It’s time again for Older Americans Month and time again to celebrate our seniors! Their contributions to our communities and society are numerous.
As we recognize them this May, we also want to help them with their health and safety. That is our mission at Senior Care Corner, too, so we are proud to help increase awareness!
The theme of this year’s celebration is Safe Today. Healthy Tomorrow. It’s a meaningful theme and ties well into an awareness campaign.
Did you know that seniors are at high risk for unintentional injuries, and even death, relative to the population as a whole? There are 6 million injuries that are medically treated and 30,000 deaths each year.
Making Seniors’ Lives Safer Today – Home Safety
There are many ways that we as family caregivers can be sure that our senior loved ones homes are safe whether they live alone, near or far away. The most important thing is to assess the home to be sure it is free from obstacles or hazards that can lead to injury, such as checking to see that the floors are in good repair to prevent trips or falls.
Be sure you keep the smoke detector functioning with fresh batteries, install a thermostat that controls the temperature to keep it constant (not too hot or cold to save money), set water heater to prevent scalding, keep all hallways and stairways well lit, remove clutter, use a carbon monoxide and radon detector, mount grab bars in shower and at toilet, use mobility aides as needed such as shower chair, walker, cane and fit them properly, add peephole to front door so they don’t unlock to strangers, keep an updated first aid kit handy, install handrails at all steps, and keep flammables and poisons out of reach.
This is a short list of things to be sure are either done or maintained in your senior’s home. Doing an inspection for any issues on a regular basis both inside and out as well as daylight and dark will show you the areas that need to be updated for safety.
Giving Seniors a Healthy Tomorrow
- Exercise – You can encourage your senior to participate in activities that will improve balance and strength so that falls may be prevented. Gaining strength could also improve their mobility. A goal would be to do some of these exercises at least two days a week but rest in between. There are a variety of exercises and activities that can improve balance including tai chi, yoga, exercises using a chair to aid balance such as standing on one foot, use a resistance band to build strength, dynamic walking (walk slowly while turning head or reading a paper), or marching in place.
- Health and Nutrition – be sure your senior is visiting the doctor regularly and receiving all the recommended preventive health measures including immunizations. Also be sure that your senior has enough food available, is cooking meals or gets them delivered, isn’t eating spoiled food, has the right texture food to prevent choking if they are at risk, and is drinking enough fluids to prevent dehydration. If you think that they are unable to purchase or transport adequate foods or prepare their own meals, it may be time to find a service provider, such as Meals on Wheels or a home agency that provides home caregivers to fulfill this need. Under-nutrition is far too common in elders who live alone and can no longer cook or shop for healthy food.
- Driving Safety – because we all equate driving with independence, it is important to many seniors they be able drive for as long as possible. However, as they age they can lose the ability to practice safe driving habits due to arthritis, chronic disease, vision impairments or reaction time. No one wants to be the bad guy and take the keys away, but you should be observant of their safety behind the wheel not just for their sake but others on the road. There are classes sponsored by AARP for older drivers to learn some coping skills that may help them improve their skills or help them recognize their own limitations. There are also driver rehabilitation programs that help aging seniors with improving their skills or making necessary modifications. Sometimes it can help if they can get a more appropriate car, one that offers an easier driving experience, a seat that can be adjusted, a steering wheel that tilts or a shorter front end that can be easier to maneuver.
- Fire safety – do they have a fire extinguisher and can they use it? Are they at risk for turning on the stove and forgetting about it potentially starting a fire? Do they smoke in bed? There are monitoring devices that will turn off an unattended stove or alert if other fire dangers are present that might be worth installing. Proper working fire/smoke alarms in a variety of locations are a must for a senior living alone. Can they call for help easily and quickly if needed? Personal emergency response systems (PERS) are readily available to contact first responders for help.
- Check medications – has their medication cabinet been inspected for expired drugs lately? Are there old prescriptions or over the counter medications that could be harmful or at the very least ineffective if used? Are they taking their medications correctly? Are they over or under dosing in an effort to control supply? Are they getting their medications refilled as ordered by the physician? Has a pharmacist reviewed the medication list to be sure there are no potential adverse reactions? Are they taking their pills at the correct time? Do any of them need special storage such as refrigeration and aren’t? Are they still capable of accurate self-administration of their medicines? There are several devices that can help remind them, dose correctly and alert you if they are not taking their pills as prescribed.
Technology to the Rescue
When you look at each area of potential danger that could face our seniors who are trying to remain independent and age in place, there currently are and will be soon many more devices and tech strategies available to help solve a particular need.
Have you tried any of these items yet? It could make the difference for your senior’s safety and your peace of mind.
- Remote key locks and thermostat settings
- PERS pendants and other jewelry that will alert emergency personnel following a fall or other emergency
- Home monitoring devices that will alert designated family members or emergency care providers if there is a fall, break from usual pattern, wandering situation or other safety concern
- Emergency shut off system for the stove in case it is left on too long or the kitchen is unattended
- Medication dispensers or alert systems that tell family caregivers or healthcare providers that medications were not taken
- Smart home systems that can combine a variety of devices and alerts and inform the caregiver
- Scheduling systems that can keep track of appointments and alert you if they were kept or store health information data from the healthcare visits
- Health monitoring systems, such as blood pressure reading, weight scales and blood sugar meters, that can inform seniors, family caregivers and healthcare providers of vital statistics and track them for future reference
- Driverless cars coming in the future, enabling seniors freedom of travel without either risking accident by driving their own car or relying on others to transport them
Remember, too, that it doesn’t take a special month to celebrate our seniors, the love we have for them and our appreciation for all they’ve done for us. Nor does it require a special month to take action to make our seniors home safer and more livable.
But it doesn’t hurt to get a reminder that it may not be broken but it can always be improved!
Good luck with your home safety modifications and thank you to your senior for his or her contributions over their lifetime to the community!
Safe Today. Healthy Tomorrow.