Many seniors want to stay in their homes as they age. But there’s a down side to aging in place – if we don’t take steps to make them safe, our comfy surroundings can be dangerous! According to the American Geriatrics Society, falls, fires, and poisonings pose significant threats to elders at home. The good news is that a few relatively simple precautions and home modifications can significantly diminish these dangers. The following tips on home safety come from the American Geriatrics Society and our own experience here at Debra Levy Eldercare Associates.
Step one is to keep a list of emergency numbers, in large, easy-to-read print, handy by each phone. The list should include 911, poison control, the number of a family member or friend to contact in an emergency, and the number of the elderly person’s primary health care provider. We also assist our clients in keeping an updated File of Life that has more detailed information on medications, diagnoses, and emergency contacts on their refrigerator.
Preventing falls is a high priority. Many falls occur when rushing to answer the phone. It’s better to let the answering machine take the call, or to carry a cordless or cell phone. Choose footwear carefully with an eye towards non-slip soles, avoiding backless shoes or slippers and high heels. We encourage our clients to consistently use their cane or walker if one was ordered for them. Hanging onto walls and furniture is not a good substitute! If a fall does occur, a wearable alarm button around the neck or wrist can be a life saver by quickly summoning help.
Keep all halls, stairs, and paths well lit and free of clutter. Make sure that stairways have a secure handrail. Area and throw rugs are especially dangerous when using walkers. The best option is to remove these rugs, but, at a minimum, they can be taped to the floor so they won’t move underfoot. Never put area or throw rugs at the bottom or top of stairs!
Many falls occur in the bathroom. Walk-in showers, shower or tub seats, and grab bars help with safe transfers in and out of the shower or bathtub. A rubber mat helps prevent slipping and hand-held shower nozzles make it possible to sit while showering. Grab bars, raised toilet seats, and toilet arm rests can help make sure transfers on and off the toilet are as safe as possible.
Fires also present a potential threat. Maryland’s smoke alarm law requires the replacement of all battery-only smoke alarms with units powered by 10-year long life batteries. In Montgomery County, call 311 for a free home safety check, including looking for frayed cords and overloaded electric outlets and circuits. Avoid wearing loose clothes while cooking and never leave cooking food unattended.
Poisoning, including misuse of medications, is another concern. Upon request, pharmacists can put large-print, easy-to-read labels on medications. Make it a habit to take medication in a well-lit area so that the labels can be clearly read. Keep all drugs in their original containers and bring everything, including over-the-counter medications, to appointments to ensure they’re being taken correctly. Many pharmacists also offer complimentary medication reviews.
At DLEA, our care managers partner regularly with physical and occupational therapists and accessibility home modification specialists to make sure our clients can age safety in place. National Home Safety Month is a great time to call us and start the conversation!