Want a way to give back to your parents and give yourself peace of mind? Senior-proof your home. Your parents will thank you.
Many accidents in the home can be prevented by removing potential hazards. According to Dr. Barney Spivack, Stamford Health System's director of geriatric medicine, accidents are a significant cause of death in older adults, and falls account for two-thirds of these deaths.
In the April 2001 "Guideline for the Prevention of Falls in Older Persons," the American Geriatrics Society reports that after 60, there is a steady increase in the number of falls and severity of fall-related complications. Seniors suffering from osteoporosis are especially vulnerable, their fragile bones at increased risk for fractures of the wrist, spine and hip. Falls, says Spivack, signify an increased risk of additional falls.
Still, there are other signs of senior weakness or instability that should raise the red flag for adult children. Among them, parents holding onto furniture to help them walk or maintain balance; dizziness; visual problems; difficulty getting into or out of a chair or bathtub; impaired memory, judgment or insight. Risk factors also exist for those on multiple medications, which could create side effects such as dizziness.
Here's how to help?
--Make sure your loved ones see an eye specialist annually.
--Ensure adequate lighting by providing 100-watt bulbs at the minimum. Ceiling fixtures should be added to rooms lit only by lamps. Light the path to the bathroom with night lights or suggest older folks leave a hallway light on.
--Rooms should be free of clutter: shift furniture to open up walkways; move wires out of the traffic flow.
--Floors should be smooth, not slippery. Well-fitted, low-heeled shoes with nonskid soles are best, even indoors. To prevent tripping, seniors should not walk around in their socks, stockings or loose slippers/shoes.
--Items on kitchen shelves should be placed within easy reach, eliminating the need for step ladders or stools.
--Staircases should be well-lit. Add handrails on both sides for support, and florescent tape on bottom/top step edges.
--Carpets and area rugs must have skid-proof backings or be tacked to the floor.
--If your loved ones use a cane or walker, make sure it's fitted specifically for them and adjusted for their height.
--Install grab bars in showers and next to tubs and toilets. For people unsteady on their feet, place a plastic chair with a back and nonskid leg tips in the shower. Shower and tub floors should be covered by a rubber mat.
--Store a flashlight next to the bed.
--Make sure your loved ones keep a portable phone handy to prevent the need to rush for the phone.
Some health care institutions such as Greenwich Hospital, gerontologists offer programs to conduct home safety checks for older adults.
Adult children concerned about a parent who is chronically ill, physically challenged or living alone can provide an additional safeguard by means of a personal response system in their home. With growing numbers of elderly living independently at home, these systems are in demand. Marjorie White is program manager at the not-for-profit Lifeline of Southwestern Connecticut in Norwalk, which operates under the aegis of Norwalk's Family and Children's Agency and serves all of southwest Connecticut. White says the system features a small home communicator that hooks into the telephone line, plus a Personal Help Button worn as a neck pendant or attached to a wrist strap. If help is needed, the individual pushes the button and the communicator automatically dials the Lifeline Response Center. The communicator, which turns into a speaker phone, enables voice contact between the client and a trained professional at the center. If the client requires help or does not answer, a previously arranged rescue plan is implemented
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