No doubt that home is where the heart is. It’s where we and our families feel most comfortable and safe. Unfortunately, although we feel safe, home is also where many accidents can occur, especially among seniors. The hazards can range from falls and home fires to medication mishaps. But there’s a lot you can do to help your parent stay safe and independent living at home.
One of the most common accidents among seniors is falls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of four people 65 and older fall each year. And one in five sustains a serious injury like broken bones or a head injury, which can make it hard for a person to perform everyday activities or live on their own.
What’s more, about 6 in 10 falls occur among seniors at home, according statistics from the National Institutes of Health.
However, you can help keep your parent safe at home by following these fall prevention tips:
- Remove or avoid safety hazards on floors—be sure carpets are secure and area carpets are tacked down.
- Have lamps easily accessible to the bed.
- Move regularly used items to make them easier to reach.
- Improve lighting in all rooms—use lightbulbs with the highest wattage recommended for each fixture.
- Install handrails and grab bars in bathrooms—in the shower and tub and near toilets.
- Have parents avoid going out when it’s icy or snowy weather and be sure to spread salt or sand on all walkways.
Avoiding medication errors
Medication errors are on the rise in our country. To keep your parent safe, it’s important to understand how errors can happen. About 40 percent of seniors are on at least five medications and unfortunately, about 55 percent of seniors take their medication incorrectly, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health.
You can help your parent be safe with his or her medication with these tips:
- Know what medications are prescribed and what they’re for.
- Make sure medicines are clearly labeled.
- Be sure you and your parent understand any new medication dosage and how often and when they take it.
- Know the side effects and/or ask for written information about side effects.
- Keep a list of all medications, including OTC drugs, as well as dietary supplements, and medicinal herbs and report it to health care providers.
- Be on the lookout for clues of a problem, such as if pills look different than normal or if you or your parent notice a different drug name or different directions than what you thought—ask your doctor and/or pharmacist.
- Know any food, drink, or activities to avoid while taking the medicine.
- If you have any questions about the directions on medicine labels, always ask.
Safeguarding against fires
Sadly, at age 65, people are twice as likely to be killed or seriously injured by fire versus the population at large, according to the National Fire Protection Association. To help keep your parent safe at home, follow these tips:
- Make sure apartments have an automatic sprinkler system.
- Have smoke alarms installed in every sleeping room and outside every sleeping area.
- Have a phone installed near beds.
- If your parent is deaf or hard of hearing, consider installing a smoke alarm that uses a flashing light or vibration to alert them to a fire emergency.
- Have your parent conduct his or her own, or participate in, regular fire drills to make sure he or she knows what to do in the event of a home fire.
- Be certain that your parent is able to open all doors and windows in the home. Locks and pins should open easily from inside.
An additional option for home safety that might bring you extra peace of mind is what’s often referred to as a Personal Emergency Response System, Medical Alert, or Medical Emergency Response System. Regardless of the name, they work basically the same way: The senior wears a transmitter around his or her neck, wrist, belt buckle, or wheelchair. And when emergency help (medical, fire, or police) is needed, the senior presses the transmitter’s alert button without needing to reach the telephone.
Still, even with all these safeguards, your parent might still need the assistance of an elder home care professional to be the careful, watchful eye when you’re not there. They can provide assistance with personal care such as bathing and using the toilet to help minimize common bathroom falls. Assistance with cooking meals and light housekeeping tasks will help keep your parent from having to do routine activities that may put them at risk of injuring themselves. Most elder home care professionals will also give reminders so that your parent will take medications as they are prescribed. All of these steps can help ensure that your parent continues to enjoy a safe and independent life at home.