintain a readily available container which allows transporting items up and down stairs with one hand free to hold the railing.
Ladders and step-stools
Seniors should avoid ladders and step-stools. If your loved one cannot or will not adhere to this precaution voluntarily, store ladders and step-stools where they are not accessible.
Seniors should carry cell phones or wireless phone on their persons at all times to avoid rushing to answer a land line.
Injuries from burns and fires
Aging adults are at greater risk of injury from home fires, not only because of reduced mobility, but because a reduced sense of smell may prevent fire detection. Further, fire related injuries are often more serious, even fatal, due to less resilience to smoke inhalation and burns.
Take steps to prevent fire and burn injuries. Have all electrical wiring and outlet sources in the home professionally inspected and approved as safe. Examine the home for the following fire hazards: (1) furniture resting on electric cords; (2) cords run under carpet; (3) cords stapled or nailed to walls or baseboards; (4) frayed or damaged cords; (5) overloaded extension cords; (6) outlets and switches which are hot to the touch; (7) light bulbs that are the inappropriate size, type and wattage; and (8) heaters with 3-prong plugs inserted into a 2-prong outlet. Immediately remedy any of these conditions.
Position small stoves and heaters where they cannot be easily knocked over and cannot come in contact with flammable materials such as furnishings, curtains or rugs.
Install smoke at least one detector upstairs and one down with additional ones in each bedroom. Make certain detectors are properly installed and are away from air vents. Check and replace smoke detector batteries according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Cooking causes a high percentage of home fires are caused from cooking. Switching from natural gas or propane to electricity can reduce kitchen fires.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that over 70 of clothing fire deaths occur in those over 65 years of age. Seniors should wear close-fitting or short-sleeved clothing that cannot billow into contact with burners.
Unattended candles are fire hazards. To prevent possibility avoid their use. If scent is desired, chose products that dispense odor but produce no flame.
The most common causes of accidental poisoning of the elderly involve carbon monoxide, gas mains and medication. Prevent natural gas poisonings by having flues and chimneys checked annually. All fuel burning equipment and gas lines should receive inspection and maintenance by professionals on an annual basis.
Carbon monoxide is especially lethal because it is odorless. Frequently, victims are overcome before they recognize its presence. Install carbon monoxide detectors throughout the home, especially in bedrooms.
Make certain that your loved one understands the directives on medications and adheres to those instructions. If you aren’t sure your loved one understands and can follow these directives, provide a caregiver who administers proper daily medications.
Home, safe home
Margaret Mead once said, “Old age is like flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard there’s nothing you can do.”
By making safety a priority, seniors can weather that storm without unnecessary injury. Then home, sweet home will be home safe home.
If you have questions about this column or wish to suggest a topic of interest, please contact me by phone at 254-797-0211 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an elder law firm in Fort Worth. She lives in beautiful Somervell County near Chalk Mountain.