Elder-Proof a Home For Safety and Better Mobility

ElderHYANNIS – Most elderly people prefer to stay in their own homes, but it’s not always safe for them to do so. As we age, the things in our home that we take for granted can become hazardous or cause injuries.

Luckily accommodations can be made, explained rehab practice manager Katrina Cannatelli, PT, at the Visiting Nurses Association of Cape Cod.

The VNA has physical and occupational therapists that go out to homes and do a comprehensive assessment of both the senior and the home.

The first thing to do is to assess the elderly person’s mobility, strength and balance, Cannatelli said. If they are using the backs of furniture to move through a room, it is time for them to get a cane or a walker and learn how to use it. Since a walker is fairly wide, the house needs to be assessed to make sure no furnishings get in the way of its safe use.

“We really take a look at how they navigate within their surroundings,” Cannatelli said, which includes a room by room assessment to keep safety at the forefront. One of the biggest considerations is how to prevent falls.

If you’re looking to make your own home or the home of a loved one or friend safer, here are some changes that can be made for each room.

Bedroom:

  • Bedrails can make getting in and out of bed a lot safer because they give people something to steady themselves on.
  • When it comes to getting dressed or undressed, it’s better to sit on the edge of the bed for support, especially if pulling shirts over the head. Button down shirts can be a safer choice.
  • Gadgets like long handled reaching devices, elastic shoe laces and long handles shoe horns are helpful because they prevent the need to bend down.

“We really focus in on the bathroom because that’s a dangerous place,” Cannatelli said. “That’s where a lot of people have falls.”

Bathroom:

  • A raised toilet seat
  • A grab bar next to the toilet
  • A grab bar in the shower or bathtub
  • A tub bench so people can sit and bath with a hand held shower.
  • A nightlight for middle of the night bathroom runs.

Kitchen:

  • Move all things that the elderly person needs to use to level where they won’t have to reach or bend because both actions can cause a fall.
  • If the senior is having trouble remembering to turn burners off, unplug the stove to prevent fire.
  • Make sure all food in the fridge is still fresh. Seniors tend to lose their sense of taste and may accidentally eat food that has gone bad.

Living areas:

  • Throw rugs are dangerous and can cause falls. All of them should be rolled up and stored out of the way in an attic or garage.
  • Bright red or green tape can be used to identify surface changes or steps, especially for those with low vision.
  • Nightlights are a good idea in all hallways, which tend to be dark.

Stairways, entrances and exits:

  • Make sure all are well lit at all times.
  • Check railings to ensure they are in good working order.
  • If necessary add grab bars at entrances and exits.

The VNA assessment doesn’t stop with an overview of the house for safety, Cannatelli said.

“If we identify that this person has balance problems, either because of low vision or weakness or they have limited range of motion, we’ll give them an exercise program and we’ll do some activities to improve that.”

Once a VNA physical therapist ensures the environment is as safe as possible, an occupational therapist comes in to teach the person how to use all of the new equipment and navigate the home.

“Occupational therapists will really work with people on what we call their ADL’s – activities of daily living,” Cannatelli said.

If an elderly person is homebound to the point where they need assistance leaving their home, they can ask their physician to order this VNA service. In those cases, the service is paid for by private insurance, Medicare or Managed Medicare. If the person is still mobile, insurance won’t cover the costs, but services can still be requested through the private services of the VNA.

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