Observing the safety hazards in a senior’s home is one thing. Living them is another. It’s not always easy to understand the physical limitations older adults face that could make home a virtual minefield for an aging parent.
The health conditions are very serious risk factors as potential causes for injuries or accidents at home:
• Mobility Problems
• Poor Eyesight
• Balance Issues
• Confusion or Dementia
• Impaired Motor Skills
As time goes on, the effects of aging could impact all senses including hearing, vision, taste, smell and touch. These sensory changes often affect an older adult’s lifestyle as well. It’s a domino effect, of sorts, that might make a senior vulnerable to safety issues in the home.
Aging’s Effects on the Five Senses The following describes how aging can compromise the five senses:
1. Sight: By the time someone is 60, pupils decrease to about one-third the size they were at age 20. Add to that aging-related eye conditions such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
2. Taste: We start out with about 9,000 taste buds. They decrease in both number and mass with aging.
3. Smell: Sense of smell can diminish, especially after age 70, because of loss of nerve endings and less mucus in the nose.
4. Touch: Decreased blood flow to nerve endings as we age can reduce the sense of pain and temperature. 5. Hearing: Our ears control hearing and sense of balance, both of which can be compromised as we age.
FALLS ARE THE MAJOR COMPLICATION SEEN IN ELDERLY IF THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT AT HOME IS NOT CONDUCIVE
Making Home Safer for Seniors with Diminished Senses
It’s possible to counteract the effects of aging by being proactive.
It is very important that adult children take a least one day each year to perform a safety check of their loved one’s home. A safety check list to safeguard seniors is needed to be prepared.
Some changes which can be done at the home to make them more safe for seniors are :
PROBABLE CHANGES IN BEDROOMS TO MAKE THAN SAFE FOR SENIORS
1. Remove throw rugs or use double-sided tape or a rug pad to secure the rug to the floor to prevent falls from loose ends of rugs. For small tears, a little glue or carpet staples can fix the problem.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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 to properly illuminate the room. Rope lighting is another good option for hallways that connect the bathroom and bedroom.
5. 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.
6. 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. 7. Make sure bedroom chairs are the proper height, so the senior’s feet touch the floor. Chairs should have sturdy legs and arms.
STEPS FOR MAKE BATHROOMS AND SHOWER SAFER FOR SENIORS
1. 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.
2. Add a rubber mat or adhesive non-stick decals to the bottom of a tub.
3. If the bathtub is too high, such as a claw foot tub or antique tub, add a tub transfer bench.
4. Add a raised toilet seat for stools that are too low.
5. Set the water thermostat to 120 degrees F 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.
6. 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.
STEPS FOR A SAFER LIVING ROOM FOR SENIORS
1. Organization is the key to preventing too much clutter. It might be a good time to work with your senior to downsize and eliminate bigger pieces of furniture. Add shelving.
2. Sit in chairs to see if arms or legs are wobbly. Try gluing legs or arm rests. Or, if more extensive repairs are needed, locate a furniture repair service representative. If the chair is too low, add a cushion or pillow on the seat to raise the height.
3. Add a “clapper” light switch to control lamps or check out other remote control switching options. Sometimes, rearranging furniture can allow quick access to wall switch or lamp.
Increase wattage to allowable limits in lamps and lights. Add additional lamps, or contact an electrician about installing overhead lights.
4. Remove throw rugs. If carpet is necessary, installing low-pile rug can be better than shag. Having carpet stretched or removed can eliminate bumps.
5. For small tears, a little glue or carpet staples can fix the problem. For uneven floors, consult a contractor or your local home improvement store.
6. Check out heat-control window film, thermal curtains or solar shades.
7. Make sure the chair is sturdy and the proper height with arm rests that can help support the senior. Remember, a caregiver/companion can help serve as a second set of eyes for a senior at home.
STEPS TO A SAFER HALLWAY
1. Night lights are an ideal solution for dark hallways. LED options that are just right for an older adult. Rope lighting is another good option for hallways that connect the bathroom and bedroom.
2. Some seniors, particularly those with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, may become confused at night and have difficulty getting to the bathroom. Nightlights can help. So, too, can a caregiver companion who would be available 24/7 to ensure that a senior is safe.
STEPS TO A SAFER KITCHEN
1. 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.
2. Move a kitchen table closer to counter for additional work space. Or use an island for added workspace.
3. Increase light wattage to allowable levels. Many options exist for under-counter lighting including battery-operated pucks.
4. 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.
5. Encourage your older adult to clean up spills immediately and never walk on a wet floor. Suggest comfortable shoes that fit well or socks with a non-skid sole. Change flooring to one with a less slippery surface.
6. The dangers of eating outdated or spoiled food can be many including food poisoning. If an older adult is unable to do so, help him or her go through a refrigerator weekly and look at the dates on food items such as meat, eggs and milk. Toss unsafe items.
7. A refrigerator is a good place for emergency contact information. So is a senior’s wallet, billfold or purse.
8. Make sure the senior’s kitchen has a working fire extinguisher. If you are concerned about an older adult’s safety, remove all dangerous utensils from the kitchen.
A SAFER FOYER/FRONT YARD
1. Stabilize unsteady railings. If they are missing, install at least one and preferably two.
2. Proper handrails are a must where stairs are steep. Have damaged or broken steps and sidewalk repaired.
3. Make sure your senior has someone to scoop his or her walk, or maintain the yard.
4. Add an outdoor light if one is not available. Motion-activated lights may provide an older adult much comfort and security.
5. Install barriers and fences in the yard to help ensure a senior doesn’t wander. Place larger flower pots near small openings to help re-direct. Create inviting areas including benches where an older adult can sit and enjoy nature.
6. A device that enables a ringing doorbell to trigger a flashing light -- including existing house lamps and special strobes for rooms where lamps aren’t generally used -- lets your loved one know if someone is at the door.