If you will be heading home for any of these seasonal holidays you will find that it can be a wonderful trip back in time as you revisit your own family history in the context of your mom’s or dad’s house. But when you visit, take a closer look at how safe that house may still be for your older parent living there. Some parts of the home interior landscape may be just like you remember them, but they may now pose hazards to your older parents.
Start with electrical fixtures. Check for where the cords to lamps or telephones and other household appliances are. If they are in the flow of traffic, consider arranging furniture differently. Also, remember that extension cords are really only meant for temporary use, so it is a good idea to move fixtures to be closer to outlets. If you must use an extension cord, place it against a wall to reduce the trip hazard. If there are electrical cords under furniture, check for wear on the insulation to avoid fire risks. Cords under carpeting or rugs also can wear to the point that the floor covering becomes a fire hazard. And, of course, frayed or cracked cords should be replaced. Finally, check to see that all outlets have secure cover plates so that no wires are exposed. Do the hands-on test as well to be certain no outlet is unusually warm to the touch, a sign of potential overloads and therefore a fire risk.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has estimated that thousands of people 65 years and older each year are treated in hospital emergency rooms for falls associated with rugs or floor runners. Older adults have less agility and some shuffle as they walk making the trip hazard even greater, so remove rugs that cannot be securely attached to the floor. It is easy to use double-sided adhesive tape to secure rugs or use rubber matting under the rug cut to size is an alternative.
In addition to replacing batteries in smoke detectors, make sure there are enough detectors placed throughout the house. Especially if one of your older parents has any difficulties with hearing, you will want to have multiple detectors, and they typically come with instructions on where they optimally should be placed in the house. Adding a carbon monoxide detector also is important if there are any fuel-burning appliances in the home. Even homes with electric kitchen appliances may have gas-burning heating units or water heaters.
Because accidents can still happen despite all these preventive measures, make sure emergency numbers are close to every telephone in the house. Include the local Poison Control Center along with a trusted neighbor’s number and your own family ICE (in case of emergency) contact. Write these telephone numbers in large print and tape conspicuously near each land line. Check also that phones and contact numbers are accessible to your parent in the event that an accident leaves them unable to stand.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to Charlotte Bishop.