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HOME IMPROVEMENT : Measures Great and Small Can Increase Safety of an Elderly Person's Environment

July 17, 1993|From Associated Press

A number of adjustments can make a home a safer place and help the elderly cope with certain difficulties of old age.

The best safety feature for an elderly person's home is another person, according to Dr. Anthony J. Grieco, a professor of clinical medicine and director of the Coop Care Center at New York University Medical Center. A companion, visiting relative or friend helps ensure that an elderly person is coping well.

Care partners can ensure that a household is in good shape. They can also assist with household activities that might be problematic or dangerous for a solitary elderly person, such as moving a heavy object or changing a ceiling light bulb.

Grieco also suggests environmental adjustments that increase the safety of an elderly person's house--ranging from small, inexpensive changes to more costly projects and additions.

To guard against slips and falls, loose rugs and mats should be tacked down or removed. Adding cushions to chairs can increase comfort and perhaps prevent bone and skin injuries. Buffering or removing sharp-edged furniture and countertops reduces the likelihood of accidental cuts and bruises.

Telephones should have important phone numbers programmed into them and posted nearby. In the case of an emergency or anxiety-provoking situation, the numbers provide security against panicking and forgetfulness. For the elderly who may not be able to reach a phone, portable devices that alert a doctor or family member are available.

The bathroom is one of the most common sites of home injuries. Handrails can be installed at the toilet seat and bath. If a wheelchair is used at home, also install a raised seat on the device as well as a raised toilet seat for ease of transfer. If the bath has a sliding door, ensure that the framing is strong. Some shower doors are of light construction and will collapse if grabbed with force.

In the bedroom, the level of the bed should be low for ease of entry and exit. In all rooms, ensure adequate lighting, especially on the nighttime pathway to the bathroom. It is also important to maintain clear pathways throughout the house and to set aside clutter such as newspapers and other items that can cause falls and injury.

The elderly may also need to change simple habits at home. For example, medications for the common problems of angina and depression can cause dizziness when a patient stands up quickly.

To guard against falls and dizziness, people on such medications must learn to make slow movements when getting up from a chair or out of bed. Specific infirmities and medications may require additional measures. Patients and care partners should not hesitate to consult a physician.

Patients should learn as much as possible about their illness. Elderly people who are educated in the warning signs of illness are more likely to foresee troubles.

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