In-Home Safety Fixes for your Aging Parents
This post is a follow-up to the questions posed in the late post put up Thursday evening, June 7, 2012.
If you haven’t had a chance to do a walk-through of your parents home yet then put both this post and the post from Thursday aside and review it when there is a time you can look into these questions. Safety is an ongoing assessment so plan to review these questions, or similar subjects, at least once a year. If you notice cognitive or behavioral changes in either of your parents then do the re-assessment right away.
Q. As you enter the home through the front door do you see throw rugs or other items that could cause a fall?
A. Throw rugs without an adhesive backing to hold them in place are a hazard and cause falls. Encourage wall-to-wall carpeting or appropriately backed area rugs. Clear any clutter that inhibits ambulation with ease.
Q. Is there appropriate lighting throughout the home?
A. Aging eyes often have shadows so strong illumination is essential for safety. Be sure that areas traversed at night are lit by nightlights, stairways are well illuminated, and all light switches are in logical places so there is no need to fumble around in the dark.
Q. In the living and dining rooms are there walkways with enough space to avoid bumping into furniture?
A. Even if your parents were never hoarders there are those who, as they age, relax their standards of housekeeping allowing books, magazines, newspapers and other items to accumulate next to chairs or tables. This creates narrowed walkways and the potential for injury. If you notice this phenomenon ask if you can assist them in recycling some of the items or loading things into the outside trash can. Once clutter gets out of hand the discussion around dispersing it often is taken as criticism so tread lightly (pun intended).
Q. Is there furniture in any room with sharp corners that could cause bruising or a laceration?
A. Aging skin is fragile and sometimes paper-thin. Elders may be on blood thinners (even if it’s a baby aspirin) and prone to bruising. Soften sharp edges with felt or foam padding to reduce the number of injuries.
Q. Are there visible cords from electronics or lamps that could be tripped over?
A. There are multiple ways to bundle cords to get them safely out of the way. If you need ideas talk to sales people at your local Radio Shack or electronics store. Loops in cords or blind pulls are a sure way to cause a fall.
Q. Is there an indoor pet?
A. This can be a tricky area to discuss because people love their pets and they provide good socialization. In a perfect world the pet doesn’t get underfoot. In order to decrease the risk of falls, especially at night, you might encourage your parents to crate the pet at bedtime. Keep food and water bowls in corners and out of heavily trafficked areas.
Q. In the kitchen is there adequate counter space? Are counters cluttered or clean?
A. In order to work safely with knives and appliances there needs to be enough room. If counters are cluttered seek additional storage space, find out if things are being left out because cabinets are too high to reach comfortably, and consider hiring a cleaning service if your parents are too tired to clean up regularly.
Q. Are knives stored in a safe manner?
A. Knives are one of the greatest hazards in the kitchen. Be sure there is a holder or magnetic strip where they can be stored easily within reach but without open blades on the counters.
Q. Do the appliances work properly?
A. Actually test the toaster and other appliances. Do they run well and meet the purpose for their use? Observe your parent using the appliances to be sure they are being operated safely (lids on tight, no hands in areas of moving blades, no towels dangling over the toaster). Check for frayed cords, dulled blades, or excessive crumbs–anything that could cause a hazard.
Q. Are frequently used items within reach?
A. If not, find a way to add lower shelving so they can reached easily.
Q. When accessing upper cabinets what is being used to reach the items?
A. A sturdy step stool is useful if your parents are still agile, but if they are slowing down or have difficulty moving around abandon the upper cabinets and put items in reach with additional shelving or by clearing out items no longer used regularly. There are also certain types of “reachers” and “grabbers” specifically designed for higher cabinets. Talk to your DME supplier. Certain insurance plans or assistance programs can help keep the cost of these items low.
Q. Take a look at the bathroom…
A. If faucets aren’t working get them fixed to avoid leaks and possible flooding. Make sure there are grab bars in the shower. If your parents need additional support getting up from a sitting position at the toilet get them the appropriate items to facilitate stability. Observe them stepping in and out of the tub (if there is one). If they can’t do it easily then get a walk in shower installed or add additional grab bars outside the shower for support. If your parent has been recently discharged from the hospital Medicare may pay for a home safety evaluation by a physical or occupational therapist. Ask for suggestions from them. If there is no way to pay for the eval (Medicare, other insurance, or cash) then speak with a DME expert at your local durable medical equipment (DME) company and get their suggestions. Falls are most common in the bathroom and the bedroom. Your evaluation of these areas needs to be very thorough.
Q. What is the temperature setting for the hot water heater?
A. Assess whether your hand is uncomfortable or scalded when running the hot water. If it is then turn the temperature down until there will be no scalding.
Q. Observe your parent doing the cooking. Do they use a gas stove or electric? Can they easily lift pans from the stove to the counter or table?
A. If there are dangling sleeves over a gas flame then your parent is likely to get burned. There are stove guards available to prevent such hazards. Your DME supplier should be able to assist in this area. If pots and pans are too heavy for your parent to lift safely then either they won’t cook or they will spill food and possibly burn themselves in the process. Encourage microwave use and get them a lighter set of pots and pans.
Q. Is trash emptied regularly to prevent bugs, rodents, odors, and debris?
A. If not you may need to hire a housecleaning service. Check to see if your parents have enough strength to lift the bags out of the trash can or if there are other issues involved. It’s usually not attributable to laziness. If there has been a change in cognition however, your parent may not notice the pile of trash accumulating and the offensive odors or pests associated with it.
Q. Are there stairs in the home…?
A. Test the strength of the rail and possibly think of adding a rail on both sides for stability. Observe your parents going up and down the stairs? Are they able to utilize them easily and without pain? Stairs are a potential area for falls so assess this situation carefully.
Q. Do your parents smoke? In bed?
A. Preferably your parents don’t smoke, but if they do make sure there are fire extinguishers and smoke alarms strategically placed.
Q. Are there smoke alarms on all levels of the house…?
A. If you don’t know the advised spacing between smoke alarms speak with the local fire captain and get his opinion. Batteries need to be changed every six months–set up a calendar to remind yourself to do this. Do not expect your parents to remember. If you don’t know (and your parents don’t know) when the batteries were last changed then do it now and make a note to change them again in six months.
Q. Are there window locks on all the windows?
A. If not, install them or some other deterrent to keep intruders out. Elders are a prime target for burglaries.
Q. Are there sturdy locks on the doors?
A. No brainer here. Make sure the locks on each door are adequate. Make sure a neighbor (trusted) has a set of keys in case your parents get locked out. Be sure family members have keys as well. DO NOT USE THEM UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY! Your parents are still entitled to their privacy.
Q. Is there a routine for checking doors and windows before bed?
A. The world is a changing place. Talk to your parents and encourage that all doors and windows be checked and locked before retiring for the night. Insurers may offer a discount for such a routine or for the installation of a security system.
Q. Are all chemicals and caustic items clearly labeled? Where are they stored?
A. The importance of labeling cannot be overly stressed. Every bottle, can, or box needs to be easily identifiable. Involve your parents in this project. If no one can figure out what is in a container then get rid of it. Don’t take chances. Caustic materials and chemicals should be stored in a specific location away from open flames, water, and possible cross contamination.
Use of rubber gloves and eye protection when using chemicals or caustic agents should be encouraged. Aging skin is very sensitive–encourage your parents to use precautions, but don’t harp on them about the subject. When you use these items in their home set a good example and use gloves and eye protection. Encourage any housekeeping personnel to do the same.
Q. Is there a first aid kit in the home?
A. Preferably there is one on each level of the home and it is kept stocked with bandages, band-aids, hydrogen peroxide, butterfly bandages, an abdominal pad or kotex for use in staunching bleeding, sharp scissors, tweezers, a lighter or some matches, and some sterile saline. Prepackaged first aid kits can be purchased at Wal Mart or most hardware stores for a reasonable amount of money. Check the kit and make sure it is restocked on a periodic basis.
Q. Are emergency numbers posted next to each phone? Family contact numbers? Is the print large enough for your parent to read?
A. Emergency and family numbers should be posted next to every phone in the home. Your parent’s vision is probably changing so be sure the print is large enough for them to read. Large numbered phones are a good idea to have if your parents have vision problems.
Q. When was the last time the furnace filter was cleaned, the wood stove pipe cleaned, or the fireplace cleaned?
A. Get these items taken care of and on a regular schedule for maintenance.
Q. Where are the emergency shut off valves for gas and water? Where is the electrical panel? Are these items easily accessible? Do your parents know how to shut them off if necessary?
A. This is especially important if your parents have moved from their own home into a new location. In a facility they may be depending on facility staff, but if they are at all capable they should know the location and how to deal with these utilities in case of an emergency.
Q. Is there a security system in the house? Is it used appropriately?
A. Consider strongly getting one and reviewing with your parents how to use it for optimum security.
This is a very long post, but these issues are important and should allow you and your parents some peace of mind as you address the questions and seek solutions. Our next post will ask questions about the safety of the exterior (yard, walkways, garage) of your parent’s home.
As always, feel free to offer suggestions, ask questions and share stories related to the topic. Thanks for participating.