Caregiving

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Top Risks of Living Alone…Part 2-7

(And how to present them)

By Mary Bart

Living alone has its risks, but there are also practical solutions to help you counter any fears or anxieties when things don’t go as planned. Last week, we learnt about medical mismanagement, financial issues, social isolation and loneliness. Here is our second installment of tips for this week:
Home safety issues

It can be dangerous or impractical to live in a home that has stairs, doors that aren’t wide enough for a wheelchair and bathrooms without raised toilet seats, grab bars and good lighting. What about the outside? Is your drive cracked and uneven?  What hazards are in your backyard?

Solution:

Look at your home and ask yourself this question:  How can I make my home as safe as possible?  A safer home will improve your physical wellbeing, allow you to be more organized and give you peace and pride.  Let’s take a look at some of the key areas and issues to make your home safer.

Inside your home

• Remove the clutter. Having too much “stuff” increases chances of trips and falls.  Clear pathways in rooms and halls.  Give away unused furniture, appliances and clothing that is just taking up room.  -Remove or tape down area rugs and mats.

• Improve the lighting. Replace burnt-out bulbs and install new light fixtures that produce a wider sphere of light.  Add night-lights for hallways and bathrooms.

• Install grab bars. This can be in the bathroom and anywhere there is a “step-down.”

• Clean out the Medicine Cabinet. Dispose of expired medications or those no longer needed. Many medications are best stored in dry, dark places, such as in airtight plastic containers.

• Work on the kitchen. Clean out the refrigerator, freezer and pantry of foods that either have dried up or are no longer safe to eat. Organize your cabinets to have things within arm’s reach. Put infrequently used appliances and dishes away (or better yet, give them away). Add a non-slip mat in front of the sink to help stop the floor from being slippery if water spills.

• Don’t tackle cleaning jobs that stretch your physical abilities. Don’t stand on chairs, stay off of ladders and let others help with window cleaning, reaching upper cabinets, changing ceiling light bulbs and moving furniture.

• Make sure you replace batteries in smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.

• Going cordless. Switch to cordless appliances, thus reducing the chances of tripping on cords.

• Are your stairs safe? Are the handrails sturdy and strong enough to help support you? Is the stair carpet worn?  Does it need replacing?  Are your wood stairs now too slippery for you?  Is there “stuff” on your stairs that you can trip over?

• Have at least two fire extinguishers. One in the kitchen and one
within easy reach. Make sure you know how to use them. Seconds often count.

• Emergency contacts. Have your phone programmed with important contact numbers with speed dial.

• Emergency exits. If you have moved to an assisted living centre, understand where the exits are and how the emergency system works. The staff will be glad to help you know how these work.

• Is the furniture still in good shape and safe? Check to make sure everything is sturdy, including Dad’s favorite chair and those old matching TV-Dinner stands.

Outside your home

Standing outside on your porch, it is wonderful to see no more snow, but you can also see that work needs to be done to make the outside of your home safer. Over the winter, tree branches have come down, perhaps some paver stones have lifted on your patio that you could easily trip over, and the driveway now has some big cracks.  Think about how you can make your outdoor world safer and more enjoyable. Here are some safety tips to consider:

• Use the “right” size ladder. This is important when cleaning windows and unblocking eaves troughs. Don’t stretch to reach areas, never stand on the top level of a ladder and even better, either work with a second person to keep the ladder stable or hire someone to do the work for you.

• Avoid the roof. Don’t go up on the roof to replace shingles that blew away. Hire a professional to do that work.  How many times have you heard terrible stories of people falling off a roof and have had life-changing falls?

• Levelling pathways. Smooth any that have shifted over the winter. One uneven paver could send you flying and suddenly you are dealing with cuts, bruises or even a broken hip.

• Rails and Ramps. Now is a great time of year to consider adding a railing to your front steps or even having a ramp installed.

• Replace all outside lights. Make sure to replace those that are not working and also consider replacing lights with bug repelling bulbs. You don’t want to fall, just because you were trying to swat mosquitoes.

Organize any outside clutter such as garden tools, hoses and planters that may be easy to trip over.

• Is your outside furniture still safe? Check to make sure everything is safe to use. What is the condition of your outdoor area rug or carpet? Would it be safer just to remove it?

• Garden maintenance. Hire or recruit your family to help trim bushes and cut your grass.

Mary Bart is the chair of Caregiving Matters, an Internet-based charity that offers education and support to family caregivers.

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