Many of our elderly loved ones emphatically voice their desire to remain living in their own home as they get older, even if they reside alone; this is known as “aging in place”. While you may have concerns about their health, safety, and general well-being, they can be very insistent on being able to take care of themselves in the comfort and familiarity of their home. While many elderly persons are capable of meeting their own needs and successfully living an independent life, there are measures that can be employed to prevent or minimize accidents, thus ensuring their safety and creating a stable living environment.
Tips for Elderly Care at Home
Install Adequate Lighting – Having sufficient lighting in your elderly loved one’s home is of dire importance, as it allows for safer mobility throughout the house and can decrease the risk of slips or falls.
A well-lit home should have adequate lighting, especially in hallways, stairways, bathrooms and even the home’s exterior. Identify dark areas and install light fittings as necessary, making certain that light at least comes through clearly from another place. Ensure that light switches are within reach and easily accessible. Other convenient options include installing motion sensors, setting lights to turn on with a timer, or utilizing clap-on lights. These will all reduce the amount of time your loved one spends in the dark, fiddling with several light switches. Should those options not be viable, always leave lights on in rooms most commonly used, such as the bathroom. Making use of LED bulbs in this case shouldn’t increase the electricity bill substantially.
Flashlights should also be placed strategically around the house, in the event of a power outage.
Nightlights or touch lamps will prove very useful in the bedroom or living room where your loved one sleeps or naps.
Make Bathrooms Fall-Proof – One of the most common areas of the home where falls can and do occur, is the bathroom. This is of particular concern, especially if your loved one requires medication that makes them drowsy.
It is strongly advised that seniors adhere to the “three point rule”, meaning that they should always use at least three limbs to remain balanced when changing positions or walking on uneven ground. By this reasoning, it is highly recommended to install grab bars or handrails in the shower or bathtub.
Using rubber mats on slippery surfaces can also reduce the risk of having an accident. A slip-proof stool in the shower is also an excellent option, as is replacing wall-mounted shower heads with hand-held ones.
If your loved one experiences difficulty getting in and out of a traditional bathtub, walk-in tubs, which are watertight tubs with doors, can be something to look into. These help in the prevention of slipping and are available in either right or left-handed configurations. Opt for walk-in showers, as these are preferred in terms of safety, compared to those with sliding shower doors. Ensure that the shower entrance is not narrow as this restricts movement. Also, look into getting a high-rise toilet.
Keep Floors Decluttered – Anything on the ground serves as a potential tripping hazard, so remove all magazines, newspapers, toys, clothing etc. from floors.
Secure electrical cords to walls, remove corded devices from high-traffic areas in the home and opt for cordless appliances where possible.
Get rid of unnecessary pieces of furniture to create more free space, and ensure that pathways are clear by rearranging remaining furniture in such a way to prevent any form of hindrances. Furniture should also be strategically placed in ways that will prevent your loved one from bumping into or tripping over them. For furniture with sharp edges, consider using corner guards or bumpers to prevent injury.
Rugs are another major tripping hazard, especially if the edges are curled, or if they slide and bunch up easily. Get rid of rugs where possible, or place them under coffee tables or heavy furniture, or utilize Velcro strips or rug tape to secure them to the floor. Remove them from hallways and high-traffic pathways and should you choose to keep them in your loved one’s home, ensure that they are slip-proof and not entirely placed in walkways.
Anti-slip or slip-resistant coatings can also be applied to floors, just like paint or a finish.
Ensure handrails on staircases are firmly attached, sturdy and run from the bottom to the top of the staircase. Step lights can be installed and be sure to maintain a clutter-free staircase. Should it become overly difficult or dangerous for your loved one to climb the stairs, consider installing a stair-lift.
Add alarms and detectors and check them routinely to make sure they are working properly. Smoke detectors, carbon monoxide alarms and home security systems can all play a vital part in keeping your loved one safe. Have a functioning fire extinguisher in the kitchen and teach your loved one how to use it in case of an emergency. Ventilation systems should be frequently checked and maintained. Keep flammable items such as newspapers and blankets away from potential fire sources like ashtrays and candles. Always have extra supplies of batteries for alarms and flashlights. Develop an emergency escape plan with your loved one and walk them through the procedure several times. If necessary, print a few copies of the plan and place them in the most commonly used areas of the house, where they can be easily located.
Optimize cabinets and cupboards to a height that is readily accessible for your loved one, as reaching above the shoulders or bending for objects can strain their joints or compromise their balance. Heavy items especially, should be stored at waist level, preventing them from having to climb or uncomfortably stretch to reach items, or injure their backs if they need to stoop.
Store emergency numbers in their mobile device or create a list of numbers for family members, close friends, local pharmacies and medical providers. Make this list accessible and place it throughout the home, particularly next to phones.
As our loved ones grow older, they may experience changes in their health, along with their vision, mobility and even balance, becoming impaired. These issues can easily lead to accidents, but can be minimized or possibly prevented by family caregivers performing an assessment and updating of the home, making it safe, secure and elderly-friendly.