In light of COVID-19, many seniors are social distancing at home, sometimes living alone. In advanced age, sometimes the most simple, everyday activities become more challenging. For seniors who live in their own home, especially by themselves, potential risks lurk in the most mundane places. Whether you’re a senior living comfortably in your own home, or a loved one who tends to worry about your aging family member, safety should be top-of-mind. Here, we review some key ways to help keep seniors safe.
Identify Hazards and Risks
Walking up and down the stairs, taking showers, cooking, and cleaning—any of these tasks can present challenges in our golden years. Here are some ways to make them a little easier and safer.
Keep Stairways Manageable
Check stair railings to ensure they’re intact and sturdy. Make sure the stairs are level and durable, and keep landings free of clutter to avoid tripping. If necessary, install a chairlift, but make sure the senior is trained in how to use it. If a senior is too frail to use the stairs, consider downsizing to a residential apartment on the first floor.
Make the Bathroom Safer
The combination of hard surfaces, loud noises, and moisture make bathrooms a potentially dangerous area for seniors. To prevent slips and falls, consider placing non-slip rugs on the bathroom floor as well as in the tub or shower. Install handrails in the shower for added stability. If the senior has limited mobility, add a raised toilet seat or a chair in the shower to make them more accessible.
Outside the bathroom, ensure there’s a clear bath to the doorway. If your senior has reached the point where bathing themselves is too challenging, consider an assisted living facility with nurses who can provide those services.
Reduce Hazards in the Kitchen
Many seniors enjoy cooking for themselves but are put at risk by having to reach for ingredients, bend to wash dishes, or maneuver around spills. If your senior has a large kitchen, consolidate all of the frequently used foods, pots, and utensils in lower, easily reachable shelves or drawers. Make sure non-slip rugs are placed by the stove, dishwasher, sink, fridge, and anywhere grease or soapy water could spill.
Schedule regular inspections by an electrician to make sure appliances are in working order and there are no fire hazards. Also keep the kitchen stocked with cleaning supplies and sanitizers so seniors aren’t put at risk from bacteria, viruses, or germs. If possible, use cleaning devices with long handles to prevent unnecessary bending.
When a senior is unable to make their own meals anymore, one option is moving to a senior living community with a community restaurant where healthy foods are readily available.
Prepare for Staying at Home During COVID-19
COVID-19 taught us all the importance of preparing for a contagious disease outbreak. Whether it’s a worldwide pandemic, or a seasonal flu, a contagious illness presents a threat to seniors because of their age and propensity for underlying health conditions.
If a senior must quarantine at home, they can prepare a safe and comfortable environment by doing a few important things. First, maintain a supply of essentials, including non-perishable (and preferably nutritious) foods and beverages, toiletries, as well as any necessary medications. Use teleconferences with physicians followed by mail-order or pharmacy drive-through visits for no-contact prescription refills. Have a strong and reliable internet connection for video calling friends or loved ones to avoid loneliness.
Additionally, consider investing in a medical alert system for ready access to emergency assistance. If possible, have a family member, friend, or neighbor perform a welfare check in regularly while maintaining social distancing. If no such person is available, one option is the Carrier Alert program from the United States Postal Service.
Keeping seniors safe in their homes extends beyond physical safety; their mental and emotional health should be top-of-mind, too. Healthier habits build stronger immune systems. Encourage daily self-care in the form of at home exercise or hobbies, a balanced diet, regular social interactions (even from a distance), and other enjoyable activities.
A streaming platform like Netflix, a DVD player, or cable connection for watching TV and movies helps keep the mind occupied when boredom strikes. Watching the news is valuable for staying up to date on important information, but don’t watch too much to avoid becoming overwhelmed by negative coverage. Alternatively, mindfulness meditation provides a healthy way to destress without distractions.
Consider Aging in Place in a Senior Living Community
Some seniors wish to continue living in their house as long as possible. Others find that they are happy to forego the stress of homeownership in exchange for the camaraderie and level of activity found in independent living. Living in a senior community supports many of the safety needs we’ve discussed, including ample opportunity for exercise, social connection, and healthy meals.
As seniors start to run into greater physical or mental health concerns, they might find their needs are better met by a skilled nursing or memory care facility. Senior living provides the ability to age in place, moving into independent or assisted living and remaining in the same community while progressing to more advanced levels of care