Everyone, everyday, is at risk for calamity of all kinds. With foresight and planning, risk can be avoided or at least managed to insure safety. Whether outside of the home on the property, or inside the home itself, disaster can occur at any moment, altering the well being and functioning level of the elder involved. As for the inside of the elder's home, many issues can pose risk. Climbing stairs in the house can be impossible for elders who have balance issues, walking issues, and reduced strength in both arms and legs. The stairs must be clean and free of debris. Stair climbing chairs should be installed to insure the elder safe movement from one floor to another. Recently an elder had a stair climber installed in his house, and for the first time since his stroke 2 years ago, he walked into the upper floor of his home. If the elder is strong enough to climb stairs independently, the railings should be checked to insure they are securely fastened to the wall.
The linoleum and carpeting on the floors of the home should be securely attached to prevent falls and tripping. The flooring should be free of scratches, tears and damage of any kind. Area rugs should have slip free backing to prevent sliding when the elder walks on it. A suggestion is to use area bath rugs. They come in various sizes and can be used as regular area rugs, but they do have non-slip rubber backing and can easily be laundered in a standard washing machine. These can be purchased at any large department store that sells bath mats. Online at JCPenney.com, the bath rugs can be as large at 10 feet by 6 feet. These mats look just like area rugs but are so much safer than area rugs that slip and slide.
If a pet is in the home, the pet should be trained not to jump in or around the elder. The pet may not realize that the elder is frail and accidently knock them over onto the floor or even down a flight of stairs. To train a dog to stay down, use small training treats that can be purchased at any pet shop. When a visitor enters, drop a few treats and the dog will stay with their head on the ground for the treats, and eventually stop jumping up to greet visitors. Also be sure that the pet's claws are clipped regularly. Elders tend to have thinner skin that tears and bruises more easily and takes much longer to heal.
If the elder has memory loss or impairment, they may forget that the stove is on and cause a pot to burn or even ignite a fire in the home. The knobs on the stove can be removed and the stove cannot be started by the elder when alone. The meals should be prepared by a competent adult in the home, or the elder should be supervised during the meal preparation to prevent fire or burns. A woman recently forgot that she had stored newspapers in her oven, and turned it on to pre heat before cooking. The oven ignited and the firefighters broke down her door, and she did survive the fire.
The same precautions should be taken if there is a wood burning fireplace in the home. The fire should be supervised by a competent adult, and the elder should be assisted in lighting the flame and keeping the logs ignited. Sparks may fly about when new wood is added to the fire, so a competent adult should be present during the entire fireplace use time. If the elder can't handle a real fireplace, there are gas and electric free standing fireplaces available for purchase. Basically the logs are not real, but the flame is present and the fireplace blows out warm air. The affect is the same, but the risk of injury is greatly diminished without real fire and logs.
The fire extinguisher should be present in the kitchen area, and at least one fire extinguisher should be on each floor of the home. Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors should be in use in the home, on each floor. The batteries should be checked every month, and changed every 6 months.
Some risks outside on the property can be slip and falls, tripping, and various injuries incurred just walking about. In inclement weather, ice and snow can accumulate quickly, putting the elder at risk for slipping, falling and possibly fracturing a bone. It is vital that the snow be removed promptly, and that the ice be thawed with rock salt. A woman went to open her mailbox and there was black ice on the walkway. When she pulled the mailbox open, her feet flew out from under her and she slammed to the ground, bruising her hip badly. Even on a sunny warm day, an elder could catch their shoe on grass and turf in the yard and suffer a fall. Grass should be mowed frequently to keep it short to prevent these falls. Other risks in the yard of the home include falls on stairs on the way up or down the stairs. Railings should be installed to insure safety when using the front or side steps into or out of the home. The concrete walkways and sidewalks around the home should be in good repair. If the concrete is cracked or uneven, and elder is at risk of catching their shoe, and losing their balance tumbling forward and incurring injury. The present winter snow and ice may cause the concrete to buckle and in the spring, the outside concrete walks may put the elderly in peril of tripping and falling. When the weather improves, the concrete on the outside walkways and sidewalk should be examined and repairs made immediately to insure safety of the elder.
If there is a pool on the property, there is a risk of injury both entering and exiting the pool itself. Falls on the steps, or just the inability to climb out of the pool once the elder is in the pool is a problem at times. The elder may not realize that they do not have the arm strength to climb up a ladder, or the balance to walk the steps of a pool. Safeguards should be in place to insure that exiting and entering the pool and area around the pool are accessible to frail and disabled elders. A suggestion is that the elder never swim alone. Someone should be designated to assist in the entry and exit of the pool to insure safety. By planning ahead you can keep your elder family member safe and happy in their home for many years. Stay well! Warmly, Holly Gemme