National Safety Month is here. “What I Live For” is the theme of this year’s observance.
That’s urging us to use those things that are important to us as our motivation for practicing safety.
Annually the National Safety Council reminds us of the importance of personal safety, whether at home, at the workplace or in the community.
This month’s observance will focus on prescription painkiller abuse, transportation safety, ergonomics, emergency preparedness and falls. All of these key areas affect both our senior loved ones and family caregivers.
By improving our safety and well-being, we will all have time to find those things we live for and enjoy them now and in the future.
Let’s look further into how we can impact each of these focus areas for the safety of the family especially our senior loved ones.
Prescription Painkiller Abuse
Painkillers are often prescribed to seniors who experience many forms of pain. Unfortunately, some of these painkillers taken to make our seniors feel better are addictive and can lead to trouble.
Prescription painkillers can also have undesirable side effects and may not be controlling pain.
Did you realize that everyday 44 people die from prescription painkiller overdose?
Prescription painkillers, or opioids, include Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet, Norco, Morphine and Dilaudid.
- Medical conditions such as COPD, sleep apnea, depression and anxiety can put your senior at increased risk if they take these prescription painkillers.
- Opioids or pain pills can impair your senior and cause them to be unable to drive safely, be at increased risk for falling and cause constipation.
- Drug overdoses, the primary drug being opioids, is the leading cause of unintentional death for those aged 25-64.
- Experts recommend, if your senior must take painkillers, to request the smallest dose possible for the shortest amount of time needed. Explore non-pharmacological treatments for pain or over-the-counter medications to relieve acute pain.
- Do not mix painkillers with alcohol.
- Store these prescription medications safely to prevent others especially children and teens from getting the medications. Keep them in a locked drawer or cabinet.
- Don’t take medications prescribed for others.
- Dispose of any unused or expired medications safely and properly (not in the toilet or trash), look for a drug take-back program near you.
Automobile deaths are a leading cause of unintentional deaths, with as many as 100 people dying across the country each day. Many of these accidents can be prevented with some precautions.
Because using alcohol, speeding and being distracted when driving cause the most accidents, making changes in these areas will help to prevent many motor vehicle crashes.
One source suggests we drive the way we hope others will drive to keep everyone safe. That sounds like excellent advice!
- No driving after drinking, designate a driver or get a cab.
- Turn off your cell phone which is involved in 26% of car accidents yearly. Even using a hands free device can distract you from road safety.
- On long trips, stop often for breaks and get plenty of rest to stay alert and aware.
- Limit nighttime driving, especially for those with vision issues in the dark and those simply uncomfortable driving in the dark.
- Drive at the appropriate speed, allowing plenty of time to arrive without having to rush.
- Drive for the weather conditions, leaving ample braking time and room between vehicles.
- Keep the car well maintained with tires, wipers and other systems functioning well.
- Perform regular checks to be sure your senior loved is still able to continue driving safely.
This topic is especially important for family caregivers. Back problems are an all too common outcome for caregivers.
Almost 80% of Americans will experience a back problem at some point. Many of these back injuries can be prevented with proper body mechanics.
More than $50 billion a year is spent treating back pain, so prevention is time well spent.
- Use safe lifting practices – keep your back straight, bend your knees not your back, keep your feet shoulder width apart, lift only the amount of weight you could carry so ask for help if needed.
- Sit in a chair that is the proper height, has arms to help to transfer positions, and has good lower back support.
- Keep the computer or television at a good distance for viewing without eye strain, which may cause one to sit awkwardly.
- Install adequate lighting.
- Maintain a healthy body weight to avoid difficulty in transfers and ambulation.
- Get up and move around from time to time, sitting too long in one position can cause discomfort.
- Take breaks from activity and be aware of limitations, as overexertion can cause back injury.
Disaster can strike us at any time. This could be from fire, flooding, storms (at any time of the year), heat, wind, or medical emergencies.
Being prepared for emergencies will help keep you and your senior loved ones ready if disaster should occur.
- Have an emergency first aid kit handy and updated with fresh supplies regularly. We have a story about what items would be helpful to include you might find helpful. Keep a car emergency kit in the trunk in case you get stranded on the road.
- Be alert to weather conditions in your area and know the location of the nearest safe shelter.
- Have a working fire extinguisher available and be sure everyone knows where it is and how to use it. You might find this fire extinguisher video, which explains how to use one, to be helpful.
- Plan for emergency supplies, such as non-perishable food and an adequate supply of drinking water.
- Install and maintain smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and radon detectors in the home.
- Develop and discuss your evacuation plan so everyone knows how to get out of the home safely. Refresh this information so everyone remembers when the time comes.
- Keep household systems maintained, including heaters, kitchen appliances, and electrical cords, to prevent fires and injury. Keep flammable materials and matches stored safely. If your senior is at risk of leaving the stove on, install timers or disengage the unit for safety.
Prevention of Falls, Slips and Trips
Family caregivers of seniors fear falls that could result in injury or even worse. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in seniors.
Fall prevention begins with removing any hazard in the home and installing protective devices where needed.
- Keep your seniors’ muscles strong by being physically active every day. Participation in muscle strengthening activities and balance exercises builds strong muscles. Be sure they are eating well, with enough calories and protein, to prevent muscle loss as they age.
- Remove all trip hazards in the home, such as throw rugs, long cords, loose floorboards, and steps. Install hand rails at all stairways, inside and out.
- Insure adequate lighting in all areas, including hallways, closets and outside areas as well as way finding lights at night. Check the bulbs during the day to be sure they are not blown before the darkness falls.
- Quickly clean up any spills.
- Install safety devices, especially in the bathroom around toilet, tub/shower and sink. Grab bars, non-slip mats, shower bench, raised toilet seat, hand nozzle, and lever faucet handles are easy DIY projects that can prevent slips and falls in the bathroom.
- Urge your senior loved one to wear properly fitting footwear that is slip resistant whenever not in bed. Comfortable, worn slippers may not support their walking and could contribute to slips and falls.
- If needed, install a ramp into the home.
- Complete regular observations throughout your senior’s home to be sure all systems are functioning and maintenance on hazardous areas is done quickly.
These are just a few ideas to remember in each of the focus areas but as family caregivers know, there are many more things we can do to keep our seniors safe at home.
Tackling DIY tasks one at a time or getting help to correct hazards quickly is an important part of caregiving.
To learn more about keeping your senior’s home safe, download a free copy of the Senior Care Corner Home Seniorization Checklist to get more ideas for home safety.