Will Your Senior Loved Ones Feel Safe in Your Home this Holiday Season?
The holidays are a time of fun and celebration, but some elements of the season may be hazardous to elderly family members.
This is the time of year when families and friends come together to reconnect, to enjoy each other’s company, and to celebrate traditions. These holiday events often include beloved elderly family members and friends. Whether these senior guests will be staying overnight with you, or just attending a gathering for a few hours, it’s important to make your home as safe as possible for their visit.
Before your senior guests arrive, ask about specific preparations you can make to ensure their safety. It’s better to inquire in advance, not only so you can be prepared, but to also avoid putting your guest on the spot during the gathering.
Safety Issues to Consider
If you’re anticipating elderly relatives to visit for the holidays, do all you can to set your home up with them in mind. Remember: What might not be a hazard for you may be a big one for them! Make sure your home is safe enough for them to move around freely without risk of falling.
Tripping hazards should be a top concern. Look at your rugs or carpets: Would it be easy for an older person to trip on the edges or to slip and lose traction? Ensure your elderly loved ones can get around in your home with ease by removing or rearranging furniture as needed. Is there enough room for her walker or wheelchair? If they are staying overnight, it’s best to offer a guest room on the first floor so that use of stairs is taken out of the equation.
Holiday lights are festive and candles are romantic, but neither provide adequate light for people with decreased night vision. Overnight guests unfamiliar with your home will appreciate night lights to illuminate the path from the bedroom, down the hallway to the bathroom. Night lights in the kitchen area may also be helpful for those in need of a late-night beverage or snack. (If you choose festive holiday nightlights, be sure they are adequately bright.)
Here are a few more easy, thoughtful preparations to make:
Remove obstacles and clutter that could cause a fall. Falls are a serious issue for older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one-third of all people aged 65 or older will fall each year, and many of these seniors are seriously injured. Try and remove clutter quickly—have other family members help pick up wrapping paper, boxes, and bows and make sure new toys for the little ones are not left out as a tripping hazard.
Deck the halls—safely! Position the Christmas tree or other decorations out of the main footpath of the home. And remember, wrapping greenery or strands of holiday lights around bannisters and handrails creates a hazard for guests who might need extra support and stability on the stairs.
Be aware of winter weather hazards. Clear snow and ice from the driveway, walkways, stairs, and sidewalks. If walks are slippery or outdoor lighting is inadequate, accompany senior guests from the car and into the home.
Remember mealtime safety. If you will be serving a meal or refreshments, learn ahead of time whether your guest has dietary concerns or problems with eating, chewing, or swallowing so you can offer foods that your guest can easily and safely eat.
Even for a short visit, consider simple home modifications. Ask your elderly guest or a family caregiver if you should purchase or rent further modifications, such as a raised toilet seat or grab bars for the shower.
Making a Safety Assessment
Maybe your elderly parents or guests are not coming to your home for the holidays. If you’re heading home for Christmas it’s a great opportunity to observe your parents’ physical and mental health to determine if they’re thriving or require greater assistance.
“You’re looking for any obvious signs of change,” says Roger Baumgart, CEO of Home Instead Senior Care. For example, it’s clearly a red flag if your typically well-groomed mother has stains on her dress and disheveled hair, and she’s not self-conscious about this. Watching your parent cross the room can be revealing as well, says Baumgart. “Are they as mobile? Are they struggling more to get out of a chair? Can they still climb the stairs?”
Look around your loved ones’ house or apartment to see if it still meets their needs as they age. Sometimes simple fixes can make homes more age friendly, like changing out door and cabinet hardware to levers, installing grab bars in bathrooms, or even a ramp and railing at the front entrance.
Old age or certain medical conditions, such as diabetic nerve pain, arthritis, degradation of joints and ligaments, or loss of bone or muscle mass, can cause aches and pains in the lower extremities. No matter the cause, this kind of pain can make going up and down stairs a near-impossible process. If your loved one is experiencing discomfort or simple balance issues when climbing stairs to the point it’s limiting their independence, it may be time to consider a chairlift. No one should suffer to move around their home.
When Modifications are Needed
As our parents and grandparents age, it’s natural for them to find it a bit harder to get around on their own. Often, they find that getting from point A to point B can become challenging as each year passes. But less mobility does not automatically mean less independence. Many seniors maintain a safe and independent lifestyle with various home health aids for many years.
A popular and practical aid for many seniors is a chairlift, a collapsible chair attached to a mechanical device that lifts a person up and down a set of stairs. Some are worried that installing a chairlift will block the landing, or take up too much room, or prevent other family members or guests from using the stairs. But, in truth, installation is quite discreet—with no damage or changes to the structure of the home—and systems are designed with folding seats and foot rests to ensure a minimal amount of space is used.
For seniors who can no longer live alone, children or other family often open their own homes as a better living situation. For many, it only takes a few easy modifications to drastically improve safety. A chairlift is one of the quickest and easiest solutions for an elderly loved one’s mobility and can provide peace of mind for everyone—no more worry about leaving Mom or Dad home alone!
The holidays are here, and it’s going to be a festive and busy time until the end of the year. The season may already be demanding enough as it is, but we must look out for our senior loved ones even more during this time. Let’s make sure to make life as safe as possible, whether in their home or ours.
(Sources: AARP; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Care.com; Advance Ohio; Avila Home Care; North Star Senior Advisors; Home Hero, Inc.; and Right at Home, Inc.)
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