Senior-Proofing the Home

Aging in place is an option more in the senior population want to pursue. There’s no place quite so comfortable as one’s own home and community. However, according to AARP, nearly one-third of all Americans over 65 experiences a fall in the home. There are other safety issues that make staying in the home a challenge and the initial accident prevention costs might be off-putting. But in the long run, the costs can be far less to stay home and renovate than to move into Assisted Living.

Senior-proofing the home is much like childproofing the home. Both encourage you to do a room-by-room assessment of potential and hidden hazards. Both take into account the physical limitations their subjects may encounter. And in both instances, safety in independence is key. But do everyone a favor and, for the senior crowd, don’t lock the toilet seat.

Elder home-proofing suggestions abound on the internet, but the most thorough and comprehensive guide to home safety I’ve found comes to us from our friends at AARP. Their AARP Home Fit Guide goes into great depth discussing home livability, home safety and home maintenance to help keep the estimated 83% of seniors who would like to, age at home.

Fall prevention is a huge concern when it comes to seniors living alone. Getting rid of scatter or throw rugs throughout the home, lighting dim passageways, installing shower and toilet grab bars, keeping passageways clear of clutter and wiring, all contribute to fall prevention in the home.  If your home needs renovation, contact your state’s Department on Aging for information on available senior home modification services.

Senior safety is addressed outside the home as well as in. Make sure medication dosages are kept current. Visit the eye doctor to gauge general as well as peripheral vision.

Owning a good Medical Alert System, as we’ve written before, is vital. In addition to providing real help in case of an accident or fall, simply possessing such a device can contribute to peace of mind for older adults who live alone.

Occupational Therapists (OTs) can be brought to the home to conduct a full assessment to help maximize an accessible living environment. Also, look for a Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist (CAPS) through the National Association of Home Builders to help with recommending home modifications to help age in place.

Taking preventative steps such as these, along with the help of a family or professional caregiver, can go a long way to help an independent lifestyle a viable senior option.

Senior Fall Prevention

My elderly mother recently suffered a fall. She’d been walking across her bedroom and a slipper got caught under a rug and down she went. Luckily, her injuries were not too bad—she sustained some bruises but no broken bones. She was very lucky, but as I learned, many seniors are not so fortunate.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, thousands of elderly Americans fall at home. Many of those falls result in broken bones or head trauma. Even if the fall doesn’t result in injury, many seniors will be so afraid of subsequent falls that they will curtail their daily activities as a result. Here are some facts from the CDC:
  • One out of three adults age 65 and older falls each year, but less than half talk to their healthcare providers about it.
  • Among older adults (those 65 or older), falls are the leading cause of injury death. They are also the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma.
  • In 2010, 2.3 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults were treated in emergency departments and more than 662,000 of these patients were hospitalized.
  • In 2010, the direct medical costs of falls, adjusted for inflation, was $30.0 billion.
But it’s not all bad news. The CDC is also quick to point out that there are “proven interventions that can reduce falls and help older adults live better, and longer.” Evidence shows that falls among the elderly are largely preventable. On their website, the CDC provides a Home Fall Prevention Checklist for Older Adults.

The Mayo Clinic also offers these 6 tips to prevent falls:
  • Make a doctor appointment to review any medications, check for eye or ear disorders, and check general health conditions.
  • Keep moving. Gentle exercise like water workouts and tai chi improve strength, coordination, balance and flexibility.
  • Wear sensible shoes or none at all. High heels, slippers (mom!), thick-soled shoes and even stocking feet can make you slip or stumble and fall.
  • Remove home hazards. Keep walkways clear of objects like boxes, tables and plant stands. Secure rugs with double-stick tape. Use non-slip mats in showers. Keep much-used house items like dishes, food and clothing within easy reach. Light up your life with plenty of lamps with bright bulbs.
  • Turn on lights when going up and down stairs. Keep flashlights handy in case of power outages.
  • Install assistive devices such as hand rails, grab bars, raised toilet seats. Consider a sturdy plastic seat for the shower along with a hand-held shower nozzle.

Owning a good Medical Alert System is vital. In addition to providing real help in case of an accident or fall, simply possessing such a device can contribute to peace of mind for older adults who live alone.

Our good friend Charlotte Bishop also discusses tips on preventing outdoor falls in a recent blog on her Creative Care Management website. Inside or out, an ounce of prevention is certainly the best bet to bring down the alarming number of senior falls and keep our loved ones safe.

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Seniors Home Alone with Medical Alert Systems

In a previous post, we discussed the fact that Nancy Reagan recently fractured some ribs after a fall in her home. Accidents are shown to occur more frequently as we age, which becomes a problem — especially when one doesn’t have a phalanx of caregivers to make sure you get immediate medical attention.

Living alone is what most elderly do when they outlive a spouse. And while the familiar surroundings and routine can give much comfort, and the feeling of independence is desirable, family members may be a bit apprehensive to let their loved one live alone in case of emergency. So what is the solution for the senior who lives alone, doesn’t yet need help with ADLs (Activities of Daily Living), and needs the peace of mind that comes with knowing that help is readily available if needed?

First developed in the 1970s, Home Alert Systems were created to help those living alone at home and consisted of little more than a wireless transmitter that, when pressed, sent a preprogrammed message to emergency medical personnel. Technology has given rise to amazing strides in home medical alert systems. The basis of modern systems remains similar to that of their predecessors—a stationary console with speaker and microphone, and a transmitter worn as a pendant or bracelet. However, new systems are much more advanced and their technology has made them more powerful, and therefore more helpful, than ever.

Look for these new technological breakthrough features when deciding on a Home Medical Alert System.

For active seniors on-the-go, some medical alert systems come equipped with GPS tracking, enabling complete monitoring everywhere the user goes.

Automated medical dispensers dole out daily medication in the right amount at pre-programmed times.

Look for reliable systems that work with wireless phones. As more people switch from landlines to cellular phones, it’s important that systems that were designed to work with analog technology upgrade to true wireless capability.

Of course, no transmitter works unless it’s worn. Some systems deliver voice messages to users and caregivers if the user forgets to wear the device. Here again, technology fills a need. According to AARP, Philips Lifeline, “the market leader with 750,000 customers, recently released its new AutoAlert system, which detects falls automatically, summoning help without relying on its user to push a button.” It’s been shown to accurately detect 95% of home falls.

Once a senior gets too frail, nothing will take the place of a quality caregiver. Until then, technology is proving to up the ante in allowing seniors to live home alone.
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