By Anita Kamiel, RN, MPS
We often think in terms of babyproofing homes, but “elderproofing” is just as important. Elderproofing an elderly person’s environment is critical if they are to remain in their familiar surroundings and age in place safely and comfortably. It also becomes an issue when you have a loved one coming to live with you or you are helping prepare their home upon returning from a hospital or rehab stay. You need to ensure that they come home to a safe environment.
Elderproofing is making modifications to a home to conform to the specific requirements of the elderly. Modifications can range from something as simple as putting in nightlights along a passageway or stove safety knobs in the kitchen to the more extensive stairlift for a stairway or a complete bathroom re-do to comply with handicap requirements.
A poorly placed area rug or a slippery shower with no grab bar or chair can lead to a devastating fall. Senior-friendly devices like cordless phones with large buttons and numbers or light switches that can be reached from a sitting position could greatly improve a senior’s quality of life.
If you are serious about elderproofing, it is a good idea to call in a professional to assess your situation. They come with a checklist for each room: bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living areas, halls, and stairways. The better ones are Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS) from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). They are trained in the logistics of managing the entire job and are well aware of the cost and convenience factors for the elderly when making their recommendations.
Below are some of the things CAPS professionals look for.
Mobility can be one of the largest issues facing the elderly.
- Walkways throughout the home must be clear and wide.
- Handrails on both sides of a stairway are a must.
- Tripping hazards should be removed. This includes throw rugs, electrical cords, and even furniture. A table or ottoman can easily be a dangerous obstacle for an elderly person.
Falls in a bathroom are so dangerous because of all the hard surfaces. Tile floors and fixtures have no give, and the edges of the sink and tub can cause injury.
- Floors can be slippery or wet, and the person may have difficulty sitting or standing unassisted. Bath mats can be a tripping hazard, so place bath strips on existing tile floor and in the bath or shower to make it non-skid. If remodeling, place a rough-cut tile on the floor for more traction.
- Try anti-skid scuba socks for your loved one, especially for bathing.
- Make sure you have grab bars for toilets, showers, and tubs.
- Consider a toilet surround to help with getting up and down, especially if a grab bar is not an option. Consider buying an elevated seat if the existing seat is too low.
- Other precautions include setting the household hot water temperature at 120Â° to avoid burns and placing drain traps in the sink for any small items that might fall in.
Common living areas should be set up so as to minimize tripping hazards. A dark, cluttered home is a safety issue.
- Remove clutter from rooms and walkways. If you must, put items in storage. Clear paths are critical.
- Night lights are important so that your loved one can see when it’s dark. They are more easily disoriented, so lighting is more important than before.
- Remove any loose carpeting.
- Bright light is beneficial. Install new lighting if lighting is not adequate.
- Remotes for televisions and other often-used items should be within reach.
- Make sure wires do not run along walkways. Relocate wires to the edges of the room and tack them along the walls.
- Install handrails on both sides of the stairs. Most stairways only have handrails on one side.
- Be sure the handrails are sturdy. Tighten any that are wobbly.
- Clear the stairway of all clutter. No items should be stored on the stairs.
- Check that the lighting is adequate, so the stairs can be seen when it is dark outside.
- Take the above measures for all stairways, including those outside that are used to enter the house.
- Make a printout or handwritten sheet with large letters spelling out emergency numbers for your loved one to keep by the phone.
- A list of medications, family member contacts, and doctor’s information is important to have on-hand in case of an emergency situation.
- Use lighting and color contrasts to define areas and recognize objects. Research has shown that people with declining vision are more likely to recognize bold colors aiding their effectiveness.
If you have an elderly loved one living at home, there are many steps you can take to reduce the risk of falls. Be aware that if the senior has some form of dementia, there are even more involved precautions to take. Even so, implementing the above safety tips will help keep your loved one from being injured.
Anita Kamiel, R.N., M.P.S., is the founder and owner of David York Home Healthcare Agency, licensed by the State of New York. She holds a master’s degree in gerontological administration and is fully acquainted with all factors related to eldercare services and the latest guidelines for seniors. Thirty years ago, she realized the need for affordable, quality home health aide services provided and supervised by caring individuals. You can contact her at 718-376-7755 or at www.davidyorkagency.com. David York Agency is also on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.
David York Home Healthcare Agency now offers elderproofing services from a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) professional. Call for a free consultation and estimate.