Many elders are okay in their own homes, as long as someone checks on them regularly. But homes can present physical obstacles and safety hazards. Not every accident can be presented, but many can be.
My friend, Joe, was in his 80s during the five years I cared for him. He could go up and down stairs, though he was a bit unsteady. Still, he did fairly well. One thing I bugged him about, constantly, was that he had hardwood floors and throw rugs. I kept telling him I'd tape down the rugs, or better yet, we should get rid of them. His living room had carpet. The bedrooms were the danger.
The trouble was, Joe's rugs were part of his environment. His wife had put them there, and I think that was part of the problem. He didn't want to change things after she died.
Joe stubbornly denied that the rugs were a hazard. He tripped and fell more than once, but he insisted the rugs stay in place. One day I just shoved them all under a bed - too far under for him to retrieve, since he couldn't get up, if he got down low enough to fish for them.
He was annoyed at first, but finally his sense of humor poked through, and he gave up. The rugs stayed under the bed until Joe died, and his house was sold.
My mother-in-law had balance problems. Though doctors couldn't find an inner ear problem, her symptoms were much like someone with inner ear issues. She used a walker, but she would sometimes get up and walk away without it. Handrails installed along key walls in her apartment gave her something to grab on to, and that helped the situation, until she finally had to move to a nursing home.
My mother had severe arthritis in every joint, and she'd endured two hip replacements. We were well equipped with a high-rise toilet seat, shower grab bars, secondary grab bar that clamped on to the tub's edge, a shower chair, levers instead of doorknobs and nightlights plugged into every outlet. These all helped her stay in her apartment with more comfort, until she, too, became too disabled to stay alone.
There are ingenious devices available to make life easier for people with disabilities. Some of them help prevent falls and other injuries, and some of them make daily tasks simpler to do.
Some obvious things to look at:
1. Get rid of throw rugs, or at least tape them down with durable, double-sided tape and make sure there are no curled edges
2. Put reflective tape on bare steps; make sure it is non-slip tape, not the shiny kind
3. Make sure all stairs have handrails - even one step can cause a fall, and something to grab onto can prevent injury
4. Install handrails along long stretches of walls, such as hallways, in case an elder feels unsteady
5. Use bright lights in lamps and ceiling lights (though check wattage to make sure you aren't overloading the lamp)
6. Replace door knobs with levers as they are much easier to use
7. Battery-powered closet lights are available and can be helpful; also, keep clothes in easy reach so there's no unbalanced reaching
8. Put plug-in nightlights in wall outlets to give lighting near the floor, especially from bedroom to bathroom
9. If an elder tires easily, make sure there are sturdy chairs, with arms, in each room
10. The bathroom can be very dangerous; use grab bars, shower chairs, toilet risers and get rid of throw rugs
One of my favorite blogs, www.gearability.com, is written by a woman who is a caregiver to her Alzheimer's stricken father. She has had physical disabilities off and on throughout her life, and she has tested all of the items she writes about. It's an eye-opener to see what is out there. I've also written about several on-line shopping sites, and will be happy to share them with anyone who e-mails me.
The bottom line? Make the home as safe as possible, and elders will be able to stay in it longer. Also, look for things to make every day living easier.
For More Tips On Preventing Falls:
Visit out partner site OsteoporosisConnection.com.
Expert Caregiver Lila de Tantillo offers helpful advice in her SharePost "The First 48 Hours: Preventing a Fall."
Published On: July 18, 2007