Dear Doc: I’m helping my mom live at home. Dad recently died. He took care of so much. Now it’s my responsibility to keep her safe. She has lots of throw rugs around, which I occasionally slip on. I’m worried about her falling. And the more I thought about it, I realized there must be other safety issues that I’m not aware of. What should I look for?
– Worried daughter
Dear Worried: You’re right to be concerned. More than 10,000 seniors died from falls last year. A 65-year-old who falls and breaks a hip has a 20 percent chance of being six feet under within the next two years and a whopping 50 percent chance they’ll have some disability for the rest of his or her life.
We don’t take falling seriously enough. I have a good friend whose dad died because he insisted on cleaning the gutters even though he was 82. He should have known better because he owned a landscaping company. His hubris led to his death.
Another good friend, a family doctor, was out of work for six months because he fell out of the tree he was trimming. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.
So let’s accident-proof your home.
Start with the floors: If you have throw rugs, make sure they have a nonstick backing or put them on a nonstick “under rug.” Double-sided tape for rugs also works.
Now on to those pesky cords. With so many devices these days, they tend to stick out all over. If you can trip on them, she can too. While you’re at it, check the lamps. Many an old lamp has a frayed plug that might cause a fire. If it’s not up to code, guess what? It’s not up to code.
Now to the kitchen. Check the cords again. Are they in good shape? Do they work? Should they be fixed? Can they cause a fire? If your mom cooks while wearing her bathrobe, tell her it’s a no-no. Too many older adults have their robes catch fire while making bacon and eggs.
Look at the shelves. Are the dishes too high? If she uses a step stool, does it have a railing to hold on to. You can buy the good ones online or at a medical supply store.
Now check the stairs. Many people store stuff on the stairs that they eventually want to bring upstairs – shoes, clothing, newspapers – all great things for tripping. Does she need a double railing? Are the stairs well-lit? Are they free from obstacles at the top and on the bottom?
As for lighting, wherever she spends time in the house should be well-lit. Are there switches when she walks into a room? If she has to go into a dark room to turn on a lamp, buy one of those nifty sound-activated (clap-clap) switches.
Do the hallways have night lights that go on automatically? Buy some inexpensive ones and put them all over the house, including all the bathrooms and bedrooms.
In the bedroom, make sure there is a lamp next to the bed that she can turn on. Again, look for cords, rugs and other obstacles that she might trip on during that potty break late at night.
Which brings me to where most deadly falls occur – in the bathroom. Secure rugs are key, and if she’s unsteady, install a grab-bar in the shower and by the toilet. Have them put in by a professional who knows how to do it right. The last thing you want is a less-than-secure grab-bar.
Dr. Zorba Paster hosts a radio program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7; email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.