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  • Karen McPhail, RN, MSN

Assessing Home Safety in the Spring!

I love all the seasons, but especially Spring! The daffodils are out, the tulips are popping up, and the cherry blossoms are in bloom! It is a wonderful time of new beginnings! We all seem to feel a bit more energy and somewhat renewed as the weather begins to grow warmer and the sun shines a little brighter! Spring is often a time for reorganizing, cleaning, decluttering and preparing to enjoy the outdoors a little more!

This a good time to inspect things a little closer as when we grow older we want to maintain our health and minimize risks for injury. Staying safe is a constant balancing act throughout our lives in terms of decision making. The biggest question's always being:

How can we be respectful a loved one's wishes while keeping them safe?

How can I modify my home to ensure that it is safe and I can remain there long term?

This can sometimes be tricky, as people are at times hesitant, set in their ways, or even fearful of change and do not want to adapt their lifestyle or home environment. I hear family members often say:

"She will never allow me to change that"

"The rugs will need to stay in place"

"He will be very upset if I get rid of that"

So, how do you have a home that your family member still loves and feels comfortable in while providing for safety and minimizing risks?

Here are some simple steps for making your home environment safer and approaching this challenge:

1. Identify the priorities first! What is really a concern or immediate need or safety risk? Begin to discuss these areas or concerns in a kind way with your family member. Do not rant! Just keep things simple, concise, and positively bring up your concerns. Ask their opinion on how they feel that things can be changed in a positive way. Often times getting input and having them buy into the process will help to move things forward.

2. Focus on one aspect at a time! You may have a long list, but remember not to be overwhelmed by it all. Again prioritize your list and slowly form a plan on how to resolve each one. Too much change at one time can be upsetting or anxiety producing for your family member and for you. You want to ensure that they feel valued and a part of the process throughout if possible!

3. Think about the tasks that your loved one performs in a day and try to ensure that they are adapting their routine in a positive way to avoid risk. Think about what support they may need to be on the path to safety.

4. Take note of more than just the surroundings. How does your family member manage their lifestyle and tasks. Do they use handrails? Or could handrails be helpful and make things easier for them? Do they often times forget to use their cane or walker? Do they take their time standing, walking, or do they tend to rush? Do they try to carry too many things while walking? Often times people continue to do things the same way over the years not realizing that now common tasks present a risk for falls and injury. This can include carrying clothing up and down stairs, rushing to put groceries away, etc. Are they weakened from a recent illness and could PT or OT help with balance and strengthening, thus making their living situation safer? Do they experience pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness when walking up or down the stairs? Could a stair lift help your loved one to remain in their home, but avoid unsafe stair use? Stair lifts can be installed without damaging floors, etc usually within a day through most companies.

5. Ask for help when needed! A Care Advisor can help to assess, prioritize and perhaps even identify risks that have gone unnoticed. Furthermore, they can coordinate and provide referrals to outside vendors when needed and arrange for adaptive equipment, home modifications, etc. Finally, people often times have an easier time listening to and taking advise from a professional!

6. Here are some general areas to focus on for those with ambulation concerns:

- Remove area rugs and rugs with fringe as they are a tripping hazard. In addition, inspect any flooring for cracks, sharp edges, loose boards, loose or rippling carpet, and arrange to have repaired or replaced. - Declutter the living spaces as less is more! More congestion means more chances for tripping or injury! - Ensure that any cords are tucked away and not in walking paths. Check to ensure safe extension cord use.

- Encourage family members to wear nonslip footwear and proper fitting clothing! Long pants, socks without treads, and slippers without the backs can all present a problem and be a recipe for injury. - Widen pathways especially to bathrooms to avoid falls, skin tears, and tripping hazards. This is especially important if using a walker or cane. Consider a bedside commode or grab bars / hand rails in the bathroom if balance is a concern.

- Put night lights in hallways and bathrooms. Ensure visibility! - Put items on lower shelves and within reach especially in the kitchen, bedroom, and bathrooms. - Encourage the use of a walk in shower if possible. Avoid stepping over and into a tub. Use non slip shower treads to avoid slipping; ensure that they adhere and replace if peeling. Consider grab bars and hand rails in the shower to provide support and limit balance related issues. Nonslip bathmats are a must for drying off post shower.

6. Stress throughout the process that you love them, value their input, and want to be able to help them to stay in their home!

Again, when in doubt contact a Care Advisor for more information and guidance on home safety! Take time to make some simple changes ... you will thank yourself later!

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