Anytime is the time to begin taking action to protect ourselves both inside and outside of our homes – these precautions can make a significant difference in how we grow older successfully. In-home assessments that point out “accidents waiting to happen” are becoming more and more common for older persons who aren’t aware of the risks for falling as they age, only one of many safety issues.
The Center for Disease Control’s website has extensive information on falls prevention and highlights exercise, vision, medications, and home safety. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the AARP, Independent Living magazine, and other valuable sources have provided us with numerous ways to reduce safety risks both inside and outside of our homes.
An overview of their recommendations for inside of our homes follows. A few of them may seem extreme especially if we feel we are still in the “young old” category, but that old adage still holds true, “Better to be safe than sorry.” We can gradually add safety items to our home until we are comfortable that we have made our homes as accident proof as possible for ourselves and our older family members.
A Housing Safety Checklist for Older People is a good resource located at the University of North Carolina Extension Division’s website -- it’s a useful tool as well as a comprehensive list to have around as a reminder. Like any other issue, there are many tools on line to help us move forward and take action!
In the kitchen: *Always check that appliances, the oven, burners, and coffeemaker are turned off before leaving the house and before bedtime. *If it’s difficult to tell when an appliance is on, mark “Off” and “On” positions with brightly colored tape. *Set a kitchen timer while cooking, and never leave food unattended. *Avoid loose clothing while cooking, especially grilling, and keep towels, potholders, and napkins away from the stovetop. *Keep a fire extinguisher handy, read the instructions, and practice at least once to feel comfortable with its use.
In the bathroom: *Use nightlights in the bathroom. *Change the bathroom door so that it opens outward; if help is needed, the door can’t injure anyone when pushed open. *Install a handheld showerhead and a vertical grab bar in the tub or shower. *Unplug electrical appliances such as curling irons after using them.
In hallways and other rooms: *Lighting is very important. We need to see well at all times in all rooms. Use night lights at night so pathways to the bathroom or other rooms can be seen easily. *Remove throw rugs. They may seem attractive, but it is easy to trip on them, and the rubber matting wears off with washings. If you must use them, check them regularly for “slipability” and purchase non-slip rubber mats or tape for them. *Do not keep furniture pieces, stacks of magazines, newspapers, or any other obstructions in narrow spaces where they clog passageways. We need to acknowledge if our “stuff” is slowly becoming a safety hazard.
Fires and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: *Burning wood, natural gas, kerosene and other fuels produces a deadly gas that we cannot see or smell called carbon monoxide. Unless fireplaces, wood and gas stoves and gas appliances are properly vented, cleaned, and used, they can leak
dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide. These and other appliances, such as kerosene and electric heaters, can also be fire hazards. We should have chimneys and flues inspected regularly and cleaned when necessary.
*Open a window (just a crack will do) when using a kerosene stove.*We should always have our smoke detectors working, especially in areas where we use fireplaces, wood stoves, or kerosene heaters. *We need to be careful with space heaters of any kind and be sure they are at least 3 feet away from anything that might catch fire, such as curtains, bedding and furniture. *We should never try to heat our home using a gas stove or charcoal grill, or any other stove not made for home heating.
Overall. *Certain appliances are considered dangerous. Just ask a fireman. Electric heaters can be a problem if they are older and are not carefully monitored. Older lights that may short out can cause fires along with older wiring in a home. *Wearing longer clothing inside (or out) can
be hazardous and make us trip: long robes; pants that are too long for the shoes/slippers we are wearing; long skirts; long housedresses or nightgowns are also tripping hazards.
Animals in the home are wonderful but can be downright dangerous if they tend to get under our feet on stairs and elsewhere. We all have heard stories about someone playing with their pets and somehow taking a fall, so we need to stay aware and be careful. Participating in sports is encouraged and great for exercise. Be sure to wear the proper shoes and always play with safety in mind.
It’s true that we get more forgetful as we age, so using post-it-notes and other kinds of reminder tools will help us maintain good safety habits. This is the tip of the iceberg on safety issues – so do the research, use notes to yourselves as reminders, and take safety seriously both inside and outside of home environments.