Rita cautions us about the hazards that elders face at home. She details the dos and don’ts at the home of elder(s). These invaluable tips help us avoid major problems. Elders need our love, compassion and care to keep them safe. Here are the details, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.
A large number of elderly people are treated each year in hospital emergency rooms for injuries at home. Many of these injuries result from hazards that are easy to overlook, but also easy to fix. By taking some simple steps to correct them, many injuries could be prevented.
When evaluating your loved one’s home, be sure to get his or her cooperation and agreement before installing equipment or changing surroundings. It usually helps to explain the reason for the changes before making them.
Electrical Outlets and Switches
Check if any outlets and switches are unusually warm or hot to the touch as that may indicate that an unsafe wiring condition exists. If yes, unplug cords from outlets and do not use the switches. Have an electrician check the wiring as soon as possible.
Make sure all outlets and switches have cover plates so that no wiring is exposed. Exposed wiring presents a shock hazard.
Ensure all light bulbs are the appropriate size and type for the lamp or fixture. A bulb of too high wattage or the wrong type may lead to fire through overheating.
Electrical and Phone Cords
Keep lamps, extension cords, and telephone cords out of the flow of traffic. Cords stretched across walkways may cause an elderly person to trip.
Make sure no cords are trapped beneath furniture, rugs or carpeting. Furniture resting on cords can damage them, creating fire and shock hazards, while electric cords which run under carpeting may cause a fire.
Check to ensure that cords are not attached to the walls and baseboards with nails or staples. Nails or staples can damage cords, presenting fire and shock hazards.
Keep electrical cords in good condition and make sure they are not frayed or cracked. Damaged cords may cause a shock or fire.
Make sure extension cords do not carry more than their proper load, as indicated by the ratings labelled on the cord and the appliance. Overloaded extension cords may cause fires.
Rugs, Runners and Mats
Make sure all small rugs and runners slip-resistant. Apply double-faced adhesive carpet tape or rubber matting to the backs of rugs and runners. Over time, an adhesive on tape can wear away. Rugs with slip-resistant backing also become less effective as they are washed.
Periodically check rugs and mats to see if new tape or backing is needed. Remove rugs and runners that tend to slide.
Ensure all shelves are well-secured to the wall and not overburdened with items that have a potential of falling.
Standing on chairs, boxes or other makeshift items to reach high shelves can result in falls. Make sure an elderly person has a step stool that is stable and in good repair. The step stool should have a handrail they can hold onto while standing on the top step.
If shelves are not in easy reach for your loved one, consider adding new lower ones that can be reached without using a step stool or chair.
Telephone and Emergency
Make sure your loved one does not have trouble hearing a caller when using the telephone and can hear the telephone ring. Turn up the ringer volume on the telephone or purchase a telephone that includes an adjustable volume control so that a caller’s voice can be heard more clearly.
Keep emergency numbers posted on or near the telephone. Emergency telephone numbers for the police, fire department, and your loved one’s doctor, along with a neighbour’s number, and numbers for close family members, should be highly visible and printed clearly in large letters.
Emergency Exit Plan
Develop an emergency exit plan and an alternate emergency exit plan in case of a fire. Once a fire starts, it spreads rapidly. Since elderly people may not have much time to get out in case of a fire or other emergencies, it is important that they know beforehand what they need to do in case of these events.
Keep exits and passageways clear of furniture, boxes, or other items as they can be an obstruction or tripping hazard, especially in the event of an emergency or fire.
All medicines should be stored in the containers that they came in and they should be clearly marked. Medications that are not clearly and accurately labelled can be easily mixed up.
Taking the wrong medicine or missing a dosage of medicine can be dangerous.
Remind your loved one to wear clothing with short or close-fitting sleeves while they are cooking. Long sleeves and loose flowing clothes are more likely to catch fire. Long sleeves are also more apt to catch on pot handles, overturning pots and pans and causing scalds.
Make sure your elderly loved one switches off the stove and the gas cylinder knob before leaving the kitchen.
Make sure the foods in the refrigerator or freezer have not become outdated. Outdated foods can cause food poisoning. While food poisoning can be very uncomfortable for younger people, it can be much more serious for frail elderly persons, sometimes even requiring hospitalisation.
Bathtub and Shower Area
Bathtubs and showers should be equipped with non-skid mats, abrasive strips or surfaces that are not slippery. Wet soapy tile or porcelain surfaces are especially slippery and may contribute to falls.
Bathtubs, showers, and toilet areas should have at least one, preferably two, grab bars. Grab bars can help your loved one safely get into and out of the tub or shower, or up from the toilet, and can help prevent falls.
The water temperature for the water heater should be set to 120 degrees or lower. Water temperature above 120 degrees can cause tap water scalds.
Ensure there is a light switch located near the entrance to the bathroom, so your elderly loved one doesn’t have to walk through a dark area.
There should be lamps or light switches within reach of each bed. Lamps or switches located close to the bed will enable people getting up at night to see clearly where they are going.
Keep a working flashlight close to an elderly person’s bed in case the electrical power goes out. Check the flashlight periodically to see if the batteries are still good.
Ensure there is a telephone close to your loved one’s bed. In the case of an emergency, it is important to be able to reach the telephone without getting out of bed.
Make sure kitchen ventilation systems or cooking stove exhausts are functioning properly and are they in use while cooking. Indoor air pollutants may accumulate to unhealthy levels in a kitchen causing respiratory problems.
Photos from the Internet.
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Rita Bhattacharjee is a communications consultant with extensive experience in managing corporate and internal communications for companies across diverse industries, including non-profit organizations. She is the co-founder of Mission Arogya and Arogya HomeCare and has recently relocated from the US to India to channel her skills towards social entrepreneurship to increase awareness and reduce disparity in public health. She also writes poetry, some of which have been published in reputed international journals.