July 10, 2012

Stay Safe -- and Don't Fall -- at Home

One of the smartest things I’ve done OUTSIDE my house this past year – after my car crash last August-- is limit my driving: only during the day, and only on unhurried, familiar neighborhood roads. I’m safer as a result of that decision, and so is everyone else. At first, I worried about losing some freedom and maybe some spontaneity, too. Truthfully, it’s been no big deal. In fact, has given me an excuse for getting out of doing some things I didn't particularly want to do anyhow.

But the best place to start making sure we stay safe is INSIDE and AROUND the house.

Don’t Fall
If I fear dementia – a fact I’ve mentioned repeatedly in this space – I probably fear falling even more since it's a more immediate threat. And people with Parkinson's disease, like me, are especially vulnerable.

Seniors fall for many reasons. A summary of 12 different studies provides these causes (although it was difficult to quantify the effects of drugs, and issues about medication compliance).
  • 31%: accident / environment 
  • 17%: gait / balance 
  • 15%: various other unspecified causes 
  • 13%: dizziness or vertigo 
  • 10%: drop attacks (sudden spontaneous falls) 
  • 5%: unknown 
  • 4%: confusion 
  • 3%: visual problems 
  • 3%: postural hypotension (blood pressure drop after change of body position) 
As this list suggests, most of these falls are often preventable. Here are just a few tips that are often listed  to help us stay on our feet, safe and sound:

  • Get rid of slippery rugs. Use double-sided tape to secure necessary space rugs. 
  • Remove clutter. Clean up toys for kids and pets. 
  • Wear shoes. Don’t walk on bare, slippery floors in your socks. Don’t wax floors, or at least use non-skid wax. (I don't adhere to the "wear shoe" maxim since mine is a Nepali house where we take off our shoes on entering. But I walk around in my bare feet and know that socks are a slippery no-no.)
  • Make sure banisters are secure, and use them religiously. Install rails on BOTH sides of stairways (which I'm glad I did right after my Parkinson's diagnosis).
  • Use bright, appropriate lights. 
  • Correct uneven walkways, like broken sidewalks, outside. 
  • Don’t let Mother Nature throw you for a loop. Snow and ice are particularly treacherous for seniors. 
  • Get vision check-ups regularly and update prescription for glasses. Make sure vision looking down toward your feet is sharp and clear. Get hearing checked, too. A stove timer – or a smoke alarm -- doesn’t help if you can’t hear it. 
  • Keep electrical cords out of the way. 
  • Remember that alcohol impairs balance, may create dangerous interactions with meds, and can cause long-term nerve damage in feet – a severe risk factor for falls. 
  • Consolidate living space to one floor, if possible, to avoid stairs. 
  • Exercise carefully and regularly to improve balance, strength, flexibility. Tai Chi and mild weight-bearing exercises are especially good. 
  • Get up from chairs – and bed – slowly. Gain your balance before moving. 
  • Don’t climb on stools or stepladders. Get someone to help you instead. 
  • Be alert for meds – prescribed and OTC -- that may cause drowsiness. Ask your doc about drug reactions. Read all labels carefully. 
  • Consider installing a walk-in shower and sturdy hand rails / grab bars. Or use secure shower chair, and hand-held shower nozzle. 
  • Use non-skid rubber mat or adhesive strips in bath / shower. Wear non-skid slippers in tub / shower. 
  • Keep bathroom and kitchen floors dry. Clean up all spills – liquids, foods, fats – right away. 
  • Use night lights in halls, bedrooms, bath, stairways. 
  • Always be aware of where your pets are. Don’t trip over them! 
  • Make sure your feet – and footwear -- are OK. 
  • Maintain a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D for bone health. 
  • Get screened – and treated – for osteoporosis. 
In the Kitchen
  • Have fire extinguisher available in kitchen. 
  • Use timers when cooking. Don’t leave items on stove or oven unattended. 
  • Never leave the house when something is cooking. 
In the Bathroom
  • Consider a raised toilet seat, or one with armrests. 
In General
  • Regularly replace batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. (I have a reminder on  my computer to check my detectors every two weeks.)
  • Keep everything you need – in kitchen, bathroom, bedroom – within easy reach. 
For further reading:
CDC's Home and Recreational Safety
Mayo Clinic's Fall Prevention
AARP Home Safety Tips

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