By Carol Marak
How was your Mother's Day visit last weekend? Did you walk away more worried about her health? Are you more concerned about her frailty and inability to care for herself? When celebrating holidays with our aging loved ones, adult children often walk away frustrated because the visit did not go as we planned. We are there to enjoy our mother's company not be forced to deal with elder care issues. Yet, as she ages, these visits are an ideal time for adult children to evaluate the health and home safety concerns of our loved ones. If this holiday wasn't the ideal time to make close evaluations on your mom's safety, make sure that you take a closer look during your next visit to determine if she might benefit from care assistance at home.
Perhaps you are a family caregiver, caring for an elderly parent from a distance, then you can use this checklist to help you recognize the important warning signs of home safety issues; if you can't answer "yes" to all of the statements below, then it's time to suggest some changes at your loved one's home.
• Is there spoiled food in her fridge? What about the cupboards? Does she have nutritious snack items stored in them?
• Does she wear clothing with short or close-fitting sleeves while cooking? Long sleeves are also more apt to catch on pot handles, overturning pots and pans and causing scalds. Make sure she knows to roll back long, loose sleeves or fasten them with pins or elastic bands while you are cooking.
• Are kitchen ventilation systems or ranges exhaust functioning properly and are they in use while you are cooking? Indoor air pollutants may accumulate to unhealthful levels in a kitchen where gas or kerosene-fire appliances are in use. Use ventilation systems or open windows to clear air of vapors and smoke.
• Are all extension cords and appliance cords located away from the sink or range areas? Are all electrical cords placed out of traffic flow? And are they out from beneath furniture, carpet and rugs?
• Does good, even lighting exist over the stove, sink, and countertop work areas, especially where food is sliced or cut?
• Is the step stool in good repair? Standing on chairs, boxes, or other makeshift items to reach high shelves can result in falls. If you don't have a step stool, consider buying one. Choose one with a handrail that you can hold onto while standing on the top step.
• Is her bathroom safe? Are nonskid mats placed on the floor beside the bathtub or shower? What is used on the bathtub surface to make sure it has a non-slippery finish?
• Are securely fastened grab bars installed to help mom maintain balance while showering or bathing? Check the towel rack and make sure she doesn't use it as a grab bar. It cannot hold her weight even if it appears to be securely fastened.
• Has grab bars on each side of the toilet been installed? These give your mom support when sitting or rising.
• Do you see loosely thrown rugs in the bathroom or other areas in the home? Know that these are a high risk for falls.
• What temperature is the water heater set? Consider lowering it a few degrees to prevent scalding accidents.
• Are bathroom, kitchen towels and curtains at a good distance from heaters or stoves in order to prevent fires?
• Is the home clean with no signs of dirt and dust appearing in locations that are harder to reach?
• Would she benefit from a ramp or rails at the entrance of the home?
• Are smoke alarms installed? Are batteries changed at least every six (6) months? There are a variety of smoke alarms available including some that not only sound an alarm but also flash when set off.
• Does she have good lighting in every room? What about the stairways? Is it well-lit and free of clutter? Handrails are a great safety feature for any stairway and need to be properly and securely attached to the wall. Shadowed or dark areas can hide tripping hazards. Use the maximum wattage bulb allowed by the fixture. (If you do not know the correct wattage, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.) Install night-lights. Reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially closing blinds or curtains. Consider using additional lamps or light fixtures. Make sure that the bulbs you use are the right type and wattage for the light fixture.
• Did you check all door and window locks to insure proper installation for security?
• And does she understand that it is vital NOT to give out personal information over the telephone or elsewhere?
Going through this list and checking off hazardous items during the next visit with your aging parents will be tenuous, but it will give a sense of peace knowing that your loved one is safe. Be sure to check out more safety tips by searching online for "elderly safety tips".
Carol Marak is founder of Carebuzz.com (http://carebuzz.com), a platform of websites targeting local senior care help for family caregivers and the aging senior they care for. Carol is a former caregiver for her aging parents. She experienced the frustrations of searching for local elder care help while living at a distance from her loved ones. That’s why she created Carebuzz. She plans to grow the city sites to be a leading local resource for caregivers.