10 Ways Elder Caregivers Can Accident-Proof a Home
Most caregivers already know that the home environment is full of natural hazards. In fact, accidents at home rank among the leading causes of injury and death in the United States and most result from falls. The risk of serious injury from home accidents begins rising at age 65 and increases four-fold by the time an older adult reaches 75 years of age. Add one or more chronic conditions that you and your loved one may be managing and the risk of an accident at home increases even more.
Fortunately, it's possible to prevent most home accidents with a little planning. And you don't need to sacrifice beauty for safety. It is possible to have an appealing and stimulating environment as well as a safe one. Here are ten sound ways to prevent home accidents and no hammer and nails are required.
1. Assess your loved one's needs
The starting point for any home safety makeover is to know your loved one's physical and mental limitations. Once you know what these are, build your preventive home safety measures around those needs. For example, if your loved one has known balance problems, hard, smooth floors are the preferable walking surface over high-nap carpeting. Making this change may be inconvenient, but you may also prevent a broken hip or worse later on. The same is true about any loose rugs, which are easy to snag a toe on and are the cause of many falls.
Chronic conditions such as Alzheimer's, hypertension, arthritis, failing eyesight, hearing problems, among many others, can also increase the risk of falls. Because many chronic conditions worsen over time, it's important to have your loved one regularly assessed for balance and gait, blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, joint stiffness, and neurological problems. Your doctor should also review the medications he or she takes to ensure that there is no adverse reaction.
2. Brighten your lighting
Good, bright light is essential to navigating around the house safely. This applies to both inside and outside your home. Bright lighting in kitchen work areas reduces the risk of burns and cuts. Use at least 60-watt bulbs in most rooms and at least 100-watt bulbs for reading. Place night lights through key pathways in your home, such as the route to the bathroom.
3. Make steps stand out
If your loved one uses the stairs, make sure the staircase is free of clutter and brightly lit. Consider ways to make your steps easier to see. One way is to use brightly colored electrical tape or paint the edge of each step with a bright or fluorescent color. Also, a sunlit window at the top or bottom of a staircase can cause glare, making it more difficult to see the steps. Draw the window shade and brighten the overhead lighting.
4. Hide electrical cords
Move lamps and other appliances closer to the walls so that electrical cords don't extend into traffic areas. Cords may be difficult to see by older adults with low vision and could be a tripping hazard. If you must extend a cord across an area where your loved one will walk, use tape to secure the cord to the floor and attract attention to it. Don't cover the cord with a rug.
5. Rearrange your furniture
Move low furniture, such as coffee tables or magazine racks, out of high-traffic areas. Also, consider moving chairs closer together. This can make conversation easier if your loved one has difficulty hearing and create a larger walking space elsewhere.
6. Lower the water temperature
Most hot water heaters are set at 150 F, which is hot enough to scald the skin within seconds. To avoid this hazard, turn the temperature down to 120 F or to the "low" setting. Not only will this help prevent injury but it will also save money on your energy bills. If you can't adjust your water heater, consider installing faucets and valves that prevent scalding.
7. Use a bathmat
Non-slip mats and strips applied to the floor of your bathtub or shower will reduce the risk of falls. A wet floor can be just as slippery as the tub, so use a bathmat or textured strip outside the shower, too.
8. Adjust your chair cushions
Getting out of a soft-cushioned or low chair can prove challenging and even dangerous in some situations. Put a board under soft cushions to reduce the sag of the cushion or raise the height of a chair by placing a pillow or folded blanket on top of the cushion.
9. Move bedroom lamps closer to the bed
Lamps and lighting in the bedroom should be easily reached from the bed. That way your loved one won't need to walk from the light switch to the bed in the dark.
10. Ask for suggestions from your loved one
Your best ideas for accident prevention may actually come from your loved one. Ask him or her which areas of the home need safety improvements. Even though you took all of the obvious precautions, you might find a few that you would have never thought of.
In general, most people experience decreased mobility as they age. Older adults commonly have reduced strength and stamina, vision, hearing and sense of smell, all of which make them at greater risk for accidents. If you are thinking about and anticipating these changes, you are likely to prevent many, if not all, potential home accidents.