We’ve all heard about kid proofing a house, but what about senior proofing? As Canadians age, their risk level for accidents increases – especially when it comes to the simple and daily actions in their homes.
Sure, you can keep emergency numbers handy (911, poison control, a family emergency contact) right on the fridge in large block letters in case of an accident, but that won’t prevent falls, burns or accidental poisonings.
Here’s our list for simple interventions that make any home senior-safe!
Preventing falls is the first and best thing you can do.
Tripping hazards should be taken very seriously, because falls are the most common cause of serious injury for seniors. In Canada, 1 out of 3 seniors are likely to fall at least once, and for many this can mean broken bones, head injuries or death. In fact, 95% of hip fractures in seniors are from falling down.
Crumpled rugs, tall staircases, and poor lighting can all be factors in an accidental fall, so the first step in prevention would be to eliminate obvious hazards right off the bat.
Make sure that furniture isn’t cramped – there should be plenty of walking space between sofas and tables. All cords for lamps, tv’s and appliances should be safety secured against the edge of the baseboards, and rugs should be secured so that they do not move when trod upon. All hallways and stairways should be clear of clutter, and well lit. Adding bannisters to both sides of a stairwell can also help prevent a fall!
Taking a fall assessment with a physician will give seniors better self-awareness of their risk, and valuable recommendations for tub chairs and other assistive support items. It’s a conversation every senior should have with their doctor!
Hot water is a safety concern worth addressing, too.
Scalding water is a growing cause of death for seniors in Canada. Setting the thermostat on the water heater to a safe temperature can prevent accidental burns, but be cautious – it can be dangerous if you turn it down too low. Between temperatures of 40C and 50C in your hot water tank, there is a marked increase in Legionella bacteria – which causes Legionnaires’ disease (a form of pneumonia) and Pontiac fever.
While some organizations promote a hot water tank temperatures of 43C to 49C for seniors, the Canada Safety Council recommends keeping the hot water tank set to 54 C. If it still seems too hot, you can also install anti-scald device on taps and showers.
Next, take steps to reduce the risk of chemicals and cleaners.
Doing an audit of the cleaning chemicals in a senior’s cupboard can prevent a dangerous accident. Use stickers to mark products that are safe to use together – like red stickers on ammonia products, and blue stickers on ones that contain bleach – to prevent mixing the two by mistake. This is a good tip for any home, actually.
You may feel tempted to simply remove complex cleaning products from your home or the home of a senior in your care, but that’s not going to eliminate all the danger. For example, mixing bleach and vinegar (two very common household items) creates toxic chlorine fumes, that can burn eyes, throats and airways.
Prevent the mixing of medications, too.
Large print labels on medication can reduce the risk of accidental poisoning, especially for seniors who are taking multiple medications, and are beginning to experience visual impairment. Most pharmacies will accommodate a request to print off labels with large print when asked, and Shoppers Drug Mart has even introduced auditory labels for the blind in British Columbia.
Adding a medication calendar like this one to the fridge can also help seniors remember when to take their medicine, and track it!
The “check-in” might be the most important safety measure.
To really help seniors living independently in their homes, it’s wise to have a regular “check-in” with caregivers, friends or family. This involves ensuring fire alarms are working safely, that debris and clutter hasn’t accumulated in or outside the home, that all light bulbs are working, and so on.
You should peek in the pantry, too. It’s not about being nosey – for example, an empty pantry could suggest that a senior is struggling to obtain groceries. If you visit regularly, you’ll be able to notice warning signs early on that indicate cognitive decline, health problems, or ongoing neglect.
It’s often the simple, little things that will make a big impact on senior safety in the home. Preventing falls, burns and poisoning is just the start – contact us at Retire At Home for a free in-home nursing consultation today!