A major challenge for all of us—caregivers to aging loved ones and all those who are into their advancing years—is to identify and address safety. Call it patient safety, or personal safety, or any kind of safety: it’s ultimately all about working to ensure we can offer and operate in the safest possible environment.
From all the statistics we can look at, it seems that generally speaking the physical and psychological safety of our aging loved ones is a high priority but a low deliverable.
For example, just consider the national rate of infections the elderly encounter when hospitalized. The statistics are rather appalling. Yet if we just think it through: the elderly, given their ages, condition of their physical systems, and ever diminishing restorative capabilities, will inevitably be more prone to infections and diseases while hospitalized than perhaps all but the very young.
Given the pressures on our hospitals, it’s no wonder that by prioritizing health-care delivery aging patients are inevitably shuffled down the pecking order, and maybe even moved to DOR. No, not Do Not Resuscitate, but Don’t Overspend Resources.
Or, for another example, consider this: aging parents are entrenched in their home. They’ve been there for maybe four or five decades. What’s there is ragged, worn, and deceivingly, seemingly safe.
But how safe is it really for those elderly ones whose eyes don’t work quite as well, or whose reflexes aren’t as sharp as they used to be? How likely can the trip or slide or bump and lose of balance be? And what might the results be?
There are actually many actions we can take to help protect our aging parents and other elderly loved ones. The key is to consider the challenges and options, and to consider how committed and able we are to help them live in the safest possible environment.
Here are eight specific preventative safety steps you can take to help you aging parents or other loved ones. Please take the time to consider how one more might help you.
- In hospitals, make sure your aging loved one walks the halls with care, using a cane or walker if there is any unsteadiness. As well, tell them to avoid newly washed hallways and rooms: a slip can become a fall.
- In tandem with a health care professional, impress upon your aging parent how important it is to sit up and sit at the side of the bed for a minute before standing, or even when getting up from a chair. Slower blood circulation—or in some cases, high blood pressure—can cause momentary light-headedness and increase the potential for a fall.
- Make sure loose rugs are taped down with double sided tap: prevents trips and falls.
- Check how easily an aging parent is able to sit in or get up from a chair. Sometimes the height of the chair becomes an impediment and you can buy risers to put under each leg for more secure sitting and standing.
- Bathroom falls are way too frequent. Help aging loved ones by installing hand grips for getting into and out of bathtubs and bathing seats in the tub; look at installing grip bars next to toilets and either getting toilets with higher seats or portable seats that make sitting and standing up easier.
- Stairs are another threat zone for aging people. Ensure handrails are in place and secure. On wooden staircases, look to install runners or rubberized stair mats secured to each step. Similarly, in our climate, check to see who clears snow and salts or sands outside porch steps: winter falls are frequent. Help find someone or arrange for a snow clearing service to do the stairs, and of course, the walkway. In fact, in some jurisdictions the city or town will clear the snow off sidewalks of elderly who qualify.
- Lighting is often taken for granted. But well-lit rooms, and especially hallways and stairwells are important to help aging loved ones better see the terrain and judge depths and distances.
- The elderly are frequently on a number of medications, sometimes prescribed by different physicians. They more often than not also take other potions, tonics, herbal, and across the counter medications. Yet seldom does anyone assess the impact of the regime of medications they take, especially to see which might conflict and in fact be harmful. That’s why it’s important to get a sound, professional review of all medications being taken and determine the right mix and match.
There are, of course, more preventative safety steps. The eight listed here are good starting points for you to look at and as needed apply.
The fact is there is so much more we can and should do to reduce the incidence of injuries and suffering the elderly incur because we’re not preparing them for what to expect and do. Nor are we often enough taking more proactive measures to protect them in their day-to-day living.
There are many relatively simple, logical protective actions we can take that will help keep our aging parents and other loved ones safer and more secure. It’s up to each one of us, in any setting, to make it happen.