Managing safety risks for seniors at home begins with identifying the common safety concerns first.
In the previous months, we have feature Eleanor Gaccetta’s book One Caregiver’s Journey. We have learned and encountered many discoveries and realizations about the life of caregivers. We learned about Gaccetta’s prerequisite to becoming a caregiver, as well as other insights she shared in her book. Today, we will discuss another aspect of family caregiving that is crucial- home safety risk for seniors.
Injuries from falls are perhaps the most common in-home safety risk for the elderly. Falls are the leading cause of serious injuries among seniors age 65 years old and above, and seventy percent of these falls occur at home. There are many internal factors such as poor lighting and eyesight, loss of balance, fragile bone density, eye-hand coordination, and other issues related to the body’s natural decline. However, we can greatly reduce the risks by removing tripping hazards, using a walker or a cane, and ensuring that the patient has enough walking space in all areas at home.
Fires are a common risk in any home, regardless of the ages of the occupants. That is why for family caregivers attending seniors at home, we must lower the risk of fires by checking on the wires, the lights, and electricals inside the patient’s bedroom. We must secure flammables such as candles, gasoline, and other chemicals in safe storage. It is important for those using oxygen tanks to do regular maintenance checks and install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. If there are heaters, they should be placed far away from items that might catch fire (curtains, furniture, and clothing). One of the most overlooked fire hazards is the kitchen stove. Seniors who try to cook often forget to turn off the stove or forget they have left pans on the head, which can burn. Often family members will have to turn off the gas or electricity to the stove to keep the seniors from cooking.
While this is still under the category of fall hazards, we give emphasis to bathroom hazards because of the incidences of slipping and falling onto a very hard surface. Many fall accidents happen inside the bathroom, and most of them have caused serious injuries; and in some cases, the accidents were fatal, making the bathrooms one of the common places for senior falls. Family caregivers and family members should accompany the patient at least up to the bathroom door. Rubber mats and grab bars are an essential part of the bathroom if you have senior patients at home. Good lighting, a raised toilet seat, a bathing chair, and a hand-held should also be in place. If the flooring is smooth, consider replacing tile with a substance that has texture or grooves so the senior will have traction and not slip and slide.
Whether it’s food poisoning or chemical ingestion, accidental poisoning is also among the highest safety risk at home for seniors. If we have a senior or elderly patient, family caregivers or responsible family members should supervise food intake and medication at all times. Proper labeling and use of medicines and other drugs should be observed. Home chemical products should be placed far away from food supplies. Regularly check the “use by” dates on packaged foods and containers of saved food in the refrigerator or on a countertop. Discard food that has an odor or looks to be moldy, including cheese. Check milk to ensure it is not curdled. Chemical and food poisoning are not only dangerous; they can be deadly.
Ensuring the household’s overall safety is paramount, regardless of whether the senior lives with family members or alone. Seniors and elderly patients are vulnerable to physical attacks and other crimes (also frauds, schemes, break-ins, etc.) The family caregiver and the rest of the household must be briefed on security measures and protocols (including talking to strangers and answering the phone). Doors, windows, and gates must be locked at all times. Emergency numbers must be made readily available in case of emergencies.
Keep Emergency Numbers Handy
-Contact numbers of police authorities, fire department, hospitals, attending physician, immediate relatives, close neighbors, and family friends should be listed and placed near the telephone. Each family member should also have the list on speed dial if possible.
Assess Bedrooms and Bathrooms
-Bedrooms and bathrooms are the two areas that most senior patients frequent. As such, the risk hazards must be addressed and reduced. Aside from ensuring that the rooms are well-lit, we must ensure both areas are free of obstructions and other items that might cause accidents.
Consider Decluttering & Pet Safety
-If there is a senior patient in your home, it is essential that every effort be made to de-clutter and organize the space. The more organized the home is, the easier it is for us to take care of our loved ones.
Redesign Home for Senior Patients
-By this, we mean restructuring the room, rearranging furniture and appliances, securing the stairs, and other minor improvements that can be easily executed to make the home a safer environment for our senior patient.
Common Home Security Measures
-Other standard home security measures include securing the surroundings (gate, fence, and doors), installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, use alarms and other monitoring devices. Consider installing an alarm system, some can be professionally installed or those installed by individual family members. Such systems include the ability for people to use a cell phone to engage with strangers who come to the door. Most importantly, household members must be briefed and properly oriented about the home situation and everyone’s responsibilities in making the home secure and safe for the elderly member.