An Ounce of Prevention
We have all heard the
saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. This often true
phrase has many applications. I have written previously about how an older
adult and their family members can make decisions about the
appropriateness of various living situations, and how to evaluate them. As
a Geriatric Care Manager, I often assist older adults in obtaining
services that enable them to remain in their own home. Part of this
assistance includes an evaluation and education regarding the safety of
the elders home and living environment.
No environment can be completely safe and secure, the sterile and risk
free environment is seldom obtainable. It should be the caregivers and
elders goal to critically evaluate the surroundings, making changes
adaptations where appropriate. The purpose of this article is to address
some common areas of concern regarding safety of living spaces.
Guarding against the risk of falls.
Make a conscious decision to not place yourself at risk. Thought this may
sound common place, many younger and older adults, do not adapt their
thinking as their body changes. For example, an “I can do it all myself
attitude” may have been an asset all of an older adults life. But as the
body ages, it is wise and prudent to consider pertinent risks in lieu of
normal physiological changes.
Because of the normal changes that occur in the muscular skeletal systems
of the body as one ages, some daily tasks may become more difficult to
perform. An older adult may compensate for these changes while performing
every day tasks. For example, to accommodate, an elder may use a chair or
stool for a ladder to reach for items, placing themselves at risk for a
Falls are especially dangerous because research shows that falls, and the
complications from falls, often leads to death. Apart from death, a fall
can drastically effect the quality of life that a senior can experience;
leading to long-term disability. Research shows that up to 30 percent of
older adults in the community experience a fall in a given year.
Think ahead about items that you may use regularly, and rearrange your
kitchen and living areas; keeping items easily accessible. Make it your
decision that if you cannot reach an item with ease, you will wait for
assistance. A fall can also occur as a result of loss of balance due to
drop in blood pressure, (postural hypertension) resulting from rising from
a sitting or laying position to quickly. Other risk factors for fall
include inactivity, visual impairment, medications and uneasy gait.
Remove any loose or frayed rugs, no matter how attractive they may be. Be
practical. If an area rug has frayed edges, or curled corners, it may be
time to remove that rug. If you want to keep the carpet, you may want to
have the carpet tacked down, or use two sided carpet tape.
Look critically around the rooms in your elders home for potential
hazards; things that he could trip or fall over. Stacks of magazines or
books, lamp cords that block walkways, any thing that could cause a
hazard. Sometimes it can be helpful to have someone else assist. Sometimes
we get so accustomed to our environment, that we no longer see the
Carefully check electrical appliances and cords.
Many older adults, due to normal changes in the body, may not be able to
detect the tell tale signs of electrical shortages such as smoke and heat
odors. Be sure to have all electrical cords and appliances checked to be
sure that they are in good condition. Try to avoid using extension cords,
but if you must, assure that they are in good condition and not over
Install Smoke Detectors.
You will want to install and check your smoke detectors at regular
intervals. Often smoke detectors have a shrill tone that lets homeowners
know that the battery is running low. It is important to also have another
method of checking; perhaps by placing a notice 6 months ahead on your
yearly calendar. In addition, you should check to be sure that you are
able to hear the alarm while laying in bed.
The most potentially dangerous room in the house?
It may sound peculiar, but many accidents happen in the bathroom. This is
due to both wet surfaces and removal of clothing. It is important to have
mechanisms in place to steady ones self in the rest room. You may want to
have balance bars installed around the tub, shower, and commode. In
addition, you will want to have any slick surfaces, such as the tub floor,
treated with a non-stick material. If you prefer taking showers, you will
want to purchase a shower chair and sprayer nozzle for your bath.
You may also want to install a night light in the bathroom to guide you in
the nighttime hours. Some elders, who need to use the bathroom frequently
during the night, may find it easier and safer to purchase a bedside
Keep your physical health at optimal functioning.
Women should consult with their physicians about osteoporosis, and the
risk of injury. Osteoporosis is a disease that many women experience, as a
result of hormonal changes during menopause. This is treated in a variety
of ways, with the most successful being Hormone Replacement Therapy. In
addition to hormone replacement therapy for women, there is recent
research that shows that flexibility and strength training, at any age,
can result in less falls, less serious injury, and a quicker recovery for
If you are in need of strength training and flexibility training,
especially if it the result of previous illness, speak with your physician
about an appropriate plan to regain strength muscle tone. There are
outpatient Physical Therapy Centers called Comprehensive Outpatient
Rehabilitation Facilities, (CORF) that allow you to refer yourself for
treatment. You will need to have Medicare Parts A & B, and there may a
co-payment depending on the facility. You may want to call your local
Information and Referral line or ask your physician to inquire about
Sometimes medications can cause dizziness or balance problems. You should
be wary of mixing medications, including over the counter drugs. It is
important that you take medications as prescribed. Be sure to discuss any
possible side effects with your physician or pharmacist. When you go to
see your physician, take your present medications, in their original
containers, with you in a bag. You will want to be sure that the physician
knows all medications that you are taking.
Pill boxes are lovely, but they are not very practical. If possible,
always keep medications in their original containers. It is not uncommon
for someone to confuse medications by accident, especially late at night.
You should discard old medications; especially old prescription drugs.
These drugs not only will lose potency over time, but keeping old
medications can be dangerous.
If you have trouble keeping medications organized, or remembering if you
have taken medications, you may want to purchase a seven day, multi-dosage
pill organizer. If you are able to have someone assist you in filling the
week, this can relieve the stress of keeping medications organized.
Many older adults report being fearful about becoming ill or falling
at night, and not being able to reach anyone. There are many variations of
the Emergency Response Units that seniors can wear or carry with them.
There are some that only call 911, and there are those that call a noted
friend or relative. Many elders are afraid to push the button, except when
they are extremely ill, mostly because they do not want the trouble and
charges that may accompany. This can be especially dangerous if the person
is having a stroke or heart attack, where symptoms can be masked in early
stages. I prefer the assistance buttons that notify someone or allow
conversation with someone without calling 911.
Most home owner/renter insurance companies will conduct free safety
assessments of a policy holders home. You may want to call and schedule an
assessment of your home. The key is to get all of the information that is
available, and then act on it. Remember, especially when it comes to your
safety, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
Some of the expertise is derived from Paul E. Riel. Among other things, he
teaches ‘Self defense and safety for women’ at Jacksonville University,
and Yes, he also my husband.
For additional information about
ElderLink and our services for individuals, families, and businesses,
please use our online contact form.
to contact ElderLink...
Our staff and clients participate in a variety of activities. Come on
in and see what is going on. ENTER
Articles written by Gardner Riel, owner and founder of ElderLink.
Here are a few frequently asked questions that may help you as you journey
through our web site. ENTER
Our friendly and knowledgeable staff will be
glad to answer any questions. Click here.