27/09/2019

Assessing and Managing Risks at Home for the Elderly

One of the many great benefits of continuing to live at home throughout your golden years is that it’s familiar, comfortable, and most importantly; safe!

Despite this, we still must put care and effort into maintaining the safety of our homes for either ourselves or our loved ones or minor issues can become real, and often hidden dangers.

Last year, the House of Commons discussed the issue of risk management in homes for the elderly, stating that - “Poor quality, un-adapted and hazardous accommodation can lead to older people having reduced mobility, illness [and] depression. However appropriate housing can keep older people healthy [and can] support them to live independently.” From this, we not only see the importance of risk management but also the formula of how to reduce risk within the home. Firstly, the house must be assessed for visible and invisible risks. Then, the relevant needs of the elderly person must be considered – specifically any health conditions and mobility issues. Finally, these risks can be addressed through a range of different available solutions, ensuring the independence of the occupants and leaving the environment comparatively risk-free. So, with this in mind, today we would like to talk about identifying risks at home and what you can do to deal with them.

Where to identify risks and dangers

Within the average house, risks can stem from anywhere or anything – and often where you’d least expect it. This may sound scary however it is only through proper consideration that these risks can be accounted for and dealt with. Firstly, we are going to look at different areas around the house and what you can do to stay safe and risk-free.

Risk management in and around the house

Gardening is an excellent activity for the elderly. Not only is it stimulating and rewarding, it also a great hobby to get the elderly outside and amongst the fresh air of their garden. It also doesn’t require a high level of physical fitness, yet it’s a good use of one’s motor skills. It doesn’t, however, come without potential risks which need to be assessed and minimised in order to maintain its status as a safe activity. As with all outdoor activities, there are relevant environmental factors that must be considered in relation to the health of the elderly. This includes older individuals being more susceptible to sunburn and bruising, as well as being more adversely affected by temperature change and infection – however, these can still be mitigated through standard gardening safety practices. The primary risks posed within the garden are caused by overexertion through physical work, overstretching and dehydration. These factors can be considered by making the garden more accessible and requiring less bending and stretching. This can be achieved by using vertical planting methods such as trellis’, raising flowerbeds, and ensuring adequate shade is provided in and around the garden. Extra care should be taken to properly treat any cuts, grazes or bruising if they occur.

From a very young age, we are taught about the dangers of foolishness in the kitchen, but our experience around these potential dangers doesn’t mean we can be any less cautious of them. The use of appliances that can result in scalding or burns, such as the oven, hob or microwave undoubtedly pose the greatest risk if used improperly. If you or your loved one has reduced hearing, then swapping out the regular oven or microwave timer for a louder commercial alarm or even a vibrating one can be of good use. If the kitchen hob uses gas, then consider having it replaced for an electric or induction hob. Although this may seem unnecessary, a recent publication by ‘US Home Cooking Fires’ asserts that the number one cause of house fires was cooking appliances being left on after use, with 75% of all hob fires starting when no one is in the room. Other hazardous appliances can also be swapped out for more practical version. Examples of this include swapping stovetop and even standard electrical kettles for ‘variable temperature kettles’ which allow you to ensure that the water inside never reaches an unsafe temperature. Another example is doing away with a standard oven altogether and instead using a pressure cooker. Pressure cookers have been touted as one of the most economical and safe ways of cooking due to the advanced anti-scalding technologies that many top brands employ. It’s also not just hot water that could cause risks within the kitchen, displaced water on the surfaces and floor around the sink can easily cause preventable accidents. Routinely ensuring that any leftover water is quickly cleaned and dried can easily negate this, as well as potential affixing floor grips around the floor of especially messy sinks. This advice can also be interchangeably used in the bathroom.

Whilst the bathroom is thought of as a room of tranquillity and comfort, there are a staggering amount of unseen potential hazards that could befall an elderly person. The primary reason for this is that bathrooms are usually small enclosed spaces with hard surfaces, displaced water, and problematic ledges and corners. One of the more inconvenient risks within a bathroom is being able to easily turn taps both on and off. This isn’t just problematic for those with arthritic conditions as we will all experience our strength and grip weakening as we age. A novel solution to this problem is a ‘tap turner’ – a peripheral that makes a twist-tap function like a level. As the potential for slipping on a wet bathroom floor is a constant danger, it is vital to ensure that the bathroom is well lit and clear of loose clutter. Investing in gripping mats for both inside and outside of the bath will greatly reduce the risk of slips and falls within the bathroom. If you believe that stepping in and out of the bath or shower still may remain problematic, then a wall-mounted railing may prove beneficial. Many kinds of mobility support peripherals can help reduce risk within the bathroom including handrails, floor-to-ceiling rails, and even toilet rails. 

Mobility and getting around safely

Limited mobility can undoubtedly pose a potential risk for the elderly living at home; becoming stuck, falling, or suffering stress and frustration can all befall a lesser abled individual – however there are a wealth of options to make accessing the home more functional. One of the largest challenges facing a low-mobility elderly person is safely traversing both small and large sets of stairs. In the early 1980’s, the construction of bungalows at England was at an all-time high – however the necessity for newer constructions in this century have decreased as functional solutions to stair mobility have developed. The most popular solution is the stairlift, an invention that’s functionality and reliability have improved exponentially over the last decade. If a stairlift doesn’t seem necessary, however, several smaller changes can ensure safety when using the stairs. Staircases should be well illuminated at all times to help avoid potential trips. It is recommended to either chose a high-watt bulb over the stairs or to install knee-level lights ascending the staircase. On top of this, installing extra handrails or banisters may also increase one’s stability between each step. The British government has shown long-lasting support in helping individuals with limited mobility regain accessibility around their homes. For over twenty-five years they have ran the ‘Disability Facility Grant’, giving financial aid to the lesser abled who require functional house modifications.

There is no doubt that slips, trips, and falls are by the far the most common and hazardous problems that can occur within the home. Almost anything can contribute to the risk of a fall, including issues with mobility, general trip hazards, and even poor lighting. A report by the Public Health Outcomes Framework stated that in 2017-2018, there were 220,160 emergency hospital admission caused by falls in patients over 65, with over half of these being for patients over the age of 80. The good news, however – is that this risk can easily be mitigated through proper risk assessment and prevention. We are all guilty at times of letting clutter build in our home – for the elderly, however, routine cleaning and decluttering may become less feasible. Moving any built-up clutter from the floor can easily remove a previously unseen trip hazard; this is especially true in the hallways of the house. Whilst you are doing this, pay special attention to any rugs or mats that are in the home. An unsecured rug or mat can become a trip hazard if a passing foot becomes caught under it. Be sure to affix these to the floor with either rug gripper tape or double-sided sticky tape to ensure no feet get caught under them.

Choose your footwear wisely

An often-overlooked factor of avoidable slips, trips and falls within the home is not wearing adequate footwear. We often think of our homes as being a place of peace and relaxation, and although certain kinds of clothing and footwear might make us feel more comfortable, they also can make the elderly more susceptible to unnecessary accidents. It is unsurprising that in the paper ‘Guidelines for the Prevention of Falls in Older Persons’, the American Geriatric Society deemed inappropriate footwear to be one of the leading causes in unnecessary falls. Footwear like slippers and flip-flops may seem like a more functional shoe as you grow older – they are generally more comfortable and can be taken off with ease. However, these choices of footwear provide no heel support and little in the way of balance, meaning that an unsteady step may lead to a fall. Another common choice of footwear in and around the home is plain old socks. Whilst still being effortless and comfortable, socks provide no grip and can cause any underfoot flooring to become an unsafe surface. On top of this, socks and bare feet do not give any protection from collisions or falling objects. An appropriate choice of footwear for one’s home or garden will given heel support and aid with balance whilst fully protecting the feet from any potential hazardous objects.

Remember, Safety is as simple as ABC – Always Be Careful

So, you’ve taken steps to mitigate risk in your home and garden, you’ve considered adding mobility aids, and you’ve taken precautions to prevent slips, trips and falls. However, what if the unthinkable happens and you have an accident and require immediate medical assistance? Here at Helpline, our mission statement is to ensure the safety and security of yourself or a loved one. Our personal alarm systems are discreet yet incredibly easy to use. At the push of a button, you will be quickly connected to a member of our UK-based care team who are specially trained in assessing emergency situations. No matter if you’ve fallen, scaled yourself, or are feeling unwell – one of our team will be on hand to give you assurance and get you the help you need. If you’re interested in learning more about how a Helpline personal alarm system can secure the continued wellbeing of yourself or a loved one, call us to speak to an advisor or book an in-person demonstration today.

Perhaps the greatest way of reducing risk within the home for either yourself or a loved one, is to be careful! Although this seems so obvious, it is not at all uncommon for people to become more comfortable and less cautious as they reach their golden years. As we spend so much of our lives in our homes without seeming to be at risk, we can often let our personal safety fall to the wayside. As we get older, we sometimes need to slow down and embrace caution – even in familiar day-to-day activities. This also means having extra vigilance over loved ones who are living at home and ensuring that they aren’t exposing themselves to unnecessary risk. We hope the recommendations above have helped address some of the potential risks you may have thought about when discussing living at home. If there are any further questions or solutions, you’d like to discuss with us, or if you’d like to find out more about how our personal safety alarms can mitigate the risk of living at home – call one of our advisors today on 03458 247999.

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