By: Ric Letourneau, National Director of Operations - EVS/Quality/Compliance
I’ve become friends with a neighbor in his 70s who collects antiques. He lives alone, and I’ve been trying to help him make his home safe, but his vast collection of Oriental rugs has made it quite a challenge. He has rugs on top of rugs and won’t part with them, no matter what I suggest.
I tell this story because falling down at home is the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for adults 65 and older. According to a 2014 report by the Centers for Disease Control, roughly 29 percent of older adults reported falling at least once in the preceding 12 months – or about 29 million incidents of falling. Of those that fell, 37.5% reported at least one fall that required medical treatment or restricted their activity for at least one day.
The Crothall Facilities Management division has developed plenty of expertise in developing safety procedures for patients in hospitals around the nation. We make certain they aren’t tripping on long telephone cords or anything else in a hospital room, working with several hospital departments to assure a safe environment for everyone -- patients, staff and visitors.
But when patients return home, it may be a different story. Most elderly people want to continue living in the home they’ve known for decades; the problem is that most of these homes haven’t been designed to accommodate the needs of senior citizens.
For example, the house likely has stairs leading to second-floor bedrooms and a second set for a basement that may include a water heater, laundry facilities and possibly an entertainment center. And while fixtures such as a shower chair aren’t necessary for a home with healthy people, it may be a requirement for seniors.
Just as different departments within a hospital are specialized, a senior citizen’s home must be accessible and possibly modified to ensure a safe environment. Some typical problems that make a home unsafe for seniors include:
- Doorways that are too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair
- No shower seat tub as opposed to a walk-in shower
- No stair climbing assistance
- Standard height toilet seat
- Throw rugs that could cause someone to trip and fall
- Clutter, including electrical cords that could cause tripping or make egress difficult
- The absence of fire extinguishers or smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
- No device that can summon assistance, especially in an emergency, such as a cell phone, handheld phone or medical alert device
Here are some practical tips for people who may be caring for elderly parents or loved ones. Most of these changes are simple to make, including:
- Remove all clutter, including rugs where people can trip and exposed electrical cords
- Install fire extinguishers that are easily accessible on every floor of the house
- Remove all chairs with wheels
- Locate the laundry room on the first floor
- Install grab rails in bathrooms
- Install anti-scalding devices and setting the hot water temperature not to exceed 120 degrees
- Install brighter lights in hallways, common areas and motion detector lights outside to light paths
- Buy a cell phone to stay connected with friends and relatives. While a cell phone is my top recommendation, technology is also giving us some other affordable options. With the invention of Alexa, Amazon’s virtual voice service assistant, technology is giving us some additional options that may also help seniors improve their home environment.
If you feel you need additional help, consider setting up a home assessment by an occupational therapist, physical therapist, geriatric care manager or other “aging in place” specialist to access the home. They can then recommend modifications that will make the home safer and easier to live in.
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