You might not have to make extensive modifications to your home to ensure your loved one’s safety. Here are some simple steps to follow to create a safer caregiving environment.
Illness and disability increase the risk of accidents in the home. Illness can affect a person’s balance, general strength, sensation or judgment, putting him at greater risk of falls and other potentially dangerous actions.
Unfortunately, we often wait until an accident happens before we make changes. Act now to provide a safer home. The steps you take to improve safety at home will reduce the chance of serious injury and give you greater peace of mind.
General Action Steps
- Keep emergency phone numbers posted by the phone. 911 is the basic emergency number for medical, fire, or police emergencies. Include the number for your local poison control center. Print your home address and phone number in large print by the phone. People often forget these numbers in an emergency. Print the names and phone numbers of family members and leave by the telephone, in case others need to call.
- Consider enrolling in a CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) class. Call the American Heart Association’s toll-free number, 1-800-242-8721, or your local fire department or Red Cross chapter to find out where classes are offered. You will learn emergency treatment for heart attack, choking, and drowning.
- Remove clutter from halls and stairs.
- Remove throw rugs that aren’t securely held down.
- Keep floors dry and in good repair.
- Use nightlights in bedrooms, bathrooms and hallways.
- Avoid slippers or other loose-fitting shoes for the person who is unsteady on his feet.
- Use non-slip mats in the tub or shower.
- Install grab bars (available at medical supply stores and some pharmacies.) Sinks and towel racks can easily be pulled off the walls.
- Keep the bathroom floor dry.
- Lower the water temperature to 120 degrees.
- If the person smokes, be particularly aware of safety. Anyone who smokes in bed or who has cognitive or physical losses should have careful supervision.
- Install smoke detectors, especially near bedrooms. Check them once each month to be sure they still work.
- Fire departments recommend you change batteries in smoke detectors twice a year. Do it when you change your clocks for daylight savings.
- Keep fire extinguishers in easy-to-reach places, especially in kitchens and basements. Have them checked regularly.
- Check electrical cords for damage. Don’t overload extension cords.
- Have an escape plan for everyone in the house. Make sure everyone knows what it is; have a practice escape twice each year.
- Never allow smoking around oxygen.
Memory Or Judgment Problems
If the person you care for has poor judgment, memory problems, or has a dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, special safety precautions will help you reduce the risk of accidents.
- Keep medications in a locked cabinet. Post a list of all medications and/or over-the-counter drugs that the person is taking.
- Use child-proof doorknobs and cabinet locks if needed.
- Lock up all poisons such as insecticides, fertilizers, paint thinner, or cleaning supplies.
- Clean out the refrigerator weekly and remove spoiled food. Food poisoning is a real danger when judgment is impaired.
- Consider removing stove knobs or small appliances during unsupervised times.
- Lock up or dismantle dangerous tools and firearms.
- Install safety locks, door alarms, or gate locks if the person may wander away from home.
- Contact the Alzheimer’s organization nearest you for further information about special safety measures for the person with dementia.
Balancing Safety And Independence
No matter how careful you are, it is impossible to remove all risk of danger in every situation. It’s important for you to find an acceptable level of risk that does not unreasonably sacrifice the person’s independence.
For example, install railings on porch steps so that an unsteady person can go outside when he chooses. Or encourage a former homemaker to help in the kitchen when supervision is available.
Originally written and published by the Aging and Adult Services Administration Department of Social and Health Services, State of Washington. Reprinted with permission.
Washington State Department of Social and Health Services