Caregivers, you may be able to prevent a serious “health incident” for your elderly relatives by simply printing this checklist and using it to evaluate your own home as well as theirs. (After all, home safety is important for all ages!)
Throw away throw rugs
Even when rugs are carefully taped down, they are a potential tripping hazard. Walkers, canes, crutches, and shoe heels can easily catch on the edges or corners, and the results can be painful. Even bed skirts and shower curtains that are too long, or coat hooks that are hung too low can lead to dangerous entanglements.
Clean up clutter
Children’s toys, piles of books, half-finished projects, half-dirty laundry, dormant sports equipment — all should be cleared from floors and stairways. The only thing on your stairways should be a small, lightweight, handled basket — one at the top and one at the bottom. When you need to bring something upstairs or downstairs, put it in the basket, and slide the handle over your arm. This leaves your other hand free to grab the stair rail.
Get a grip
All stairways should have sturdy handrails. Even if you don’t think you’ll use them now, at some point you’ll appreciate having the option. And invest in grab bars in bathrooms — in the shower and tub, as well as near the toilet. Make sure handrails and grab bars are installed by someone who knows what he’s doing, so they remain secure.
Don’t slip up
Soapy water is extremely slippery, especially on porcelain or tile. Install rubber mats or treads in tubs and showers, or anywhere that soapy water could splash and create a hazard.
Don’t trip up
Make sure wires, cords, and cables run along walls, not across walkways. You can use electrical tape or special staples to secure cords against baseboards. Don’t run cords under rugs or carpeting — this may prevent tripping, but it can be a fire hazard.
Change and rearrange
Especially in the kitchen, arrange items that you use most frequently on shelves that are easiest to reach. Keep a step ladder nearby for those occasions when you do need to reach a higher shelf. When a step ladder is not convenient, the tendency is to stretch and reach for an item anyway, and the result can be pulled neck muscles or a bump on the head when the object slips out of reaching fingers. Use a sturdy, level step ladder that has rubber grips on the feet and a stepping area wide enough to make you feel comfortable. If you have cabinets under your kitchen counters, consider installing pull-out sliding shelves to make items more viewable and accessible.
Light up a room
Eyesight does fade with age, so lighting becomes more important. Use brighter bulbs wherever possible, and make sure stairways are well lit (with light switches at both ends). Leave hall lights or bathroom lights on in preparation for nighttime trips. You may pay a few cents more on your electric bill, but you’ll save the cost of a midnight ambulance ride!
Providence Life Services understands the importance of fall prevention. As we reported in “Is Your Mom in the NFL?,” 40% of people who fall lose their ability to remain independent. The tips above do not require much time or money, but at some point, safety may require more extensive remodeling (widening doorways, eliminating stairs, adding ramps, lowering light switches). In such cases, moving to a community designed with seniors in mind might make more financial sense. The good news is, Providence Life Services can help with that too!