Safety in the Home for Seniors
By Andrew J Allen, DC ~
As the seasons change and the holidays approach, now is an ideal time to reassess home safety for the senior population. One of the most significant concerns, and most preventable issues pertaining to our seniors is the risk of falls. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that; “In 2018, an estimated 3 million emergency department visits, more than 950,000 hospitalizations or transfers to another facility (e.g., trauma center), and approximately 32,000 deaths resulted from fall-related injuries among older adults.” 1
Therefore, let’s quickly consider some situations that will present themselves during this time of year and try to generate awareness for the benefit of the seniors in our lives who continue to live independently.
Sidewalks and outdoor dangers
Outside, keep sidewalks, stairs and driveways free of slip hazards such as snow, ice and leaves as well as moving any trip hazards such as yard tools or bags of de-icer. It’s also important to make stairs clearly visible for the individual with improved lighting, and have a sturdy support railing on these outside stairs.
Clear common walkways
When in the home, as we consider our seniors from the perspective of their diminished balance and mobility, clear the common walkways in the home. Remove clutter and trip hazards such as loose area rugs, extension cords, and furniture. Look to identify and clearly mark uneven transitions between rooms, fix loose floorboards or tiles and increase the visibility of any stairs with bright traction tape and/or better lighting. It also is important to have a support railing available on these stairs.
Eliminate slippery or hazardous surfaces and ensure easy access
Bathrooms are full of risks for our seniors that need to be addressed. Turn the water heater temperature down to less than 120 degrees fahrenheit to prevent burns. Eliminate slippery surfaces with non-slip rugs and consider installing a walk-in tub or a low threshold shower. Increase stability and traction, by installing a chair and a rubber mat within the shower or bathtub. Also, a hand-held shower head will allow them to be more stable in the bath or shower, and safety handles should be installed around these areas as added support. A toilet riser with safety handles will further reduce their risk of injury in the bathroom. Installing a nightlight will help them safely navigate their nocturnal bathroom visits.
In the kitchen, placement of the frequently used dishes, pots, pans and utensils should be within easy reach so that limited bending and overhead reaching are required. Other considerations that are not directly related to falls but that will generate a sense of safety and security for our seniors in their home environment are brighter lighting, more secure doors and locks, phones with large buttons and a clear placement of emergency phone numbers, a high-quality personal security device that is connected to emergency services, and even a new firmer bed that is easier to get in and out of in the morning. Creating a sense of security in the home will allow our seniors to feel more independent in life.
Safety precautions for seniors in your home
Over the holidays in particular be aware of safety for our seniors who visit our home. This is an unfamiliar environment and often set against the chaotic backdrop of our holiday celebrations. Seniors may be placed at greater risk for accidents due to unfamiliar trip hazards; slippery floors or loose rugs; poor lighting in hallways, stairwells or bathrooms; louder than usual ambient noise that can be disorienting for our seniors; the presence of many unfamiliar steps or uneven transitions from room to room. Try to see your home through the eyes of a person who has poor balance, uses a cane, shuffles when they walk, or has failing hearing or vision. Putting ourselves in their shoes for a moment will allow us to create a space that is safer and more enjoyable for our honored holiday guests.
Andrew J Allen, DC, is the Director of Clinical Management, at Restore Osteo of Colorado, an integrated health care practice located in Golden, Colorado. He specializes in chiropractic care, occupational injury management, and musculoskeletal & sports injury rehabilitation. Dr. Allen has been practicing chiropractic for over 18 years, primarily in the realms of med-legal and sports medicine. In that time, he has owned two successful practices in Northern California. In an effort to share his expertise with others, Dr. Allen has taught for 11 years as a college anatomy and physiology professor for undergraduate and doctoral level students.