June is National Home Safety Month, so senior care experts are encouraging adult children to add a simple, yet important duty to their spring cleaning checklist: Conduct a "look and see" inspection of their parent's home.
There are several signs of things that might be dangerous in an elderly person's home. Below is a list of some tips to protect family members.
- Examine dark pathways, corners and other areas where seniors regularly walk or read. Make sure all areas of the home have adequate lighting. Timed and motion-sensor lights outdoors can illuminate potentially dangerous pathways. Inside, consider Ott-Lites, which provide a high-intensity beam for doing detail work. Make sure that hallways and stairs are properly lit.
- Avoid monochromatic color schemes. Contrast can help seniors with failing eyesight better navigate their homes. Large red and blue buttons over hot and cold water faucet controls will help prevent dangerous mistakes. A dark green or brown toilet seat and vinyl tape around the shower will make those fixtures more easily distinguished. Kitchen countertops should contrast with floors as well.
- Look for ways to reorganize. Mom always put the black stew pot under the stove to keep the kids from breaking it. Perhaps now it belongs on a shelf beside the stove. And who says the eggs must go in the egg tray of the refrigerator? Perhaps it's easier for dad to handle them if they're stored in the meat tray. If that hallway table, which has always been a permanent fixture, is becoming a dangerous obstacle, relocate it.
- Look behind closed doors. Many seniors will close off parts of a house they no longer use. Be sure to check those areas regularly for mold or water damage. Don't close vents to crawl spaces.
- Look for ways to simplify your senior's life. Talk to your parents about why and how they do things then look for ways to simplify their lives. If your Mom's immaculate floors are now regularly dirty, think about how she's been doing that job all these years and offer options.
- Rather than a heavy mop and bucket, investigate light-weight, all-in-one mops. If your senior is replacing appliances, look for smooth-top stoves and refrigerators with water and ice on the outside. Change door knobs to levers, or purchase grips that can go on conventional knobs. Convert single-bulb light fixtures to multiple bulbs so seniors still have light when one bulb burns out.
- Consider security. Think about the potential dangers that lurk within your loved one's home. Lock-in switches on thermostats and stoves will keep seniors with dementia and Alzheimer's disease from harming themselves. Help them manage in their environment by installing a cordless intercom.
- Keep an eye out for damage. Watch for signs that a senior is adapting his or her behavior to the environment. Look for towel bars or window sills that are pulling away or shower curtains that have torn from seniors using them to grab onto.
- Look for ways to make entries safe. Make sure that railings into a home are in good repair and that steps and sidewalks are not damaged. Or eliminate steps altogether. Make sure that doors into a home can be set to stay open for carrying groceries and other items in and out. Install remote control locks.
- Is clutter taking over? Messy conditions and broken items are important warning signs. Remove area rugs and stacks of newspapers and magazines, or other potential obstacles.
- Contact a professional senior-care service, such as Home Instead Senior Care in Staunton/Verona, which can conduct a home safety review and serve as a second set of eyes for older adults.
This list was adapted from the home safety checklist developed by Home Instead Senior Care and enhanced in cooperation with the SUNY Buffalo School of Architecture IDEA Center, the National Association of Home Builders-Remodelers Certified Aging in Place Specialists, the National Aging in Place Council, and aging-in-place consultant Louis Tenenbaum.
For more information, contact the Home Instead Senior Care office serving Rockbridge, Rockingham and Augusta Counties at 540-213-7800.