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February Is National Senior Independence Month

senior couple riding a double rider tricycleAlong with being Spunky Old Broads Month, February has the distinction of being National Senior Independence Month. We definitely should be celebrating the fortitude and resilience that many seniors have!

According to the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and the National Center For Assisted Living (NCAL), “This celebration was established to help seniors remain in control of their daily lives. This month encourages seniors to take the opportunity to evaluate their current living situation, and determine whether or not adjustments could be made to create a better lifestyle. This is the opportunity to notice strengths and weaknesses in daily routines and make minor adjustments with potentially huge improvements.”

Many seniors want to age in place and “do for themselves” as long as possible. In order to do this, however, you must make both your living environment safer and your body as healthy and strong as you can.

Aging In Place – Home Safety For Elderly Folks

Let’s start in the home/living environment. The following are steps that should be taken to make a home as senior friendly as possible.

Declutter All Of Your Living Areas

I know that it’s not an easy task to declutter your living space.  It’s especially difficult for older adults.  But I can’t stress to you enough the importance of decluttering.

Just 2 weeks ago a dear friend of mine fell and broke her foot and tore a tendon in her leg because she had several pairs of shoes on her staircase. She stepped on one of those shoes as she was coming down the stairs and slipped. She’s now in a boot for 6 weeks and will have to undergo several months of rehabilitation. Don’t let this happen to you!

Decluttering tips include:

  • Take one section of one room (a corner, a drawer, etc.) at a time and finish that area before moving to the next.
  • Decide what you will do with the excess items (donate, give it away, throw it away, etc.) and follow through.
  • For sentimental collections, pare it down to one or two items.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help with sorting through your items. They can also help you to avoid the emotional traps that often happen when you’re trying to clear out your living spaces.

For more helpful info on decluttering, read our article, Decluttering Tips For Seniors (Make Your Home Safe And Organized).

Install More Lighting

One of the most underused home modifications for seniors is lighting.  Unless there is a medical condition where someone has difficulty seeing when the lights are turned on, there can truly never be enough lights in someone’s one – especially for seniors.

You can use plug in lights or battery powered lights. I like to use a combination of both because there can never be too many lights!  Place them everywhere, but especially in those areas that are used at night time.  For example, the path from the bed to the bathroom, the pathway to and from the kitchen, etc.

Make Floors And Stairs As Anti Slip As Possible

First, be sure to wear proper shoes with slip resistant soles. Avoid walking barefoot and/or in socks.

Next, make your floors as slip resistant (or anti slip) as you can. You don’t necessarily have to put in new floors – there are products that can be applied onto ceramic tile, terrazo, porcelain, wood, vinyl and other types of floors that can help to make them slip resistant.

Also, we recommend removing anything on the floor that may cause you to trip or slip such as rugs, doorway thresholds that are not flush to the floor (or at least very thin), electrical cords that are not stapled to the molding or tucked under furniture, etc.

Rearrange The Kitchen

When physical and cognitive abilities are limited, as is often the case for the elderly, the risk of death from fire rises.  In 2016, older adults (ages 65 or older) experienced large numbers of fire deaths that occurred in a small population group. As a result, the risk of dying in a fire for these older adults was 2.5 times higher than for the population as a whole and rose even more for the oldest segments (Figure 2). The oldest adults, those ages 85 and older, had a risk of dying in a fire that was 3.4 times higher than for the general population. – FEMA,gov

The easiest way to start making a senior friendly kitchen is to organize it. I’m talking about rearranging the items in the kitchen so that it’s easier for a senior loved one to reach for them and to use them.

The physical condition of the senior will dictate where items should be placed.  Some tips for rearranging include:

  • Don’t put EVERYTHING out on the countertop or wherever you decide is a good spot.  Keep only the most used items out.
  • Sometimes, removing the doors to some kitchen cabinets can make it much easier to reach for items – especially if the person is in a wheelchair or using a walker or cane.
  • Pull out shelves are a great way to avoid reaching too far to the back of a cabinet.
  • Pull down shelves are also another wonderful product for overhead cabinets.
  • Lazy susan trays are great especially for corner cabinets.
  • Sliding basket organizers work well, not only in kitchen cabinets but in the pantry, too.

You can find more ideas in our article, Great Tips On Kitchen Safety For Seniors.

Use Senior Friendly Furniture In The Home

Most people don’t usually consider furniture to be a home safety hazard, but it can be for seniors.

As an example, my father got up from a normal folding chair (like the kind you use at card tables), lost his balance, and fell as the chair collapsed under him. He broke his finger (caught it in the chair) and also spent two months getting physical therapy and chiropractic for his resulting back pain. He was lucky that’s all that happened.

Some of the changes to make furniture safer include:

  • Furniture with wheels should be removed / replaced with more sturdy furniture.  BUT – avoid furniture that is heavy.
  • Rolling kitchen islands should be removed / replaced with one that has no wheels.
  • Kitchen, dining and coffee tables with squared corners should be replaced with ones that have rounded corners.  An inexpensive option is to add Corner Guards like these to your existing furniture.
  • Assistive furniture (if needed) such as lift chairs, stair lifts, bariatric kitchen stools, etc. can make life safer and easier for aging adults.
  • Check out the variety of kitchen chairs that we mention in our article.  They can be safer than the standard chairs most of us have in our kitchens.
  • Beds should be an appropriate height for your senior parent to get in and out of safely.  Not too low, not too high.  You may want to consider adjustable beds or bed frames like these.  They can make getting in and out of bed easier.
  • Deep sofas are very nice to cuddle in but can be difficult to get in and out of for many older adults.  Recliners tend to be easier.  But an inexpensive thing you can do is to look at any of the variety of chair aids that are available on Amazon.  There are many different varieties and one of them just may fit your needs.
  • Securing furniture is important also.  That means securing free standing bookcases to the wall, securing shelves to their brackets or the wall, etc.    You can take a look at these furniture anchors which can be used for furniture, televisions and more.

Bathroom Modifications For Elderly

The use of appropriate devices such as grab bars, stair lifts, shower chairs, etc. is usually what most people think of first when they think of modifying a home for senior citizens.

But, unfortunately, many seniors and caregivers don’t install assistive devices until AFTER a fall or some other type of injury has occurred. I would like to encourage you to be pro-active and install them beforehand.

  • Install grab bars in the shower / bathtub area, by the sink, and around the toilet. For information on safe placement and how to install them, read our article, Where To Put Grab Bars In A Bathroom.
  • Use a shower chair, a hand held shower head, and non slip rugs and mats in the shower area.
  • Put in a raised toilet seat because seniors often have problems trying to stand up if they have to sit on something that is too low. This is also a falling hazard (both when sitting and when standing up), so a raised toilet seat is a safer alternative.

Home Fire Safety

These days there are some amazing products to help keep you as safe as possible at home.

These include:

  • Fire extinguishers or fire blankets
  • Fire suppressor products (for electric stoves)
  • Automatic shutoff devices for stoves and ovens
  • Carbon monoxide detectors
  • Smoke alarms
  • Fire escape ladders
  • Emergency evacuation chairs

For more information about these products check out our article on Home Fire Safety Tips For Seniors (Prevention & Escape Plans).

Wellbeing for Seniors

It stands to reason that if you are in the best physical shape you can be, you’ll maintain your independence as long as possible. Likewise for being in good emotional and mental health.

Older adults are at an increased risk for experiencing depression. – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

To that end, walking and other forms of physical exercise not only keep your body stronger, but are good for your mental and emotional state.

  • There are several exercises you can do to improve your strength and balance, such as standing on one leg or walking a straight line (hold on to a stable, sturdy object for these!).
  • Other good options are swimming, water aerobics, chair yoga, and exercise programs (like Silver Sneakers at the YMCA) that are tailored to seniors.
  • Walking with a friend or with a walking group is also great for keeping social connections (which helps with emotional balance), boosting stamina, and may help combat physical pain.

Physically, you should also continue to eat right and be sure to drink plenty of water:

  • Dehydration is one of the most common causes of hospital admissions for the elderly. 
  • Memory sharp foods boost brain health.
  • Playing games and doing puzzles help the brain stay sharp, as well.
  • Embrace technology – nowadays, technology can do many things for seniors, from reminding you when it’s time to take medications to keeping in touch with family and friends via something like Amazon’s Echos Show device. For those who love to read, Kindle devices are awesome if you struggle with failing eyesight because they are backlit and you can adjust the font size.

Conclusion

National Senior Independence Month is the perfect time to think about the changes you can make now. Ensuring a safer home and healthier body can help immensely if your goal is to age in place for as long as possible.

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