Elder-proofing your home

You may have heard of baby proofing to ensure the home is a safe space for little ones but what if you are an elderly person living by yourself? Here’s how you ensure that your home is safe.

The home should be a space of comfort and security. This is especially true for those who are in their golden years as many senior citizens spend a big part of their day at home. If you are an elderly person, you should make the effort to modify your house to ensure that it is safe.

Urban Health speaks to Occupational Therapist at Sau Seng Lum Dialysis and Stroke Rehabilitation Centre, Lim Xian Wei on how to modify your home to avoid accidents.

Avoiding mishaps

Lim stresses the importance of ‘elder-proofing’ your house to prevent dangerous or even life-threatening falls. “As we know, falls can greatly affect the elderly. Hence, preventing unwanted falls and accidents at home is vital.” On top of that, if a fall causes a severe injury, other costs may be incurred, such as treatment, rehabilitation and caregiver costs, as you will need these to recover well.

Falls, which can often be prevented, are not to be taken lightly. In 2008, a study was conducted by University Kebangsaan Malaysia entitled  ‘Prevelance of falls among older people attending a primary care clinic in Kuala Lumpur’. The results of the study, which involved participants aged 60 and above, showed that a staggering 47 percent out of the 151 participants who took part in the study, had a fall within the one year period. The study also revealed that the two most common places where falls occurred in a home were the bathroom and staircase.

The bathroom

The bathroom is one of the most accident-prone areas in a house. Lim’s suggestions allow you to modify your bathroom without having to endure a major renovation. “If you’re concerned about slippery flooring, use an anti-slip mat to avoid falls,” advises Lim. To be extra safe, a plastic chair can be placed in the shower area so you can sit on it while bathing. This is especially important if you’re not too stable when standing for long periods. “A handheld shower is always a better option as you would not need to bend over to scoop water from a bucket,” adds Lim. If you are in a wheelchair, ensure you have sufficient space to maneuver around the bathroom easily.

Toilet

“As for the toilet, especially for those who have weak or injured knees, a raised toilet seat on a seated toilet bowl will help you sit and stand much more easily,” says Lim.  However, for homes that have only a squatting toilet, there is the option of fixing a permanent toilet seat, which can be placed on top of the squatting toilet, along with handrails for balance. This alternative will allow you to sit instead of squat down as squatting increases the risk of injury.

Bedroom

“Place all commonly used items such as spectacles and medications on the bedside table. By doing so, you will not have to frequently walk around gathering these items,” says Lim. You should also consider getting a reacher. This is a device that will help you pick up things from a distance.

Bright lighting is also very important, stresses Lim. If you are a senior citizen living alone, turning off all lights before sleeping is not a good idea as you will not have any source of light to guide you if you happen to need the bathroom or get a glass of water in the middle of the night. Lim suggests using a nightlight should be used or a lamp, which can be placed by the bedside and conveniently turned on and off.

Your cupboard can also be modified for ease of use, according to Lim. “For clothes that are frequently used, place them at waist level. By doing so, you will not have to reach out for clothes placed on high shelves or bend down to reach the low shelves.”

Living room

“The space between your furniture should ideally be wide enough for one person to pass through,” points out Lim. Also, if you own a coffee table, it is best to place it against the wall instead of in the middle of the room. Otherwise, you may end up knocking your leg against the corner of the table or tripping over it — both of which may cause a fall. If your table has sharp corners, you should consider edge and corner guards to avoid injury.

All chairs should be strong and steady. This is to prevent injury as chairs that are unstable or the ones that do not have adequately strong legs can shake or topple, causing you to fall over. Some people love to have carpets in their living room. “Carpets are generally okay,” says Lim. “However, you should look for those with a non-slip base and ensure that no torn areas are exposed as this can cause you to trip and fall.”

Kitchen

There are several hazards you should be mindful of in the kitchen. Labels on food packaging should be re-written if the print is too small so you can see the labels clearly. Other details you should be pay attention to include the expiry date and list of ingredients. Just like your clothes cupboard, utensils and items, which are regularly used in the kitchen, should be placed at waist level so they are easily accessible.

Garden

For gardening enthusiasts, your age should not stop you from doing what you love. If you like to do gardening, Lim’s advice is to, “place all pots at waist level. You should avoid squatting down or carrying heavy pots.”

All in all, Lim believes that with these tiny but important modifications, will allow the elderly to live independently. “Don’t wait until something bad happens. Modify your home now, to avoid injuries and falls,” he says.

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