Home Safety for Older Adults
By Carole Larkin and Elaine Wiant
Weíve written about Medicare Prescription Drug Plans (see www.theirvingjournal.com, July 15 and August 1, 2005 issues or www.thirdageservices.com).† In this article we turn to home safety for older adults.†
Q.† My Mom lives alone.† What can I do to make sure that she takes her prescription and over the counter drugs properly?
A.† A good tool for monitoring medications is a daily or weekly pillbox.† These pillboxes are available in various sizes and shapes at drugstores and grocery stores.† If you can visit weekly, make sure the medications are put in the pillbox.† If Mom canít remember to take medications, give her a daily reminder call.†
Q. What is the most important thing I can do to ensure home safety for my Mom?
A. Take a walk through the home as if you were Mom. If she has poor vision or is hard of hearing, has a balance or mobility issue, has memory problems or other cognitive complaints, then what she sees, hears and feels is not the same as what you see, hear and feel. Walk around (without Mom to distract you or to rationalize an unsafe condition) the house and look for accidents and danger zones in the making.† †Think about needed changes. Take this walk. Make a list. Check with an expert in eldercare home safety if youíre not sure whether the condition you see is safe.††
Q. What should I look for?
A. †Each of the five senses Ė vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell Ė can deteriorate with age and that deterioration can lead to safety issues.† Letís take vision first.
Q.† What about hearing?
A.† We usually think of hearing as a safety issue outside the home (driving a car), but consider these home safety issues:
∑ Smoke detectors.† Consider buying a detector that has a flashing light feature as well as sound.
Q.†† What about the sense of touch?
Be aware of the changes in the body of an older adult. The skin is thinner and more fragile.
Q.† What about smell and taste?
A.†† Both the ability to smell and taste is dulled with age.† You need to be alert to smells when entering the front door, the kitchen, the bath, and the garage.
∑ Check the smoke detector frequently, Mom may not smell smoke from a house on fire.
∑ Check the refrigerator at least once a week. †Mom may not be able to smell or taste when food has gone bad. Keep a list of emergency numbers by the phone and include poison control (1-800-222-1222 or 911).
∑ Smell the bathroom for sour or musty smells, older adults can get infections easily from use of soiled articles on open cuts (from shaving and otherwise).
∑ Smell the garage for odors from gasoline or from hazardous materials stored there. Inspect the containers, even if you donít smell anything, as sometimes hazardous materials have NO smell.
∑ Check pet food and waste areas. If they are dirty, this could be an indication that other areas of the house that need regular cleaning are not being attended to either. Infection, asthma and other respiratory issues can result from bacteria in the air. If necessary, hire a cleaning service. Smell the pet! If the pet smells bad, hire a service to come to the house and bathe the pet.
Q.† I donít live near Mom.† How can I make sure these safety checks are done on a regular basis?
A.† If you donít have someone near Mom who can check on her weekly, you can hire a Geriatric Care Manager or other eldercare professional to look in on her and monitor safety and other concerns.†
Q.† Any final words on safety?
A.†† We canít conclude without repeating these warnings for caregivers of older adults:
∑ Floors should be non-slip surfaces.† Use non-skid wax on hardwood floors. †Tack down or remove area rugs. Install low rise ramps for elevation changes between rooms. Install ramps at front and rear entrances to the home.
∑ Bathroom safety means non-skid mats or decals and a shower stool in the tub; grab bars in the tub and shower and next to the toilet or an extended toilet seat with rails.
∑ Monitor medications using the daily or weekly pillboxes.
∑ Make sure electric cords are out of the flow of traffic.
∑ Keep a flashlight within reach of the bed.
∑ Avoid clutter!†
∑ Place emergency phone numbers lists in the bedroom, the kitchen and the bathroom.
Q. What resources are available to help me with these suggestions?
A.†† Call 211 -- the
social service agency helpline. Contact the
Our next article will address special precautions that need to be taken with a memory-impaired older adult in the home.
Contact ThirdAge Services with questions or to request a speaker for your organization at 214-649-1392 or email@example.com.†