Today, America alone has someone celebrating their 65th birthday every 8 seconds. Sadly, with this golden age comes higher risks if not more specialized care. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 out of every 4 adults falls each year placing this at a staggering 25% and 40% of hospital and nursing home admissions respectively and this does not include unreported cases. Problem is, of those admitted for falls, 40% will not fully regain their independent lives making them even more at risk of further falls. Following these statistics, falls rank top as the cause of fatal injuries. Things could change for the better if home and personal safety tips for the elderly took the central place.
Safety means being conscious of risks with the aim of preventing their occurrence. This is indeed what our seniors need as they go through this fragile stage in life. Quite importantly, the peace that comes with knowing that our older population is safe and healthy is beyond comprehension. Some questions to ask aging parents include whether:
- They would prefer remaining at home with the support of a caregiver or join an assisted living facility. And if there is anything that can be done to make the house safer and more manageable.
- They would prefer to shift to a smaller house.
- They will drive themselves around or use an alternative.
- They are willing to give out the power of attorney over their finances in the event that they will not be able to handle.
- They would like to be assisted with bill payments and other financial commitments.
These may be difficult and emotionally demanding questions to ask aging parents. But the earlier children can do this the more at peace they will be with the health and safety of their parents.
Let’s delve into some common hazard areas and the suitable elder care checklist to help address the risks and emergency plans related to these hazards.
Elderly safety at home
Home would be the first place to put in place safety measures for the elderly because this is where they spend most of their time. Different areas in the home present different hazards for the elderly therefore it is important to address this matter in totality by looking at each area separately.
80% of falls in the home are bathroom related. Injuries occur in the bathroom because of the slippery nature of wet floors. With this in mind:
- Bathroom mats will come in handy. Better still, texturize the shower floor or use a low pile commercial carpet to make the floor non-slip. Secondly, have non-slip rubber mats in the tub or under the shower to give them a sense of stability.
- Surfaces of the shower walls and bathtub should also be slip-proof.
- Nonslip grab bars or tension poles are indispensable additions to the bathroom. Grab bars should be installed near the bathtub and toilet where elders usually need extra support when moving.
- Shower chairs and bath transfer benches are great for those with a poor balance when taking a bath or when climbing in and out of the bathtub.
- Bathroom lighting needs to have a comfortable intensity to the eye while still eliminating glare to avoid accidents related to poor vision. Light switches also need to be conveniently located at the exit.
- The bathroom door should swing outward making it easy to exit or to access someone who has had a fall within the shortest time.
- A raised toilet seat shortens the sitting down and rising up distance for elders whose legs are not strong enough to support them down to the level of a low seat.
- Secure towel bars strongly against the wall in a way that prevents them from being used as grab bars. If they have to, they should be able to support the weight of your senior.
- Enough ventilation and heat can never be overlooked.
After the bathroom, staircases are the second most risky areas in the home not only for the seniors but also for children and other users:
- Staircases need to be well lit with switches conveniently at the top and base of the staircase.
- Have uniform dimensions for all steps.
- If possible distinguish the end of stairs with a glowing tape for easy identification.
- Handrails are necessary because seniors constantly need something stable to hold on to as the move.
- Carpets provide excellent traction but should be maintained to keep them off the loose thread and fit perfectly onto the staircase to prevent pile-ups.
The living room
Living rooms are synonymous to rest yet they are loaded with traps from chairs, electric codes, decor items and even the fireplace. This is why every care needs to be taken to make them as safe as possible.
- Spread rugs and carpets well without piles to prevent people from tripping.
- Reduce the detail in the living room to give it ample space to move around with ease.
- Furniture corners are known to cause injuries too hence they need to be covered.
- Cover cords with code cover so they do not become a hazard. Electric cords come with serious risks.
- Fix or get rid of broken or wobbly furniture.
Falls can happen anywhere in the home. Although the bedroom is less hazardous, it should still be safe from all the common fall hazards at home.
- Check out the path that connects the bedroom with the bath and restroom and ensure that the path is rid of clutter and well lit. Light switches should be easily accessible.
- Seniors should be able to climb onto and out of their bed with ease meaning that it needs to be of a comfortable height.
- A dressing chair is a good addition for those who cannot stand for long.
- Have a bedside lamp or flashlight. These come in handy during power blackouts.
The kitchen is loaded with risks from fire, water, grease, to appliances. Still, they should not be out of bounds for seniors. The following safety measures are particularly of help for seniors living alone.
- Automatic switch appliances are an excellent investment since when not in use or when the pilot fails the appliance shuts off automatically.
- Breakable utensils like glass, melamine, and ceramic need to be replaced with safer ones like plastic.
- Check or have an electrician check the wiring in the kitchen and that all electric connections, circuit breaker and the fuse box are all properly installed.
- Electric cords and unused sockets should all be covered.
- The ventilation system in the kitchen should be in proper working condition, allowing sufficient ventilation at all times.
- A smoke detector is a necessary installation and should be checked regularly to ensure it is always operational.
- Organize items such that they are within easy reach.
- Have pots with two handles for easy handling.
- It is always good to have a fire extinguisher around and teach your loved ones how to use it.
- Have sufficient lighting especially above the counter, range, and sinks to make the environment safe for work.
Out-of-home elderly safety
Spaces within the vicinity of the house like the porch, backyard, driveway, verandah, garden and the garage also present a significant risk for the elderly because they are not always confined inside the house. For a safe environment for the elderly:
- Repair any broken pavements, cement or steps and ensure they are even. Secondly, uproot grass, plants or trees growing on pathways or in between pavements.
- Clear paths off pebbles, stones, debris, and clutter. Also, clear overgrown bushes that might be blocking the way.
- Have mobility devices like a scooter for easy maneuvering around the yard’s terrain.
- Grass should be kept to a short safe height by regularly mowing it.
- Surfaces tend to be wet and slippery especially during winter. Use salt or sand to melt snow and ice and when winter is over, ensure that surfaces are always dry and non-slip by scrubbing and cleaning slippery areas, applying non-slip paint or using an outdoor runner whenever possible.
- Repair staircases in case they are damaged, install handrails to give users a stable grip and enhance staircase visibility using a reflective material so that stairs are distinct where steps start and end.
- Patio grab bars are a good idea and are more helpful when placed near the door.
- Avoid folding or moving furniture on the patio as they are not always the safest. Instead, have strong sturdy furniture
- Poor lighting can be a hazard. The best outdoor lights are motion-sensors as they are both power saving and convenient.
- You could have umbrellas or shades to keep your loved one cool when out under the hot sun.
Fire safety for seniors
Residential fires put seniors more at risk compared to other people. In the event of a fire, these people will most likely fail to hear the smoke alarm if asleep and if they do, will lack the capacity and mobility required to escape from the fire. For this reason, such individuals will have a slower reaction time to fire compared to others. Here are a few things that should be included in a fire safety checklist for elderly parents.
- A combination of smoke and carbon monoxide alarm needs to be installed in the right places in the home after a needs assessment has been carried out and serviced regularly to have it in good working condition at all times. It is recommended that smoke alarms be replaced every decade.
- If possible, invest in smart safety features for elderly at home such as a smart smoke alarm which sends an alert to a smartphone or an alarm with flashing lights in addition to sound to provide an additional signal for danger.
- Anything burning is a fire hazard. Be it fire from the gas cooker in the kitchen, cigarette, scented candles or the fireplace. Kitchen fire should never be left unattended and cooking should be done with short sleeve or tight fitting sleeved clothes on. Secondly, opt for electric wax burners instead of candles. Thirdly, cigarettes should be smoked outside the house and buried under the sand or wetted when done with. If smoking has to be done indoors, it should never be in bed, in a lying position or near oxygen. Finally, have a protective screen for the fireplace and put out the fire before exiting the room.
- Have a fire extinguisher in the house and teach your seniors or their caregivers how to use it in the event of a fire.
- Keep your heaters at a safe distance, at least three feet, away from things that can catch fire and turn them off when not in the house.
- Electric cords should be checked regularly for frays and be replaced in case of any.
- Have at least two escape routes in the house which are easily accessible and which everybody should be aware of. In addition, practice fire and smoke escape in advance.
- Everyone should know that in the event that someone’s clothes catch fire, he/she needs to cover their face, gently drop to the ground and roll to put the fire out.
Car safety for seniors
Old age certainly affects one’s driving ability. While it is safer taking a cab or being chauffeur-driven, these do not sit well with those who value their independence. If they have to be the ones behind the wheels, here are some safety tips for senior citizens.
- Go for vision and hearing check-ups regularly.
- Seniors with poor vision should avoid driving at night unless the roads they intend to use are well lit.
- Unless absolutely necessary, avoid driving in high traffic and during bad weather.
- It is best to drive on roads you are well acquainted with near your home. Consider an alternative if you have to go a long distance.
- Automatic transmission cars are easier to drive hence better for the elderly.
- Distractions such as mobile phones, loud music, talking to other passengers and the radio need to be limited as much as possible to allow for full concentration while driving.
- Always have your seatbelt buckled and your headlights on at all times to enhance visibility.
- Always maintain a safe distance from the car in front. This helps you to apply brakes in time in case of anything.
- Observe regular service and maintenance to keep the vehicle in good condition whenever you need to use it.
- Always lock the doors of your car and for the windows, leaving just a small opening enough for fresh air.
- Your purse and valuable belongings should be kept out of sight.
- Finally, know your limitations and consider seeking a recommendation from your doctor about the necessary exercise or assistive devices that will help you drive comfortably.
Food safety for seniors
The elderly are usually more prone to foodborne illnesses due to changes in their body systems. With age, a person’s body system and immunity do not function as well as they did before. This is why food safety for senior citizens is critical. Here are some tips to bear in mind.
- Avoid putting raw and cooked food items together to prevent bacteria from the raw food contaminating the cooked food.
- Separate leftover food in small shallow containers to make chilling them easier and faster.
- Always chill raw meats and leftover food within two hours of their purchase or use. Food left out for long at room temperature can cause the rapid multiplication of bacteria and cause illness upon consumption.
- Check the expiry for all food items including those in the refrigerator and get rid of any that is past the expiry date.
- Always clean all food and divide into smaller portions before storage. This reduces handling as well as chances of contamination.
- Home delivered meals need to be handled with extra care and reheated to at least 165 °F temperature to be sure that it is safe for consumption.
- Take plenty of clean water especially during summer to keep you hydrated.
- Some raw food and unpasteurized products like milk and cheese are best avoided as they are not safe. Insist on pasteurized products.
- Always wash hands before handling food.
- Find out from your doctor if there are any food items you need to eliminate from your diet perhaps due to their reaction to your medication or allergy and avoid them altogether.
Personal safety and security for seniors
Seniors may not be at a high risk of crime compared to others. However, the probability of crime happening around their home when it does is estimated at 92%. Still, measures should be taken so that they are safe both at home and away from home. The following handy tips will go a long way to help in crime prevention for senior citizens.
- Keep spare keys with someone trustworthy like a neighbor or a caregiver and not under the doormat or in the mailbox where they are bound to be accessed by burglars. For this reason, know your neighbors and be friends with them. They will help keep an eye on you or your house when you are not around.
- Some important home safety products seniors should consider having in the home is an all-inclusive alarm system that addresses fire and carbon monoxide, burglary, and medical concerns as well as motion sensor lights outdoor.
- Quality locks should be fitted on your doors and windows especially if you have just moved into a new home.
- Your personal information is just that. This includes credit card information, personal identity, and social security numbers. Never give out your information to strangers over the phone or through email until you have verified where you are sending such information.
- Have a peephole on your door to help you see everyone who knocks at the door before opening to let them in. In addition, it is a good habit to carry your wireless phone to the door.
- Anyone coming to your house for servicing or repairs should produce a valid ID to prove that they are who they claim they are. If possible have someone around the entire time.
- Always have someone accompany you if you have to be out at night.
- Try not to fall asleep when traveling on public transport.
- Finally, get the police to perform an evaluation in your house so you are sure that it is well proofed for security.
Money-related elderly safety
Today’s technological advances are both good and bad. While the millennials may be well familiar with such technology, the older generation will be the target for fraud using the same. This money-related checklist for elderly living alone or with their family will help keep them from scam and crime.
- Keep a tab of your bank and credit card statements. Call your bank promptly if you notice anything unusual in your statement.
- Opt for direct deposit rather than receiving checks at home. This will ensure that all money coming in goes straight into your account.
- Do your research to be sure that any purchases you make are from existing credible business. If possible get details like ID, telephone, full name and operating license number of any salesperson you will interact with.
- When disposing of receipts and documents with your personal details, shred them first.
- Be careful when using ATMs. Withdraw the money only in crowded places and always hide the keyboard with your palm while entering the PIN code.
- Find out from the Attorney General’s office that the charity you want to get involved with is legitimate.
- If possible, get a lawyer to scrutinize any documents before you sign them.
- Consider making use of safe deposit services at the bank for your valuables.
An elderly home safety checklist is an excellent way to evaluate the home environment to find out how safe it is for aging parents to live. Safety is not just about the home. It is also about a person’s psychology, finances, emotions and other things. We hope that these home safety tips the elderly and their caregivers need will come in handy when proofing the home.