Home Accidents and Seniors–How To Cope
Falls in and around the home are a major cause of injury for seniors. Home accidents happen unexpectedly often leaving family and caregivers completely unprepared to deal with someone newly disabled. Today’s guest post is from Chris Long who provides advice on things you can do to accommodate caring for someone suddenly disabled. –CK Wilde
Ready your Residence for Elderly or Disabled Relatives Moving in Unexpectedly
“Hope for the best, plan for the worst.” We’d all like to think we live by those words, but the truth is that when accidents happen to elderly or senior family members that render them handicapped or disabled virtually overnight, we often are not quite prepared to take on the caregiving responsibilities.
For many in this unexpected position, simply adjusting emotionally to the new role you must now play is hard enough. Add to that the physical demands on you and your able-bodied family members — plus the need to have appropriate living accommodations right away — and you cannot help but feel overwhelmed.
Fortunately, there are ways to transition more smoothly into these unexpected circumstances. And there are varying degrees of preparation and accommodation that you will need to undertake, depending on the nature and severity of the injury or disability.
As it relates to home improvement and environmental changes that must occur, here are some of the ways to be as prepared as possible for when the unthinkable happens.
As soon as an accident occurs and you learn that you will be acquiring a new resident in the very near future, there are certain things you’ll need to address immediately.
If you need to accommodate a wheelchair, remove clutter from every room, especially from the floor, and rearrange furniture to facilitate easy maneuvering of the chair.
Even if wheelchairs are not an issue, removing clutter and clearing up floor space is always advisable. Not only will this allow you more time to tend to your “patient” but it will also help ensure the free time you do manage to find is not spent cleaning up rooms or putting away errant items.
Perhaps most importantly, streamlining your spaces helps reduce the risk of needing to revisit the emergency room for falling/tripping related injuries.
For homes with available rooms upstairs and down, designating a downstairs room for your new tenant may be ideal, especially if they are unable to navigate stairs or need to be close to a bathroom.
If they can climb the stairs, but the available room upstairs is not located anywhere near the bathroom – for example, it’s down a long, narrow, poorly lit hallway (relatively speaking for these unique circumstances, of course) – the downstairs room with an adjacent bathroom may still be the best choice.
If your family member is able to maintain some autonomy following the move but is still facing more commonplace issues related to age, some simple adjustments may be all you need to do.
- Ensuring there is adequate lighting in all rooms and the switches or lamp pulls are easily reached.
- Making sure all essential items like blankets, sweaters, towels and linens are not stored so high in a closet or bureau that they are inaccessible.
- Changing twisting door knobs and tiny cabinet hardware to more ergonomically-friendly handles or pulls.
To revisit the bathroom issues, there are certain updates you can make to your plumbing fixtures that will ensure an easier time is had by all, whether your relative can manage without help or if you must take a more hands-on approach.
- Install grab bars near the toilet and in the bathtub or shower.
- If necessary, place a chair or stool in the bathtub.
- Like the doors and cabinets, replace plumbing fixtures that require twisting with those that can be easily pulled or pushed to access the water in the sink or shower.
- Place no-slip bathmats and rug pads throughout the room.
*Tip: Avoid fluffy or plush bathmats and rugs that provide overly cushioned surfaces (which can be disorienting for those with balance issues) and edges that can become tripping hazards.
Finally, there are things you may want to do eventually but cannot address right away. For these types of updates that can wait a while, make notes of what areas of your home seem to be the most implicated.
For example, if your relative’s self-sufficiency is on the decline and she will soon be completely dependent upon your help, consider making alterations to those rooms where making things easier for you matters the most.
One of these rooms is undoubtedly the bathroom. To minimize the need to struggle with maneuvering your relative, consider installing:
- A curbless, walk-in shower with a bench.
- Plumbing fixtures with hose attachments and sprayers.
- An elongated, comfort height toilet.
- A wall-mounted sink that will accommodate a wheelchair.
Although it’s impossible to be 100% prepared for any contingency, addressing some of the most pressing potential problem areas can help everyone more smoothly acclimate to the new living arrangements.
What are some of the issues you had to handle when your family member needed to move in following an accident?
Chris Long is a long-time store associate at a Home Depot in the Chicago suburbs. Chris also writes on DIY bath and plumbing topics for Home Depot’s website. He provides advice on bath topics ranging from accessories to vanities and sinks, including how to modernize a bathroom to better accommodate elderly residents.