If your elderly parents are reasonably capable of caring for themselves, they would probably prefer the familiar surroundings of their home instead of moving to an assisted living facility or other alternative living environment. The elderly are not often aware of (or are in denial of) the hazards they may face as a result of their advancing age. Assuring that their home is safe will require time and diligence on an ongoing basis. Here are some things for you to consider if you have made the decision to help them remain in their home.
Know their medical conditions.
Be aware that most elderly have multiple medication conditions. You need to know which physician to contact in case of problems. The aging process may affect their vision, hearing, memory and mobility. In general, older adults are safe to stay alone as long as they are able to manage their own activities of daily living, such as bathing themselves, dressing, simple meal preparation, toileting themselves, etc., but always be prepared to contact the doctor if any change in their general health arises.
Take a thorough check of their environment.
Check each room of their home carefully. Depending on their functional limitations, safety modifications may be needed. For example, grab bars may need to be installed in the tub or toilet safety frames may need to be added to assist them in getting on and off the commode. Stairs may need a railing or if there is already one there it may need tightening. Avoid waiting to make the modifications. A delay may lead to injury.
Keep their environment uncluttered
The elderly tend to be unsteady on their feet and are prone to slips and falls. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, “falls in and around the home are the top cause of injuries to older adults”. Unfortunately, serious injuries such as a broken hip or concussion can occur. Remove throw rugs and runners and any cords or wires in the walking path. Apply carpet tape on the backs of the rugs and runners to help prevent tripping or even better, remove them altogether. If they are using an assistive device such as a cane, walker or wheelchair for mobility, they will need more than adequate space in order to maneuver the device.
Don’t forget the possibility of gas and electrical hazards.
Evaluate your loved ones’ ability to safely cook and use the stove. If they are forgetful, they should not use the stove as they might forget that something is cooking and may forget to turn the oven off. You may need to prepare simple meals for them, foods that can be heated in a microwave. Try to discourage the use of space heaters, but if they need to use one make sure it has a 3-prong plug that is properly grounded. Establish an emergency exit plan with them in case there is a fire and practice it with them. Make sure there are functional smoke detectors in the home and keep extra batteries handy. Make sure electrical cords and anything electrical is in good working condition. Put plastic caps in unused outlets. If appliances have frayed wiring, replace it.
Keep the lines of communication open
Check on them often, not just with phone calls but with visits. Do not assume they are okay. Have regular times you get in touch with them and also times they should contact you. Set guidelines with them such as, “Be sure you call me right away if…”. If you know you won’t be available, make prior arrangement to have a friend or neighbor check on them. Post an emergency telephone contact list near every phone and also on the refrigerator. If you can type out this list in large bold letters it will be easier for them to read. Purchase a medical alert system that they can use for emergencies. LifeStation.com has good suggestions for how to choose such a device.
Contact their doctor if you noticed mental or physical status changes. Elderly persons can decompensate quickly. Don’t assume that they’re just having a bad day. Any behavioral or mobility changes, respiratory problems or decrease in appetite needs to be reported to the doctor immediately. If they fall and injure themselves, it must be reported immediately.
If your loved ones cannot safely and accurately take their own medicatioins, use weekly or daily pill boxes. Many elderly persons have multiple medications and it is easy for them to become confused as to what to take and when. Set up their pill boxes for them to be sure they are receiving the correct doses, or administer the meds yourself if they’re unable to do it accurately.
Consider assisted living or nursing home placement if they really are not able to manage in their own home. According to AARP, “most parents feel better about having this kind of discussion when things are going well, as part of the planning for their future”. Usually there will be signs to let you know things aren’t going well, especially if they become more and more forgetful or are having repeated falls. Be realistic and keep in mind that their safety comes first. They may be very resistive about leaving their home, but be firm with them and do what you know is best for their health and safety.
Seniors enjoy being in their own home as long as possible. It holds a lot of fond memories for them and helps them maintain their independence and sense of worth. With your help they can be happy in a safe environment.
Parenthood: “Home Safety Tips: How to keep an elderly loved one safe”
International Association of Certified Home Inspectors: “Home safety for the elderly”
Online Organizing: “Caring for elderly parents”
Aging Parents and Elder Care: “Elder care – first steps”
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control:”Preventing falls among the elderly”
Consumer Product Safety Commission:”Safety for older consumers – Home safety checklist”