A newborn’s homecoming is often preceded by a frenzy of childproofing. However, caregivers often do not see to senior proofing the home until after a scare or injury occurs. Or they are not sure how to go about making the home a safe environment for aging loved ones, especially those who need care for disease or recuperative issues, or for decreased cognitive ability.
Below you will find some simple ways to make your home safer and more convenient for your aging loved ones.
Light that is adequate for younger adults often is not adequate for older adults, many of whom have decreased vision due to aging or to health problems such as diabetes which affect the eyes. Be proactive about lighting and make sure that areas around entry doors, hallways, and stairways are well lit. Err on the bright side. Use higher wattage bulbs or add extra lights if needed. Touch lights are a great way to add light to an area not wired for regular lighting. Motion sensor lights let seniors move throughout the home without having to locate or reach for light switches. Glow-in-the-dark switch plates are another good alternative.
Use Hardware, Not Hard Wear
Seniors, particularly those with arthritis, who sometimes struggle to open doors or windows. If your current hardware is proving to be “hard wear” on your loved one, then a simple change might be needed. For instance, lever type door handles are easier to open than round handles which must be gripped more tightly in order to be turned. Crank style window openers can be impossible for some seniors to use.
Seniors with a cognitive impairment or some form of Dementia must be protected from themselves. It is critical for caregivers to restrict access to dangerous areas without having to stand guard over these seniors 24/7. Childproofing tools such as special door locks or cabinet closures work well for this purpose. Any area containing dangerous items like cleaners, bleach, meds, chemicals, etc., should be secured from your loved one. Door alarms are available at little cost. When set, an alarm will sound if the door is opened.
Move It or Lose It
Seniors need to retain as much mobility as possible. In order to stay mobile indoors, they need to be able to move safely throughout the house. Get rid of tripping hazards like rugs and stair runners, rooms overly cluttered by furnishings, or items which constrict movement through the room. Place a trunk or basket in each shared space for quick storage of toys after play. Perhaps a toy-free zone can be enforced where your senior spends the most time. Alternatively, a senior-free zone can also be set so toys in the floor there are not a falling hazard.
Keep a bench or chair beside entry doors so your loved one can sit to don or remove boots or weather gear. Add a full-height barstool to the kitchen counter area to make it easier for a senior to prep and cook food. If your senior completes grooming in a bedroom, make sure there is a chair or sturdy stool to sit on while drying hair or putting on makeup, etc.
A chair in the bathroom enables a senior to sit to finish drying off without having to bend over and risk overbalancing. Walk-in tubs and showers are safer and easier to use for seniors. Add handrails in the shower, bath, and toilet areas. If you need a bath mat, then purchase one designed to grip the floor. It will present a lesser chance of causing your senior to trip and fall.
Can We Hear Them Now?
The unavoidable truth is that no matter how many safety precautions we take, unexpected accidents do happen. When they happen to our seniors, it’s critical that they be able to call for immediate help. A few minutes of delay can be fatal. You can try a personal emergency response system. Your senior would wear a device as a pendent or bracelet which can be pushed if they need help. A call-assist program is similarly helpful.
If there is no such program in your area, then have your senior keep a cell-phone with him or her at all times. As a last resort, make sure there is a phone in arm’s reach of where your senior spends the most time (recliner, bed, computer desk, etc.).
If your senior enjoys the outdoors, but doesn’t speak fluent cell phone or push-for-help, then purchase a coach’s whistle. Tell your senior to wear it when outdoors and, if help is needed, to blow it and keep blowing it until someone responds. The odds are that the whistle will be heard more easily than a cry for help.
Where to Begin
Seniors fall most often in the bathroom where most surfaces are hard and/or sharp-edged. So, begin in the bathroom. It’s an excellent start toward a home that is not only welcoming, but also safe for your loved one.
For more tips on caring for seniors, visit our senior home care blog.