I love Thanksgiving! It is my family’s favorite holiday. Growing up in a small family with relatives spread across the country from New York to San Diego, Thanksgiving was the time we would all try to gather in one place. Sometimes we gathered with my aunt in New York, my parent’s house in Oklahoma, or with my grandparents in California. Sometimes we all met at a place where none of us lived like Las Vegas. It did not matter where we gathered as long as we were able to spend time together.
This year brings about many changes as we gather in Tulsa, Oklahoma at my parent’s house. My grandmother will not be with us this year; she passed away several months ago. However, my grandfather, who turns 95 on November 6 will be joining us from San Diego.
Having an elderly relative visit calls for some pre-planning. Falls are a major cause of accidents for seniors; every 15 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall and every 29 minutes, an older adult dies following a fall in the home.
Falls can be caused by health conditions that affect balance and eyesight, by lightheadedness, and mobility problems that occur more often as we age. My grandfather is very mobile; plays tennis twice a week, still drives and lives on his own, but in a new environment, the potential hazards are too great to ignore. We needed to “Elder- Proof” my parent’s home.
Before you make changes, conduct a thorough assessment of the environment, looking for obvious hazards and potential safety challenges. As when your children were little, you may be required to remove potential hazards from the home. Start with some simple changes that can make the environment safer, but without major costs.
Here are three priority issues for elder-proofing your home:
1. Removing fall hazards. Remove any throw rugs or any rugs that aren’t permanently tacked down, such as rugs around toilets. Check for other floor dangers, such as slick floors. Remove low furniture that could be a tripping hazard, such as ottomans or low coffee tables. Check that no electrical cords cross pathways. See that spills are immediately wiped up. Move kitchen and other storage items to an easy to reach level, avoiding the temptation of step stools.
2. Improving lighting. Aging eyes are not as sharp, which also leads to potential dangers. It’s been estimated that the average 85-year-old needs approximately three times the light to see something that a 15-year-old would need. Therefore, look for lighting issues and ensure plentiful ambient lighting. Place extra lighting at stairs and walkways, and install nightlights in bathrooms and halls.
3. Removing potential fire and burn hazards. Remove space heaters, candles, and other devices with open flames. Install a protective screen on any fireplaces. Wrap exposed hot-water pipes, and lower hot water temperatures.
In addition, adaptive tools can improve home safety for many seniors. 60% of falls by seniors occur most often in the bathroom. Durable medical equipment such as raised toilet seats, shower chairs and professionally installed bathroom grab bars are examples of equipment that can help prevent bathroom falls.
At my parent’s house, we removed throw rugs, placed a shower chair in the bathtub, installed nightlights throughout the house, and moved the computer to the first floor so grandpa had no reason to climb the stairs. Keeping loved ones safe at home is a team effort. Regardless if your aunt is visiting for the weekend or if you are taking care of your parents at home, the goal for all is a safe and comfortable home that promotes healthy and independent living.
Development Director, Project MEND
** Believing that mobility and independence are basic human rights, Project MEND empowers individuals through the reuse of medical equipment to become active members of their communities. You can find out more about Project MEND at www.projectmend.org
*** Additional resources for preventing falls
No More Falls Coalition Texas www.nomorefallstx.org
National Council on Aging www.ncoa.org
Fall Prevention Center of Excellence www.stopfalls.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention www.cdc.gov