Living alone and independently has its advantages. Not only do seniors feel more security and comfort in their own homes, but they also have the benefit of privacy to do as they please. But keeping seniors safe in their own homes can be a bit tricky.
How to keep seniors safe in their own homes? With more seniors choosing to live independently, it’s important to understand the risks that many older adults face so that we may support them appropriately. In fact, by becoming more aware of the dangers that threaten seniors every day, we can significantly reduce the likelihood of unnecessary injuries, accidents and even deaths.
Let’s take a moment to look at the conditions from which our elderly population typically suffers.
Why Do Seniors Need A Little Extra Consideration From Friends And Family?
Chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke and diabetes are at the top of the list. But seniors also have high rates of arthritis and sensory impairments, like loss of vision and hearing. These are all challenging conditions to endure, which cause considerable amounts of pain and physical limitation.
We should also never underestimate the dangers posed by criminals who target the elderly. Our aging population is more vulnerable to abuse like phone scams, unwanted intruders, aggressive sales people and campaigns seeking donations.
The day-to-day reality of living with these conditions coupled with the possibility of deteriorating cognitive health and poor memory can endanger the lives of our friends and loved ones very easily.
On this post, I have composed a list of helpful facts, tips and recommendations that could protect seniors from avoidable hazards while living by themselves. I am sharing this post in the hopes that it will facilitate the continued independence of seniors.
1. What Is the Most Common Types of Accidents in the Home for Seniors?
What about Falls?
Falls. Falls are, without question, the most common and costly accident occurring in the home. According to the CDC, slightly more than one out of every four individuals over the age of 65 falls in every year. To make matters worse, less than half of those who fall will inform their physician. This means that injuries could be overlooked even when they required treatment. Additionally, falling one time doubles the risk of falling again.
Falls come with a considerable risk to limiting independence. In fact, more than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falls. Furthermore, traumatic brain injuries, head injuries and broken bones are also common.
Even a small fracture in the wrist can cause a significant reduction in the ability to function well day-to-day. By the way, have you ever tried to cook or clean with a broken wrist? Not only are broken bones painful, but the cost of emergency and rehabilitative health care can sometimes break the bank, especially for those on a limited income.
What causes older adults to fall?
According to Health Direct, there are three main reasons why older people are more likely to have a fall. These are chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, dementia and low blood pressure (hypotension), which can cause dizziness. impairments, such as poor vision or muscle weakness.
What Specific Conditions Increase the Risk of Falling?
Those who have any type of lower body weakness due to stroke, surgery or other type of illness are in the high-risk category. As well, those who struggle with poor vision, foot pain or difficulty standing and walking face higher rates of falling. These conditions combined with medicinal side effects like dizziness, shakiness, sleepiness or tremors can be quite dangerous.
How Can I Reduce the Risk of Falling in the Home?
Creating a safer home environment is the best route to preventing falls. By making a few simple additions or changes, you can create a fall-proof residence. For example, installing assistive grab bars and railings is a relatively easy project that doesn’t require a handyman or skilled contractor. For most, this is the first step taken to protect against falls.
Some tips of the Ottawa Public Health includes making sure that throughout a senior’s home:
- Floors are not slippery.
- Pathways are clear of extension cords and other objects.
- Rugs have no ripples or tears.
- Scatter mats are removed or taped to the floor.
- All the furniture is sturdy and the chairs have armrests.
- All light fixtures have a minimum of 60-watt bulbs.
- The entrance to every room has a light switch.
Stairs and steps:
Stairs are a very hazardous area. Thus, in order to create a safer environment, consider installing railings on both walls surrounding the stairs. This simple addition will eliminate a lot of worry on the part of everyone involved. Besides, there are countless contemporary and classic designs available on the market today, which will match most any decor. In fact, you may find that installing them is the easy part. Choosing from the thousands of designs available is the tricky bit.
In addition to mounting grab bars and safety railings, there are a few other actions you can encourage. Assisting seniors in staying up to date with vision testing is also valuable. Poor vision can lead to stumbling and a constant fear of falling.
For those with weakened legs and lower body, Facilitating a strength-training class can improve their quality of life overall.
Lastly, make sure to remove any rugs located in common walking areas as a preventative measure against tripping.
- Make sure that stairs are well lit
- Make sure you have light switches at the top and bottom of the indoor stairs.
- Keep stairs and outdoor steps in good repair and free from clutter.
- Make sure runner mats, carpeting or other floor covering on your stairs are well fastened.
- Make sure there are solid handrails on both sides of indoor stairs and outdoor steps.
- Make sure the outdoor steps have a non-skid surface.
- Place a night light in the stairs
Additional tips for you to keep in mind:
- Remove your reading glasses when you go up and down the stairs
- Turn on the lights before going up or downstairs.
- Never rush up or down the stairs. It’s a major cause of falls
Bathroom floors, walls and door handles are often slippery from condensation. This combined with the fact that most bathroom floors are composed of hard tile makes the bathroom one of the worst places to encounter a fall. The best areas to install grab bars are just inside and outside of the tub/shower as well as next to the toilet.
- Use a rubber bath or shower mat, or a non-slip surface in your tub or shower.
- Install well-anchored grab bars by the toilet, in bathtub and shower areas.
- Use a bath seat so you can take a shower or bath sitting down.
- Install a toilet seat riser (or one with armrests) to make toileting safer
- Place a night light in the bathroom
Additional tips for you to keep in mind:
- Wipe up moisture or spills right away.
- Use a bathmat with a rubber backing after every bath or shower
- Avoid bath oil.
Moen manufactures several well-rated and affordable grab bars that are both easy to install and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. You can find more details about the grab bars here.
If the toilet is stand alone and there is no wall on which to adhere a grab bar, there are other supportive options available.
Medline manufactures a “Guardian” toilet safety rail and supportive frame that is both height adjustable and easy to grip. You can find more details about the toilet safety rail here.
If you want to know more about best gadgets for seniors safety in the bathroom, click here.
- Place items you use often within easy reach.
- Keep heavy items in lower cupboards.
- If you have good balance, use a stable step stool with a safety rail for reaching high places. Otherwise, ask for help.
Additional tips for you to keep in mind:
- Always wipe up any spills right away.
- If you use floor wax, use the non-skid kind.
- Make sure there is a light switch near your bedroom entrance and a light switch near your bed.
- Place a lamp within reach of your bed for middle-of-the-night needs.
- Make clear paths to light switches that aren’t near room entrances. Consider trading traditional switches for glow-in-the-dark or illuminated switches.
- Make sure there is a clear path from your bed to the bathroom.
- Have a phone or communication device within easy reach from your bed.
- Place night lights in the halls in case you get up in the middle of the night.
Additional tips for you to keep in mind:
- In order to prevent dizziness, sit on the edge of your bed for a minute before getting up after a rest.
All over the house:
- Store flashlights in easy-to-find places in case of power outages.
- Nonslip treads for bare-wood steps
How can you Prevent Falls in your Home?
As stated on Mayo Clinic website, in order to prevent falls in your home, you should try to implement the general tips that are often listed in most fall prevention resources: medication review with the doctor, vision checks, exercise, and home safety reviews.
1. Make an appointment with your doctor
Begin your fall-prevention plan by making an appointment with your doctor. Be prepared to answer questions such as:
- What medications are you taking? Make a list of your prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements, or bring them with you to the appointment. Your doctor can review your medications for side effects and interactions that may increase your risk of falling. To help with fall prevention, your doctor may consider weaning you off medications that make you tired or affect your thinking, such as sedatives and some types of antidepressants.
- Have you fallen before? Write down the details, including when, where and how you fell. Be prepared to discuss instances when you almost fell but were caught by someone or managed to grab hold of something just in time. Details such as these may help your doctor identify specific fall-prevention strategies.
- Could your health conditions cause a fall? Certain eye and ear disorders may increase your risk of falls. Be prepared to discuss your health conditions and how comfortable you are when you walk — for example, do you feel any dizziness, joint pain, shortness of breath, or numbness in your feet and legs when you walk? Your doctor may evaluate your muscle strength, balance and walking style (gait) as well.
Physical activity can go a long way toward fall prevention. With your doctor’s OK, consider activities such as walking, water workouts or tai chi — a gentle exercise that involves slow and graceful dance-like movements. Such activities reduce the risk of falls by improving strength, balance, coordination and flexibility.
If you avoid physical activity because you’re afraid it will make a fall more likely, tell your doctor. He or she may recommend carefully monitored exercise programs or refer you to a physical therapist. The physical therapist can create a custom exercise program aimed at improving your balance, flexibility, muscle strength and gait.
3. Review your Home Safety
- Remove home hazards: Take a look around your home. Your living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, hallways and stairways may be filled with hazards.
- Light up your living space: Keep your home brightly lit to avoid tripping on objects that are hard to see.
- Use assistive devices Your doctor might recommend using a cane or walker to keep you steady. Other assistive devices can help, too.
If necessary, ask your doctor for a referral to an occupational therapist. He or she can help you brainstorm other fall-prevention strategies. Some solutions are easily installed and relatively inexpensive.
2. What About Those with Memory Loss, what Risk Factors Do Seniors Face?
What Specific Conditions Increase the Risk of fire-related accidents?
Memory loss is most often a form of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and while this problem affects the overall quality of life for the individual who suffers with it, memory loss also dramatically increases the risk of death by fire. However, it’s not just those with memory loss. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, older Americans represent only 15% of our population, yet they suffer 40% of all fire-related deaths. This means that our seniors contend with the greatest relative risk of dying in a fire than any other group.
How to prevent fire-related accidents
Installing smoke alarms is one of the best preventative measures you can take, as they provide the home owner with more time to escape. Installing smoke alarms on each floor of the home, and on the inside of bedrooms and outside of sleeping areas is recommended. For those hard of hearing, there are also smoke alarms that provide an audible pulse to alert the home owner to fire.
Perhaps the safest options available on the market today are the wireless, interconnected smoke alarms. If one alarm sounds, then all of them sound simultaneously.
Interconnected smoke alarms are very affordable and easy to install. You can find more details about interconnected smoke alarms here.
However, smoke alarms must be tested once monthly in order to be effective and batteries should be replaced once annually. These are tasks that someone with cognitive impairment and memory loss will not be able to accomplish by themselves. In addition to installing the smoke alarms, friends and family can help their loved one by remembering to both test the smoke alarms and replace their batteries. If you are unable to perform this task, then your local fire department may be able to offer some assistance.
For more information, the U.S. Fire Administration has created a Fire Safe Seniors Program, which includes a tool kit and training options for those who care for and work with our senior population.
You can access their program by clicking here.
Accidental Poisoning. What You Should Know?
Many of us with children think of the phrase accidental poisoning as the ingestion of chemical agents or toxic plants. This is not the case with those over age 65. Chronic health conditions often require treatment with several medications simultaneously. These medications may also need to be taken at multiple times of the day, or in a varied frequency that is difficult to remember. Additionally, some medicines may cause sleepiness, tiredness or even tremors.
How to prevent accidental poisoning?
Those who struggle with memory loss are at a much greater risk of hospitalization due to accidental poisoning by ingesting too much of their medication, mixing the incorrect medications, or from taking over-the-counter medications that are contraindicated. Imagine a regimen of 6 different drugs administered in pill form on a daily basis with 2 of those pills taken 3 times per day, 3 of those pills taken 2 times per day. and 1 of those pills taken only once per day. Now imagine that you have dementia, plus one of the drugs makes you very sleepy. Is it any surprise that older adults are hospitalized more frequently than any other population due to medication problems? Some pill regimens are so complex that even healthy, sound individuals can’t keep track of them.
Luckily, there are two immediate actions you can take to help mitigate this problem. First, begin keeping a list of all the medications your loved one takes, including any over-the-counter medicines and herbal supplements. Make sure this list is shared with his or her physician at every visit. Go over the list with the physician and ask about possible drug interactions and compatibility. This is especially important when new medications are prescribed. Second, new technology has givenus the gift of pill organizers that automatically dispense our medications correctly. Most of these dispensers feature audible sounds and visual alerts to remind us that pills are due.
LiveFine offers one such device. This helpful technological gadget comes with multiple programmable templates that allow up to six alerts per day or a custom programmable dispense time. You can find more details about LiveFine here.
3. What About Elder Abuse and Crime, is My Elderly Family Member at Risk?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes, but with the right amount of preventative measures put in place, the risk can be lessened significantly. In order to guide you in making the right decisions on this topic, let us first discuss the types of abuse and crime that occur.
Older Americans experience the same types of crimes that younger Americans experience; financial victimization, identity theft, burglary, gross neglect and physical, sexual or mental abuse. The difference is our senior population may never recover from it or report it to the authorities. Additionally, seniors are targeted most often due to their cognitive impairments. Older adults with dementia are at an increased risk of elder abuse, sometimes by outsiders, but often by a caretaker.
How to prevent this type of abuse and crime?
Talk with your loved one about how they might be victimized. Make them aware of fraudulent phone and internet scams that offer prizes in exchange for social security numbers or personal financial information. Discuss the importance of never signing contracts or making major purchases over the phone or internet without first communicating with a trusted friend or family member.
To protect the home, first make sure that all windows and doors lock appropriately and emphasize the importance of never letting strangers in the home, especially when home alone. Second, consider installing a smart security system that syncs with your smart phone, tablet or computer to alert you when a stranger approaches the home.
An example is the Ring Video Doorbell system, which allows you to see, hear and converse with visitors that you may not recognize. You can find more details about the Ring Video doorbell system here.
4. Medical Alert Systems: The Preventative Catchall
It’s understandable if you’re still concerned about falls, injuries that you can’t predict, fires, or other emergency health conditions. As health continues to decline, so does our ability to notify those around us of problems or issues that may need attention. An emergency response system provides peace of mind in these situations, because help is only one press of a button away.
The main consideration involved in choosing a medical alert system is deciding how the device will connect and call for help. The basic models simply plug into a landline, but technologically advanced models can use cellular connections. For very active seniors, a GPS-based mobile option is available. There are also options on the market today that automatically detect when a fall has occurred.
We recommend first doing your research to find the best model available to fit all of your criteria, then conducting a search for the best priced options to fit your budget. With a little effort on the part of friends, family or caretakers, seniors can continue to live safely in the privacy of their own homes. Communicating with your loved one about the types of accidents that may affect them is the first step. We hope this post was helpful in providing you with valuable information that you can use to navigate that important conversation.
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