Following home safety tips may prevent falls for elderly

By: Michelle Miller-Carl, Journal News Editor
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When she first had it installed, Bessie Haenny said the pole in her living room reminded her of a carousel. “You held a pole that went up and down when the horse did. That’s the first thing I thought of,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing. This sure helps a lot.” Although it conjures up memories of childhood, the “transfer pole” is actually one of the many safety devices employed at the Haenny home to prevent accidents. Bessie, 85, and her husband, Louie Haenny, 93, still live in their home of more than 40 years in Applegate. They have a caregiver visit them every day. The Haennys said safety devices help them feel safe and independent. “I wouldn’t do as much as I do now with as little work,” Bessie Haenny said. “We all get tired and think we can’t do this or that. But this sure changes things.” Their home has transfer poles, a hospital bed, bars in the bathroom, a adaptive walk-in shower with a chair and hand-held hose, a chair lift for easier sitting, and a widened bathroom doorway to accommodate a wheelchair. Adapting the home to help seniors live safely is part of helping them “age in place,” said Buck Shaw, owner of Home Instead Senior Care, an in-home care provider in Auburn. “Really, it’s about honoring the senior’s desire to allow them to age where they choose to be,” he said. “For most seniors, the home is the first choice.” But the home is also where an accident can happen, most commonly a fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in three adults age 65 and older will fall each year. But Shaw points out that 40 to 50 percent of falls are preventable. “A fall is a life-altering event,” he said. “That can really change where you live and how you can live.” In addition to staying mobile and active, Shaw recommends seniors and loved ones do a “look and see” safety check of the home to prevent falls. A safety check could include looking for throw rugs or other tripping hazards, identifying areas with insufficient lighting or clearing clutter that has built up over the years. Adaptive devices can also help seniors stay safe at home by giving them support and making everyday tasks fit their ability level. “This is my life line,” Bessie Haenny said of her pole in the living room. “It helps keep me independent at home.” The Journal’s Michelle Miller-Carl can be reached at ---------- Look and See Signs: A Home Safety Assessment and Checklist Seniors and their families might want to look for the following opportunities when performing a home safety assessment. - Examine dark pathways, corners and other areas where seniors regularly walk or read. Make sure all areas of the home have adequate lighting. Timed and motion-sensor lights outdoors can illuminate potentially dangerous pathways. Inside, consider Ott-Lites – which provide a high-intensity beam for doing detail work. Make sure that hallways and stairs are properly lit. - Avoid monochromatic color schemes. Contrast can help seniors with failing eyesight better navigate their homes. Large red and blue buttons over hot and cold water faucet controls will help prevent dangerous mistakes. A dark green or brown toilet seat and vinyl tape around the shower will make those fixtures more easily distinguished. Kitchen countertops should contrast with floors as well. - Look for ways to reorganize. Mom always put the black stew pot under the stove to keep the kids from breaking it. Perhaps now it belongs on a shelf beside the stove. And who says the eggs must go in the egg tray of the refrigerator? Perhaps it’s easier for dad to handle them if they’re stored in the meat tray. If that hallway table, which has always been a permanent fixture, is becoming a dangerous obstacle, relocate it. - Look behind closed doors. Many seniors will close off parts of a house they no longer use. Be sure to check those areas regularly for mold or water damage. Don’t close vents to crawl spaces. - Look for ways to simplify your senior’s life. Talk to your parents about why and how they do things then look for ways to simplify their lives. If your Mom’s immaculate floors are now regularly dirty, think about how she’s been doing that job all these years and offer options. Rather than a heavy mop and bucket, investigate light-weight, all-in-one mops. If your senior is replacing appliances, look for smooth-top stoves and refrigerators with water and ice on the outside. Change door knobs to levers, or purchase grips that can go on conventional knobs. Convert single-bulb light fixtures to multiple bulbs so seniors still have light when one bulb burns out. - Consider security. Think about the potential dangers that lurk within your loved one’s home. Lock-in switches on thermostats and stoves will keep seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease from harming themselves. Help them manage in their environment by installing a cordless intercom. - Keep an eye out for damage. Watch for signs that a senior is adapting his or her behavior to the environment. Look for towel bars or window sills that are pulling away or shower curtains that have torn from seniors using them to grab onto. - Look for ways to make entries safe. Make sure that railings into a home are in good repair and that steps and sidewalks are not damaged. Or eliminate steps altogether. Make sure that doors into a home can be set to stay open for carrying groceries and other items in and out. Install remote control locks. - Is clutter taking over? Messy conditions and broken items are important warning signs. Remove area rugs and stacks of newspapers and magazines, or other potential obstacles. - Contact a professional senior-care service, such as Home Instead Senior Care, which can conduct a home safety assessment and serve as a second set of eyes for older adults. - This list was adapted from the home safety checklist developed by Home Instead Senior Care and enhanced in cooperation with the SUNY Buffalo School of Architecture IDEA Center, the National Association of Home Builders—Remodelers CAPS (Certified Aging in Place Specialists), the National Aging in Place Council, and aging-in-place consultant Louis Tenenbaum. ---------- What You Can Do For Your Senior . . . For $500 or Less Following are adaptive devices you can easily install and add to a senior’s home for a combined total of about $500. Prices are approximates and may vary by vendor. 1. Raised toilet seats with arms that lock onto an existing toilet provide height and support to stand. $90 2. Hand-held shower nozzle slips directly over a tub faucet. $24 3. Floor to ceiling grab bar provides a full range of heights to hold onto while sitting or standing up. It can be installed by the bed, in the bathroom or by a favorite chair. $150 4. Lever doorknob turner adapters attach securely to a variety of round door knobs to provide leverage for easy opening. $22 5. Lever handles attach to recliner chair handles to serve as an extension. $22 6. Various kitchen items are available including automatic openers that remove lids and open cans, jars and bottles. $50 7. Rubber ramps that are ADA compliant are often easy to install to most surfaces. Ramp stays in place by its sheer weight and can be moved from one opening to another. $36 8. Mobile stools are particularly useful to help seniors navigate a kitchen. $100.