Here at the AgingOptions Blog, we appreciate the work of Jim Miller, whose website is known as The Savvy Senior. Miller offers a wealth of helpful information for seniors and their families, and his weekly Senior Newswire is a good source of articles on aging.
Miller also writes a column in his home newspaper, The Oklahoman, answering readers’ questions about age-related issues. Recently we came across this column about a favorite topic: aging in place. Miller was responding to a daughter worrying about her aging father who still lives alone. “Falls and fires are the two things I worry most about,” she wrote. “Do you have any suggestions on what we can do to help keep him safe, and keep an eye on him from afar?”
Miller’s solutions are ones we’ve heard before, for the most part. But because hazards at home are still such a concern, and because there’s always new technology coming to the market to make living alone safer, this is always a topic worth revisiting. Miller offers his reader – and us – some good ways to reduce the dangers association with aging in place.
Risk is Huge – Yet Solutions are Relatively Simple
Before diving into Miller’s reply, we wanted to check to see just how prevalent falling is among seniors, since that’s the biggest risk for solo aging in place. The answer is pretty shocking. According to CDC statistics from 2020, seniors 65 and older report some 36 million falls each year – with roughly 8 million of those resulting in injuries. At least 800,000 0f those fall victims ended up hospitalized.
We also learned from another source that adults 75 and older are three times more likely than the general population to be injured or killed during a fire emergency, and those odds worsen with age.
Yet in spite of those troubling numbers, Miller had good news for his readers: injury from falls and fires are usually preventable. “There are a number of small adjustments and modifications you can make to your dad’s home to help protect him from falls and fires, both of which cause thousands of injuries and deaths each year,” Miller writes. “Here are some tips to get you started.”
Start by Eliminating Tripping Hazards
Miller begins with some tips about preventing tripping, which—as we mentioned above—is shockingly common and highly preventable.
“Since falls are the leading cause of home injury among seniors,” he writes, “a good place to start is to pack away your dad’s throw rugs, which are common tripping hazards, or use carpet tacks or double-sided tape to secure them. You may also need to adjust your dad’s furniture so there are clear pathways to walk through and position any electrical or phone cords along walls and out of the way.”
If there are hardwood steps in your loved one’s home, or your own, Miller suggests attaching nonslip treads to each step to provide traction and help an older resident see the edge of the stair. Even a fall down a few steps can cause traumatic injury.
Like most aging-in-place experts, Miller puts special emphasis on the dangers of tripping and falling in the bathroom. “For added protection in the bathroom, buy some nonskid rugs for the floors,” he writes, “and use adhesive nonslip treads or a mat with rubber suction inside his tub or shower stall.”
Brighten the Outlook with Improved Lighting
High-quality lighting is definitely worth the investment, and Miller strongly emphasizes the importance of good lighting to keep someone aging-in-place safe.
Miller writes, “Good lighting is essential for safe aging-in-place, so check the wattage ratings on your dad’s lamps and light fixtures, and install the brightest bulbs allowed, and add supplementary lighting if necessary. You should also purchase some dusk to dawn nightlights for the bathroom and in the hallways that light up when the sun goes down. And mount some motion sensor lights outside the front and back doors and in the driveway that automatically come on when he comes and goes after dark.”
These days, bright LED bulbs are readily available for most fixtures. They give a brighter light and use less electricity than old incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, and last longer, too.
Reduce Fall Risk with Properly-Installed Grab Bars and Railings
Grab bars and railings can be a huge help to reduce falls, especially in the bathroom. “Install them where [your loved one] enters the shower or tub and on a wall inside the stall, but don’t use grab bars that attach with suction,” Miller explains. “Instead, have wall-mounted bars put in by someone who can affix them to the wall studs. It’s also best to choose bars whose surfaces are slightly textured and easier to grip.”
Miller adds, “Wherever he has steps — stairways, entryways or basements — he needs sturdy railings. Ideally, they should be on both sides of the steps.” Once again, stair railings need to be installed by someone who knows what they’re doing, securely fastened to wall studs with the right hardware. No shortcuts!
Cooking Fires Can Be Prevented
In-home technology to prevent fires has come a long way in recent years, and these devices are much easier on the wallet than they used to be. Miller writes, “There are several affordable products you can purchase to help your dad prevent home cooking fires like BurnerAlert discs that attach to a stove’s knob and will continuously blink or beep after the stove has been in use for a preset amount of time, and Ome smart knobs that can control a stove’s heating settings from an app. Or you can invest in a more expensive iGuardStove sensor that shuts the stove off when it doesn’t detect motion for five minutes.”
Smoke Alarms and CO2 Detectors on Each Floor of the House
Smoke alarms and CO2 detectors are an essential in every home, but should be given special attention in the home of someone aging-in-place. Miller writes, “Install a smart smoke alarm in your dad’s house (buy one for each floor) that will alert him when smoke or carbon monoxide is detected. These smart devices also will send alerts to your phone to let you know when a problem is detected. Google Nest and First Alert both offer smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.”
He adds, “Get portable multipurpose fire extinguishers for each level of your dad’s house and in the garage.” This simple precaution is often overlooked. While you’re at it, buy a few for your own home as well.
Consider Getting Your Loved One a Medical Alert Device
It can be difficult to feel secure about your loved one’s safety when you’re not physically present with them. But there’s technology to help with that, too.
Miller writes, “To ensure your dad’s safety and provide you some peace of mind, consider getting him a medical alert device that comes with a wearable SOS button that would allow him to call for help if he were to fall or need assistance.”
Looking for more helpful safety tips? Miller ends his article with a link to this great resource from AARP, which gives an expanded list of 100 aging-in-place suggestions for a safer, easier living space for your loved one, and greater peace of mind for you.
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(originally reported at www.oklahoman.com)