Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Yes, there may come a day—and perhaps you’ve already had it—when you walk out of your COVID-necessitated home office and ask your spouse that very question, and rightly so. Seniors don’t see things the way you do! Sight becomes a more significant issue as we age, and it gets even worse at night. So, with your senior parents now staying with you during this time of quarantine, you will need to “senior-proof” your home.
At Aegis Living, pathways are clear of things “below the knee,” like ottomans, tables, art, and even pets because tripping and falling is a huge issue for seniors. The last thing you want to do now is send your parents to the hospital with a broken hip.
We’ve all taken a tumble at some point in our adult lives, but falling becomes a much more serious issue when we get older. Additionally, seniors are at greater risk of suffering from more severe injuries from a fall, including head trauma, spinal cord injuries, fractures, or other long-term complications.
The statistics are staggering, and I won’t overload—or scare—you with too many, but here are a few that are eye-opening:
1 in 4 people over the age of 65 falls each year!
Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
Over 300,000 seniors are hospitalized each year for hip fractures.
Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
One other less noticeable result of falls is the fear your parent may experience after falling. While falling may cause Mom to be more careful—which isn’t a bad good thing—this new fear may also cause her to cut activities out of her daily routine and become less active. This, of course, could cause her to become weaker, which then increases her fall risk. It’s a nasty Catch-22.
So, what should you do to “senior-proof” your house, while maintaining a fun, loving, and safe environment? Let’s take a look at four of the most significant areas that will need your parent-proofing attention.
Main Living Areas – Living Room and Kitchen
There are several easy things you can do to make the main living areas safer for Mom & Dad. In the living room, take a look at how your furniture is laid out—especially end tables and ottomans. Is getting to the sofa an obstacle course that could cause your parents to trip or fall? If so, try rearranging the furniture to make it easier to get to and less likely to cause an accident. You want to keep all traffic paths as clear as possible. Secure area rugs with non-skid backing to prevent slipping, and remove them if the edges or corners begin to curl up. Keep floor space free from clutter, including electrical cords, newspapers/magazines/books, shoes, and your children’s toys. Oh, and don’t forget to make sure Fido’s toys are picked up as well.
In the kitchen, you also want to secure any area rugs that don’t already have the non-skid backing. Floors should also be kept clean and dry. If there are any grocery items that Mom or Dad frequently use, keep them at a level that is easy to reach without using a step stool. But, if a step stool is used in the kitchen, make sure it is wide, sturdy, and has handrails.
Another risky room in the house for your senior parents is the bathroom. Lack of space, slippery floors, and new physical changes in your parents make this room one that definitely needs your attention. First, consider adding grab bars in the shower/bathtub and near the toilet. This will help with balance. A shower chair will also make it easier for Dad to shower without slipping. And be sure your tub and shower have no-slip strips or mats.
Also, consider switching out your current toilet for a high-profile one, making sitting and standing easier. If that’s not an option, get a raised toilet seat that can be placed on your current toilet. If grab bars are not an option next to your toilet, consider a standalone toilet safety rail (some even have a magazine rack!).
As just mentioned, secure any area rugs with a non-slip backing. And if your parents share a bathroom with your little ones, be sure all bath-time toys are picked up and stored in a place where they won’t have to move them.
One last suggestion—although this doesn’t directly relate to falling—adjust the thermostat on your hot water heater to no more than 120 degrees. This will help prevent burns.
Stairs and Walking Surfaces
It goes without saying that stairs can present a struggle for some seniors. Whether indoors or outdoors, be sure all stairs have secure handrails that run the entire length of the staircase. (An if the handrails are on both sides of the staircase, even better.) Also, remove any area rugs at the top or bottom of the stairs. Even if they have the non-slip backing, they can present a fall risk.
Changes in walking surfaces can cause a stumble. If possible, highlight changes in floor surfaces, particularly in doorways, by adding a brightly-colored tape to the floor. Bright reflective tape can also be very helpful outdoors to highlight the change from steps or a walkway to a surface that is lower than the previous surface (like stepping down from a sidewalk to the driveway).
Poor lighting and decreased vision are common issues contributing to falls. Not only does a person’s eyesight change as they age, but other conditions, like cataracts, may affect their ability to see clearly. Add more lighting and brighten current lights will make it easier for your parents to see. Make sure dark hallways are well lit, and use motion-sensor night lights to provide light at night when needed.
You can do a few other things, not related to your house, that can help reduce their risk of falling. First, check their medications for side effects. Risky side effects include those that make you drowsy or cause dizziness. Both of these will throw off Mom’s balance. Another would be to make sure they’ve recently had their eyes examined.
If it’s been more than a year, get Dad in for an appointment to make sure nothing is going on with his eye health that is diminishing his ability to see. Lastly, and probably my favorite, encourage them to exercise, especially any exercise that improves balance. Tai Chi is excellent for that.
Hopefully, Wellness Warriors, these tips will help make your house safer for your parents to live in, especially during the pandemic. And a safer house is a happier home.
I hope you’ve been enjoying this series of blogs about your parents living with you during the pandemic. Next time, I want to discuss what I refer to as “campfire chats.” It’s time to gather the whole family, and listen, learn, laugh, and love. Join me then!
Live Well, Live Long!