2021 HME Business Handbook: Accessibility

Providing Safe Home Access for Seniors

If you're looking to help seniors live independent lives with the help of HME, then you need to help ensure they have safe access to their homes.

Home access means being able to access and live in the home, and for seniors, home access that not only means maintaining their independence, but their safety, as well.

As a rule of thumb, one in three U.S. seniors fall each year, and a fall in the home can have serious medical repercussions for an older person. Even slight falls can result in significant injuries, and the likelihood of falls can increase due to environmental factors and issues such as physical instability, and depending on the situation, mental impairments.

Moreover, the kinds of chronic conditions often served by HME providers provide a contributing role in seniors’ risk for falls. Seniors with chronic conditions fall more frequently, including patients with diseases unrelated to mobility, such as COPD or diabetes, according to data from emergency alert company Philips Lifeline.

This means providers wishing to help seniors age in their homes need to provide both accessibility and safety.

ACCESSING THE HOME

For any senior that has mobility issues that require assistance entering the home, ramps are a key product consideration. Simply put, ramps make safe home access possible and are a key category providers serving seniors.

In many cases, this could only involve a simple threshold ramp, but in others cases, such as when the door is raised off the ground, this could mean a ramp installation. Where ramp installations are concerned, there must be a foot of ramp for every inch of rise between the ground and the 5-foot-by-5-foot platform that is placed in front of the entryway the platform provides a level spot for the patient to open and close the door. That said, the landscape where the ramp will go needs to be assessed as well. If the ground slopes away from the house, then the ramp will actually need to be longer.

Installing ramps can represent an intimidating learning curve. If a provider doesn’t want to invest in all the tools and equipment and construction knowledge they should consider partnering with a local handyman or construction company that is already doing accessibility work. Look for a company with staff assets, tools truck, license and knowledge, and then the provider can play to its strengths in terms of understanding the senior’s access needs.

THE BATHROOM

More than 80 percent of home accidents occur in the bathroom, according to the National Safety Council. Fortunately, bath safety products don’t have to cost a lot to make big differences for aging in place customers. For starters, grab bars are critical. They should be strategically located in and around the bathing area, as well as around the toilet. This has two benefits: it ensures that the patient is supported and kept safe from a fall, but it also helps the patient gently lower and raise himself or herself while bathing or using the toilet. In terms of the toilet, ideally the patient would use a raised toilet so that he or she does not have far to travel when rising or lowering. Commode lifts are another option in this case.

For the bathing area, the ideal situation would be to have a bathing stool or bench that the senior can use in conjunction with a handheld shower to protect against falls. Along with the aforementioned grab bars, the shower floor should be lined with non-slip material or strips. In general it also is a good idea to avoid having bathmats or other items on the floor that could cause a fall. Also, another bathing option could be a bath lift, which raises and lowers the client into the tub.

Also, ensure that the bathroom is brightly lit and that there is a bright enough night light to help the patient negotiate the bathroom at night, when poor vision could otherwise contribute to a fall. If possible, situate a chair or stool in the bathroom that the senior can use while grooming themselves or applying makeup, and ensure there are nearby grab bars, as well. Lights and stools are simple, non-DME products providers can stock that pay major bath safety dividends.

POINTS TO REMEMBER

  • The home can be a dangerous place for seniors due to falls, which can have serious repercussions for older people.
  • Two key areas to attend to are stairs (both inside and out), and the bathroom. Both areas pose considerable risk for older clients.
  • Outside, ramps can help patients gain access to doors that aren’t at ground level.
  • In the bathroom, providers want to address key danger points — the toilet and the tub or shower — with the right safety products.

LEARN MORE

To read more about home access, visit HMEB’s Home Access Solutions Center at hme-business.com/homeaccess. To find out more about home access education and certification, visit VGM Live at Home at vgmliveathome.com. To learn more about ramp products, visit Access4U Inc. at rampsaccess4u.com.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

David Kopf is the Publisher and Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy magazines. Follow him on Twitter at @postacutenews.

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