Home Safety for an Aging Parent

One out of every four American seniors over the age of 65 falls each year. Recovering from a fall injury as a senior can be a monumental task; prevention is always the best option.

Caring for an aging loved one can be challenging. Whether they’re living with you or living in their own home and aging in place, keeping seniors safe must be a top priority because the following occurrences are all too common:

  • A stove is left on overnight, causing a small fire in the kitchen.
  • Someone trips and falls over a rug, causing a hip fracture.
  • Running a hot bath causes your loved one to be scalded.
  • Climbing the stairs to the second floor of a home is too painful or take minutes to do.

These scenarios are common for the elderly because as we age, we can start to lose our cognition and mobility.

As we grow older, our bodies start to lose more and more muscle mass and bone density. We also start to have diminished capabilities with our vision and hearing. We start to lose our balance and our reflexes aren’t as sharp. All these factors can contribute to increasing the likelihood of an injury at home.

The Importance of Fall Prevention

One hazard to be particularly aware of with seniors is falling in the home. According to the CDC, one out of every four American seniors over the age of 65 falls each year. Falls can be more dangerous when we’re older because our bones become more brittle, making us more susceptible to broken bones due to falling.

The CDC reports that 2.8 million elders show up in the emergency room with fall-related injuries, with one out of every five falls causing a serious injury.

Environmental gerontologist Lyn Geboy from Milwaukee Public Television gave some other sobering statistics on the kind of injuries seniors have from falls every year:

  • 300,000 seniors are hospitalized with hip fractures
  • Over 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture
  • 13,000 older adults die from falls

Geboy stated that falls are the leading cause of death for adults age 65 and older. Six out of 10 falls that seniors have happen at home. Geboy noted that medications can increase the risk of falls.

Other important statistics from the CDC:

  • Ninety-five percent of hip fractures result from falls, typically falling sideways.
  • In 2015, the medical costs of falls were $50 billion.
  • Once elders experience a fall, they can be frightened and start limiting their daily activities. This will cause their bodies to become weaker and increases the likelihood of a fall. The CDC reports that once an older adult falls, they are twice as likely to fall again.

Tips on How to Fall-Proof Your Home

Fall proofing your house is one way to keep your loved ones safe. Here are some tips from Geboy on how to fall-proof your home.

  • Keep walkways in and around the home clear.
  • Remove items that someone can trip over (e.g., rugs, papers, shoes).
  • If there are carpeted stairs, make sure the carpet is a low pile and not slippery.
  • Add handrails to both sides of your stairs.
  • Install grab rails inside and outside the shower or bathtub and near the toilet for easier movement.
  • Place non-slip mats in the bathtub or on the shower floor.
  • Create more room in your home by moving furniture around so that your loved one can move around more easily.
  • Make commonly used items easy to reach to avoid the use of a step stool.
  • Make your home brighter by increasing the lighting in your home. This may involve installing more lights or increasing the wattage of the light bulbs you use. Also, consider using night lights.
  • To reduce glare in the home, use lightweight shades or curtains.

Seek Professional Advice

If you’re in doubt about how many changes need to be made to make your home safe for your older loved one, you should call a professional, such as an occupational therapist or a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS)—a designation created with the AARP and the National Association of Home Builders.

Specifically, a CAPS can advise you on home modifications that go beyond simple installations, help you with a licensed contractor, and give you information on building codes, helpful products, and other resources.

Similarly, an occupational therapist can help determine what your loved one is able to do and not do and what their needs are. They can also evaluate your home and help with contractors for home modifications, assist in finding home furnishings which are more suitable for an older adult, and teach techniques to improve everyday living.

Be Aware and Available

Whether you live with your older relative or they are aging in place, it helps to stay connected. If you live far away, check in with them via video chat services such as FaceTime, WhatsApp, or Skype. Using digital assistants can allow you to digitally “drop-in” for a video chat to see how your loved one is doing.

You can also use a security camera to monitor remotely—but only if your loved one agrees to its use. This can be particularly helpful if there are issues of wandering away or other cognitive challenges your loved one may have. It can also be helpful to ensure that your older adult is not bombarded by a stranger trying to scam or harm them.

Proper Preparation and Seeking Assistance Can Help

It can be overwhelming to think of all the things that could go wrong with your older loved one—especially when you’re not around. But by being prepared, reaching out to your local Area Agency on Aging, and seeking professional help when necessary, you can have peace of mind that your loved one will be safe at home.


Sources:
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web–based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. Accessed August 5, 2016.
  2. HCUPnet. Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP). 2012. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://hcupnet.ahrq.gov. Accessed 5 August 2016.
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