Settling in a city or country away from our parents is one of the most commonly occurring phenomena in the world in this day and age. Their age becomes a major concern when we are unable to be there for them the way we would ideally want to. Our best bet is to make sure we can do whatever is in our power to make their environment as safe as it can be. Fortunately, there are many ways of ensuring that.
While making the home of an elderly person safe for them, there are a few key areas that need to be considered:
Senior citizens increasingly have trouble navigating the areas of their homes. This is due to weaker bones, painful joints, a compromised sense of balance, etc. This is why it is crucial to ensure that the house is made as easy to walk around as possible. To do this,
- Decorative rugs should be removed. Only mats that have a rubber grip and will not easily slide should be used, that too only in places where they are necessary.
- Clutter (like newspaper, laundry, etc which sometimes take up space around the room) should be regularly thrown out or organized.
- If they can only move around in a wheelchair or by a cumbersome walker, make sure the doorways are big enough to allow for free movement. Independent or with assistance, the elderly should always be provided with comfortable footwear with anti-slip soles to walk around the house.
- Rickety chairs, tables, beds, etc should be exchanged for furniture in better condition.
The tiniest sleight of hand can turn cooking into a fire hazard. This is also true in the case of a power outage, and any other thing involving fire. To avoid such a hazard,
- Instead of keeping candles at home, opt for battery-powered or rechargeable sources of light. Battery-powered diyas, which look very similar to an actual fire, are also available widely for use during Diwali and other festivities.
- In the kitchen, keep gas lighters instead of matchboxes. Matches should only be used when no other option is left.
- Plugs for any appliance that regulates temperature, like air conditioners or space heaters should be switched off when not in use. They should ideally be disconnected when no one is in the house. A frayed cord of any electric appliance should compulsorily be changed.
- The seniors should be taught safety measures like “stop, drop, and roll” if a fire does break out. If they are unable to be agile enough to do that, they should be shown how to keep their heads as drooped as possible while exiting a fire-ravaged house. This prevents the inhalation of toxic smoke.
- If they use detectors for things like smoke or carbon monoxide (recommended for extra safety against fires), their batteries should regularly be checked and changed.
Many a domestic accident of senior citizens happens in or near the bathroom. This is because it involves water – which makes the floor slippery – and because using the toilet in unavoidable. But some things can be done to avoid accidents:
- Install bars wherever it seems like they might need it. This will allow the elderly to hold on and avoid a fall.
- Consider putting in a bathing chair so the senior citizen will not have to stand while taking a bath.
- Make using the toilet a more accessible affair by raising the toilet seat or by attaching handles which they can hold while sitting down or getting up.
- If the elderly have an advanced stage of dementia, it is a good idea to remove the mirror so they are not taken aback by an unfamiliar face.
A bedroom is a place of refuge, even more so for seniors who have trouble moving too much. Ways to make their bedroom a place of calm, comfort and peace of mind:
- Make sure the bed is placed with at least one end aligned against the wall. This will prevent them from falling off in their sleep.
- The mattress of the bed should not be too sagging or soft. This causes strain while getting into and off the bed. In addition, having bars around to hold on to will also b useful.
A kitchen is an important place where a senior citizen staying alone will spend their days. Possible ways of reducing health hazards:
- Nothing should be stored in places where the elderly would need to stand on a stool to reach. The maximum height should be where their arms reach comfortably.
- If unavoidable, a step stool can be provided to reach things. Even then, the most important things should be kept at arm’s length.
- A kitchen tap should be a lever type instead of twisting type, for ease of use.
- Only food items that have not crossed their expiry should be kept at home. Since the elderly tend to have reduced appetites, the focus should be on stocking up on nutritious snacks.
- Everything from the utensils to the refrigerator should be kept clean to avoid food poisoning.
Apart from these, some general changes you can make:
- Lights in any room should be enough so that every corner is as visible as possible. Always make sure the light bulbs are new. The brightness should be according to the comfort of the senior.
- Install stairlifts if they are unable to climb up and downstairs. If possible, put in ramps for wheelchairs where needed.
- Never let any unknown person in the house when there is nobody else at home, even if they look respectable. Senior citizens should be made aware of scams so they can avoid falling prey to one.
- Frequently check in with your parents over a phone call.
- See if the senior person is willing to wear a necklace or a watch with which they can alert people if they fall.
- Elderly people should never attempt to repair things around the house without help.