When family members are faced with having to take care of an older adult, they are often taken aback by the seemingly insurmountable number of care essentials involved, especially when acting as the sole caregiver or a first-time caregiver.
Caring for a loved one elicits a myriad of questions and concerns. In addition to doctor appointments, healthcare plans, laundry, medication reminders, and special diets, a new family caregiver must create a safe and secure environment with the lowest possible risk of injury to meet their loved one’s daily needs.
For most seniors and their families, one injury could be one too many.
Safety within reach: Reducing the risk of falls in the home
Reducing the risk of injury should be a priority when caring for older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four adults 65 and older will sustain a fall, which is the leading cause of death and injury among this population.
Home modifications can be made to reduce health hazards and lessen the risk of injury, including adding safety equipment or improving air quality, flooring, and lighting.
- Flooring - Remove or repair torn or slippery rugs, thick or wavy carpets, and broken tiles in the home as these can interfere with a person’s ability to walk smoothly or propel and maneuver with assistive devices, such as walkers or wheelchairs.
- Clutter and obstacles - Clear clutter and remove excess furniture or obstacles from walkways inside and outside the home. This will increase maneuverability and reduce the risk of a person hitting or bumping into objects or furniture.
- Lighting - Increase lighting inside and outside the home. Poor lighting can increase the risk of falls in older adults and pose hazards for those with diminished vision. Consider adding nightlights in bathrooms and bedrooms, and, if possible, including solar-powered lights along outdoor walkways and near entries to the home.
- Bathrooms - If an older adult is at risk of falling, install grab bars around the toilet, shower stall, and tub; if possible, have these installed by a licensed contractor who specializes in senior home safety renovations. Replace old slippery mats with updated non-slip bathmats. Families can also add safety strips inside tub areas and stalls as well.
- Bedrooms - Remove clutter from bedrooms to allow for easy transit and mobility. Determine if a bed is too high. In some cases, the bed may need to be lowered. Not being able to reach the floor, when sitting on the side of the bed, may result in a fall, particularly if the person is frail or has poor balance.
- Stairs, steps, and railings - Repair wobbly and broken railings. If possible, have a licensed home renovator make safety improvements to stairs and steps inside and outside the home. In some cases, a family caregiver may have to move a loved one to a lower-level bedroom, especially if this person is a fall risk or has a history of falls.
Factors that increase risk of falls and injury
The following factors may increase the risk of injury:
- Poor balance and gait issues can increase the risk of falls.
- Diminished vision will impair ambulation and movement as well as increase the risk of falls. It’s imperative to make appointments with an eye specialist at the first sign of diminished vision or eye discomfort and redness.
- Reduced hearing may make it difficult to listen to electronic alarms, emergency sirens, phone ringers, and smoke alarms. Make an appointment with a hearing specialist at the first sign of impaired hearing; if love ones are already using hearing aids, make sure that they are in working order.
- Extended physical inactivity and weakened muscles increase the risk of fall and injury. Encourage loved ones to take part in strength and balance-building exercises. However, consult a physician before beginning an exercise program.
Addressing health issues
In addition to environmental factors, personal health concerns must be addressed when caring for older adults in a home environment.
- Encourage loved ones to visit their physician regularly.
- Document health changes and areas of concern, communicating them with the physician, especially when loved ones are unable to verbalize their own symptoms.
- Ask the physician or pharmacist to review medications, checking for possible side-effects that may increase fainting and dizziness. Also inform the doctor about any new over-the-counter medications to prevent potential negative drug interactions.
- Consult with a licensed occupational therapist who can provide assessment and training to reduce the risk of injury.
Other areas of concern in the home environment are air quality, pool areas, and safety equipment:
- Air quality - Poor air quality or environmental air pollution can impact older adults’ breathing by exacerbating asthma, COPD, emphysema, or other respiratory ailments. Contact a licensed indoor environmental air specialist to perform air duct cleaning or HVAC inspection if there is any sign of poor air quality in the home.
- Pool safety - Pools and shallow ponds need to be secured with a safety fence to reduce the risk of drowning, especially with loved ones who have dementia and may wander away.
- Fire and smoke alarms - Safety equipment needs to meet the changing health conditions of older adults and seniors living at home. If loved ones have hearing loss, install fire, and smoke alarms that include flashing lights or vibrating systems. In addition to researching product reviews, consult a reputable fire alarm company, safety organization (e.g., the National Fire Protection Association), or local fire department for information on reliable fire safety products.
We hope this blog provides useful information about home safety and contributes to helping reduce the risk of injury in your family’s home.
Should you need assistance in caring for a loved one and would like to inquire about home health care services, call Senior Helpers Orlando at (407) 818-1292. We will be glad to schedule a meeting at your earliest convenience. Senior Helpers of Orlando provides Alzheimer’s care and home health care services in the counties of Orange, Osceola and Seminole.
Ana P. De Lane
Senior Helpers Team Member
Resources and references:Safety Tips; Older Adults; Public Education; National Fire Protection Association; retrieved Jan. 17, 2018, from https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/By-topic/People-at-risk/Older-adultsFalls and Fall Injuries Among Adults Aged ?65 Years — United States, 2014; Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR); CDC; published Sept. 23, 2016; retrieved Jan. 18, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6537a2.htm?s_cid=mm6537a2_wBergen G, Stevens MR, Burns ER. Falls and Fall Injuries Among Adults Aged ?65 Years, United States, 2014; Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Rep, 2016; 65: 993-998; http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6537a2Falls Prevention; The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.; retrieved Jan 17, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6537a2.htmA Homeowner’s Guide to Air Duct Cleaning; NADCA: The HVAC Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Association; retrieved Jan. 18, 2018, from https://nadca.com/homeowners