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Aging in Place – WGXC Radio

More and more, people are staying in their homes as long as possible as they age. Here are some tips to do so safely.

Thanks to many innovations, technology and medical advancements, seniors are able to live in the residence of their choice for as long as they are able as they age. In the early part of the 20th century, people lived and died in their homes because they were often times sharing their home with or lived very close to family members who took of them as they aged. Times changed and as more of the family was away from the home at work, there wasn’t anyone available to care for elderly family members and seniors with serious medical issues had few choices. Thankfully there are more options for seniors to either age in place or transition to another home setting such as retirement communities, independent living communities, skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities, and all sorts of variations on the theme.

Of course there may need to be a lot of adaptations of existing homes but it is exciting to know that for some years now, more homes are being built with the future in mind. This means ramp accessibility to all entryways, doorways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs or scooters, bathrooms designed with safety and accessibility in mind, security system, excellent lighting and a lot more.

Planning for the future should start sooner than later, we all know how fast time flies not to mention that any of us could be challenged with a physical disability at any point in our life, despite our age. While we may not be able to or want to make massive structural changes to our homes, it’s often a lot of little, doable tweaks that make our homes safer. Here are just a few tips to consider:

• It’s no surprise that one of the most beneficial things any of us can do to improve safety, maneuverability and accessibility is to declutter. Excessive belongings clogging walkways, flat surface space, walls, shelves and entryways poses not just a tripping and falling hazard but a fire hazard as well. When you have mere seconds to exit a home engulfed in flames and have to struggle to get through a crowded entryway, you are putting your life at risk, especially if you are trying to lead other family members or carry a beloved pet. Imagine a fire fighter in full gear or EMTs trying to find you amongst piles, stacks or even laundry on the floor. You may not think your clutter is significant but in an emergency, it can be.

• Great lighting benefits all household members. It need not be at full blare all the time but having the option of excellent illumination is a good idea. Nightlights, motion sensors, remote control on light fixtures and emergency lighting inside the home are beneficial as is a well lit exterior.

• Bathrooms and kitchens will need to be heavily evaluated for a number of risk factors; one of the most obvious is water temperature. Temps that are too low may create risks when it come to food borne pathogens and too hot could scald the young or older household members. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends setting water heaters to 120 °F. Scalding usually occurs shortly after opening the tap as the water that was in the pipes had cooled and then there is a potential surge as the hotter water straight from the heater reaches the point of use. Seniors might consider testing water carefully with one finger instead of their whole hand and steaming water is of course a warning sign.

• Steps, stairways, entryways, bathrooms and hallways should be evaluated for potential hand railings or grab bars.

• Area rugs can be hazardous and wall to wall carpeting should be low pile with a firm mat. Extension cords should be tucked neatly against the wall or secured to avoid being a trip hazard.

• Do smoke and carbon monoxide detectors have strobe light features as well as loud, piercing auditory alarms? Should the entire home be fitted with a full security and fire system that automatically alerts authorities or a monitoring agency? Are there up to date and working fire extinguishers easily accessible throughout the home?

• In the kitchen check to see that heavyweight cookware such as cast iron is being kept at or below eye level but above knee level.

• Besides falling and burns, poisoning is an avoidable situation that just needs proactive planning. Can medications be safely scheduled and how can family members or caretakers be aware if doses are missed? Seniors and at least one family member should have easy access to up-to-date lists of all the prescription and nonprescription medications they take, including herbal or dietary supplements and topical medications (i.e., those applied to the skin), along with key facts about their medical history. Pills organizers can be helpful to track doses as well as alarms and timers. Perhaps medications should be listed as a daily checklist so that each med can be checked off after being taken.

• Medical alert systems are a great peace of mind. Yes, it could save the life of a senior but loved ones knowing that their friend or family member can always call for help just by hitting a button is incredibly invaluable!