By Linda Norton
Falls are the main reason why older adults lose their independence. Learning how to prevent them and other mishaps helps you stay safe and lets you focus on all the things you love to do—worry free.
Sometimes the simplest adjustments in habit and lifestyle are the most effective. Cleaning up the clutter around your house—particularly in areas where you regularly walk—will make a big difference. Move the laundry basket from the bottom of the stairs or the pile of shoes by the front door. Be mindful of clutter on flat surfaces as well. Items may get knocked over, or you might find yourself needing to put something down quickly, such as a hot drink, and being able to find a clear space quickly is key.
Lighting and cleaning
Proper lighting is also helpful in ensuring your home is safe. Lighting meant for specific tasks, such as a reading lamp in the living room or brighter lights in the kitchen for cooking, will help you see more clearly and provide a comfortable environment for carrying out daily activities. You can also program your lights to go on automatically with the use of timers, and anticipate when you will need them the most. Lighting at night, for the pathway to the washroom or to the kitchen for a snack, will make your home easier to navigate.
When you’re doing the house cleaning yourself, it is important to look for the easiest way to carry out each task. Long-handled dustpans, for example, will prevent you from stooping to sweep the floor and long-handled scrub brushes can help clean the bathtub or shower without stooping or reaching. When you find yourself unable to accomplish something, ask a friend or family member for help, or consider hiring someone for the task.
In the kitchen
One of the first things to consider about kitchen safety is the risk of fire. Working smoke alarms should be located here, as well as in various other areas in your home, and tested regularly. Remember to change the batteries twice a year, every time you set your clocks for daylight savings time. A small fire extinguisher should also be easy to grab from the kitchen. Remember to never leave cooking unattended and to turn off the elements when you are finished cooking. Devices that use a timer to control the stove or sensors to check your proximity to the stove both ensure that you do not leave anything on.
The kitchen area holds the potential for the spread of bacteria. Routinely wiping down surfaces with a clean cloth and household cleaner and cleaning your dishes within two hours of using them are the two easiest ways to keep your kitchen hygienic. Remember to empty the garbage as soon as it fills up and wash the can frequently. Finally, check your fridge and cupboards for expired, spoiled or rancid food to toss. Not only will your kitchen be bacteria-free but it will smell better too!
The most comfortable space in your house should also be the safest, but this is not always the case.
Making your bed easier to get in and out of may take some planning. Bed blocks that raise the bed make getting out a little easier. Grab bars or poles near the bed also make this transfer happen more smoothly. If your bed is on wheels, be sure to lock or remove them for extra stability. For those who are frailer, an adjustable bed can be useful for ease of transfer.
Since older adults tend to have a decreased ability to sense temperature, please be careful with heating devices to avoid burns. If you find yourself cooler at night, use a hot-water bottle rather than an electrical blanket or heating pad. If you do use an electrical blanket, place it on top of other bedding so it is not in direct contact with your skin.
You may also need to consider placing a sturdy chair with armrests in your bedroom to make dressing yourself safer and easier. A nightstand that’s tidy and holds a lamp, telephone, medication and glasses will help you to reach safely and easily. Install smoke detectors and consider having an emergency-response system or telephone that is reachable from bed. Also, a phone with large numbers and pre-programmable speed dial buttons will make calling in case of emergency easier and faster.
If you find climbing the stairs difficult, it may be good time to consider relocating your bedroom. A bedroom on the main floor may be a welcome change if there is a washroom in close proximity.
Climbing the stairs
Stairs can be tricky and dangerous for the young and old alike, so keeping them safe for you and your guests is of utmost importance. Keep your inside stairs mess free and your outdoor steps free from snow and ice, and install sturdy handrails to interior and exterior sets. Colourful, non-slip treads decrease the risk of slipping and improve the visibility of the steps, both welcome factors from a single installment. Make sure to check that your stairs are in good condition and are level, stable and sturdy. Call a local handyman to complete any necessary repairs.
When climbing the stairs inside proves difficult, a stair lift is a great option. An expert will help you to make sure that there is space at the top and bottom of the stairs for transfer, and that you can sit with ease and balance on the lift.
Ramps are an excellent choice to make stairs more manageable, especially for those using assistive devices like canes, walkers and, of course, wheelchairs. A non-skid surface on the ramp will help to prevent any slips and falls. Also, be sure to check that the incline is not too steep. When you do decide to purchase a ramp, consider whether you want a temporary or permanent ramp.
When there is not enough space for a ramp, or it is too difficult to use, a lift may work for you. Lifts come in both indoor and outdoor models and at varying prices, so consult a knowledgeable professional to help you make the right decision and to correctly install the device.
Home, safe home
Making your home safe does not have to be complicated, stressful or even expensive. Following these tips will make you feel more comfortable in your home and much more able to reduce any anxiety you have about your safety.
Linda Norton, MSCH, BSc, OT, OT Reg (Ont) is Director of Learning and Clinical Education at the Motion Group.
How to be safer in your bathroom
Bathrooms are the number-one location for slips and falls. So, it is a good idea to put the following safety measures in place. First, it’s important to keep your floors dry. Placing a rubber-backed mat outside the tub or shower stall while you bathe prevents slipping on wet tile. Once you have dried yourself, put the mat away so that it does not cause you to trip later.
Sometimes the necessity of going to the bathroom can be a little tricky. If your toilet seat is too low then you may find a raised seat to be helpful. A seat with armrests can also be used in the place of a grab bar to help you sit or stand more easily. Remember to check the stability of your toilet; if you place a raised seat on top of a wobbly toilet you may risk losing your balance and falling.
Commodes can be very useful if you find that getting to the washroom is difficult. They can be adjusted to suit your height to make your transfer easier. Using a commode may help you manage your bowels and bladder and prevent falls, especially if you often use the toilet at night.
Grooming and washing yourself without the fear of something going wrong can require a few helpful implements. Devices such as a long-handled sponge can help you clean hard-to-reach places while a foot scrubber suctioned to the ground lets you clean your feet without having to stoop. A hand-held showerhead is also useful if you use a bath seat or bench, allowing you to control the flow of water.
Bath seats and bath benches allow you to sit rather than stand in the shower. If standing for a long time is a challenge, or you are afraid of slipping on the water, bath seats and bath benches are highly recommended.
If getting into the bathtub or shower stall is a challenge, a sponge bath is a good alternative. All you need is a sturdy chair with armrests and a bedside table on wheels to move out of the way when you are finished. You can even use no-rinse shampoo and bathing clothes for convenience. When you are done bathing yourself, put on an absorbent robe to dry difficult-to-reach spots, such as your back.
Installing grab bars can be useful in preventing slips and falls in the bathroom. Consider which of the three types of grab bars will suit you:
• Tub-mounted bars clamp onto the bathtub, no drilling required.
• Floor-to-ceiling poles can be positioned anywhere the ceiling is solid.
• Wall-mounted bars are secured to the wall, providing very solid support.
Since bathing can sometimes be complicated and time consuming, it is a good idea to have a family member, friend or caregiver at home when you are bathing. If something proves to be too difficult for you alone, there will be someone there to help you.