Tips: Elder Safety, Holiday Safety and Caring for the Caregiver

Falls are the leading cause of injury and accidental death in adults older than 65, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Fengyi Kuo, assistant professor of occupational therapy at the University of Indianapolis, says the remedy to this problem at home is safety awareness and implementation of prevention practices.

Kuo identifies four of the main safety hazards that can lead to falls and injuries in the home: poor lighting, loose carpets and throw rugs, baths without handles and poorly arranged furniture.

Kuo suggests 10 quick fixes to help you increase home safety for your clients:

  1. Increase lighting in the home, particularly along pathways to the bathroom and on stairs.
  2. Use nightlights, especially in bedrooms, hallways and bathrooms.
  3. Remove throw rugs and loose carpet, or secure them firmly to the floor.
  4. Be cautious when walking on thick carpet.
  5. Install handles or railings in bathtubs and showers to prevent slipping.
  6. Use non-slip or rubber mats or install non-slip strips on tub and shower floors.
  7. Take your time when getting into or out of bathtubs and showers.
  8. Arrange furniture so there is plenty of room to walk freely.
  9. Remove electrical cords from walkways by placing them under rugs or furniture or stapling them along walls and baseboards.
  10. Keep phones in every room of the house, including by the bed, and keep emergency numbers by each phone.

Holiday/Winter Safety

Winter is a special time for caution for older adults. It is the season for flus, slips on icy streets and for other dangers that are especially great for senior citizens.

"Something as simple as a fall can be devastating for older men and women," says Dr. Rafael Bejarano-Narbona, medical director for Geriatric Practice of the Ambulatory Care Network at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. "Before the cold weather arrives, it is important to prepare."

Bejarano offers tips for a healthy and safe winter:

  • Get vaccinated annually against the flu. The season for flu runs from mid-October to mid-March, and the illness can be fatal to older adults. The vaccine offers some, if not complete, protection.
  • Ask your doctor about Pneumovax, the vaccine against pneumococcus, which protects against pneumonia.
  • Check the lighting in your house. Make sure there are no great contrasts from one room to another, because older people have difficulty adjusting to changes in light and high contrasts increase the risk of slip and falls. Also, use night lights, and don't have loose extension cords lying around — tape them to the floor.
  • Check your rugs. Make sure they are not wrinkled or torn in a way that can trip you up as you walk. Use padding or special tape underneath them to prevent from sliding.
  • In the bathroom, have mats inside and outside the tub to keep you from slipping on a wet surface. If you need them, install grab bars inside the tub, and always check the temperature of the water before getting into the tub.
  • Continue your exercise regimen — indoors if possible. However, avoid strenuous exercise like shoveling snow.
  • Maintain your diet and a good level of hydration. Drink at least four or five glasses of water every day. This should not change just because it is winter.
  • Make sure your smoke alarms are working. If you live in your own house rather than an apartment, you should also have carbon-monoxide alarms.
  • Wear appropriate footwear. Comfortable shoes with anti-slip soles will help you navigate icy streets.
  • Have a programmable phone with emergency numbers entered. Another good idea for older persons living alone is a personal emergency response system — a device worn around the neck or on a bracelet, which can summon help if needed. Wear this device all the time, and use it.

Caring For the Caregiver

Pass these tips along to a caregiver to celebrate November's National Family Caregivers Month:

  1. Offer a few hours of respite time to a family caregiver so they can spend time with friends, or simply relax.
  2. Send a card of appreciation or a bouquet of flowers to brighten a family caregiver's day.
  3. Encourage local businesses to offer a free service for family caregivers through the month of November.
  4. Help a family caregiver decorate his or her home for the holidays or offer to address envelopes for holiday cards.
  5. Offer comic relief! Purchase tickets to a local comedy club, give a family caregiver your favorite funny movie to view, or provide a book on tape.
  6. Find 12 different photos of the caregiver's family and friends. Have a copy center create a 2006 calendar that the family caregiver can use to keep track of appointments and events.
  7. Offer to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for a caregiving family in your community, so they can just relax and enjoy the holiday.
  8. Take a few minutes to write a letter to encourage your faith community to ask for prayers not only for those who are ill, but also those who care for them.

  9. Encourage family caregivers to become a part of the National Family Caregiver Story Project found at www.thefamilycaregiver.org. It's a great place to not only share but read about others in similar situations.
  10. Help a family caregiver find new educational materials and support through family caregiving Web sites or by calling local social service agencies for help.
  11. National Family Caregiver Association reaches across the boundaries of diagnoses, relationships and life stages to address the common needs and concerns of all family caregivers. For more information on National Family Caregiver Month visit the National Family Caregivers Association at www.thefamilycaregiver.org.

This article originally appeared in the November 2006 issue of HME Business.

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