Home Designs For Life: Remodeling Ideas To Increase Safety, Function, And Accessibility In The Home.

Episode 25: 5 Things Caregivers can do to Improve Safety in the Home for a Senior

September 12, 2022 Janet Engel, OT/L, CAPS
Home Designs For Life: Remodeling Ideas To Increase Safety, Function, And Accessibility In The Home.
Episode 25: 5 Things Caregivers can do to Improve Safety in the Home for a Senior
Show Notes Transcript

As an occupational therapist specializing in home modifications, I believe that making improvements to your home that directly impact safety are at the top of the list. Falls are the #1 cause of death and serious injury in people aged 65 and older. Therefore, preventing falls should be the primary concern for caregivers, health professionals, and policy makers alike. We need to work together to ensure older adults have the necessary support in place so that they can age in place safely and with dignity. Please listen to learn how you can make changes in your home that will decrease your loved ones' fall risk. 


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[00:00:00] Janet: Good evening everyone. And thank you for being with me today. Today. I am going to be talking about caregiving and the reason I am recording this podcast today is because a few weeks ago, my daughter's puppy moose. He fell off of the wall and broke his front leg resulting in a fracture of the radius and the Ulna.

[00:00:29] Janet: And he had to have surgery in order to bring those bones back together. And he needed a lot of caregiving to the point where my daughter and I were waking up several times in the night to, to him outside so that he could potty, we were having to hold him up so that he could do number one and do number two.

[00:00:55] Janet: He basically could not do anything for himself. He couldn't [00:01:00] even move around in the bed and turn on his back without assistance. Because before he had surgery, he had a cast that was basically holding his leg together so that he wouldn't be in pain until he was able to have the surgery that he needed.

[00:01:20] Janet: And the cast was so heavy. That he physically couldn't move his body around. So it was, it was just really, really sad. And it was a lot of work. It was, it was like taking care of a quadriplegic or, you know, maybe even a newborn baby. It really required the help of two people. To be able to assist him and where one person could sleep while the other person took care of him, or perhaps two people helping him.

[00:01:51] Janet: It was a lot of work. And that just made me think of all of the stories and experiences that I've [00:02:00] had as an occupational therapist over the years where C caregivers go above and beyond to help their loved. Live more functional lives and lives and have more dignity and more quality. And so I wanted to record this podcast and basically talk about caregiving from the perspective and of an occupational therapist and also someone that is very passionate about the home and how you can make the home safer and how that will.

[00:02:36] Janet: Your caregiving duties and make your life easier as a caregiver. And then at the same time increase the safety of your mom or your, your dad, your loved one, whoever it is that you're taking care for, it may be a neighbor. It may be a friend, you know, we care for lots of people. So. [00:03:00] That leads me into the intro, which is that many of us can identify with the term caregiver.

[00:03:08] Janet: In fact, many more of us will be identifying with that term as a demand for caregivers increases with an aging population. So the number of people providing unpaid caregiving services to at least one. With health or functional needs has risen by 5%, since 2015. According to the caregiving in the us 2020 report provided by the national Alliance for caregivers and AARP.

[00:03:43] Janet: Now this 2020 update, they do it every five years. So the last one was done in 2015. Then they had one come out recently in 20. and this updated report reveals that there has been an [00:04:00] increase in the number of families that provide caregiving services in the United States by 9.5 million from 2015 to 2020.

[00:04:13] Janet: So that statistic is staggering 9.5 million more people in the United. Are serving as caregivers to an adult that either has a health or a functional need since 2015. Now it's no surprise women make up the lion share of caregivers. About 61%. Most caregivers are in the baby boomer generation. So that's about 34%.

[00:04:49] Janet: So that means. Older women that are providing these caregiving services. And then that's followed by people who belong to the generation [00:05:00] X, which is about 29%. That generation is the one that I belong to. So I'm 44. So people in my generation are often. Providing caregiving to two very different populations.

[00:05:18] Janet: So it's what they call the sandwich generation, which means that you're providing care for children that are still living at home. But then you may also be providing caregiving for aging parents. The declining health in caregivers is a common side effect of caregiving because it's a lot of work to be a caregiver.

[00:05:41] Janet: It's no easy task. So there's increased stress. There's physical and financial demands that are brought on caregivers and lack of respite care. All of this weighs very heavy on unpaid care. [00:06:00] as an occupational therapist, specializing in home modifications. I believe that making improvements to your home, that directly impact safety are at the top of the list.

[00:06:16] Janet: So falls are the number one, cause a death and serious injury in people age 65 and older, therefore preventing falls should be the primary concern. For caregivers, it should be the primary concern for health professionals and for policy makers. Like we need to work together to ensure that older adults have the necessary support in place so that they can age in place safely and with dignity.

[00:06:53] Janet: So my mom is 75 years. She's legally blind in one eye, [00:07:00] and I am concerned on a daily basis for her safety. So she has admitted to me multiple times that she has fallen in her own home because with having blindness in one eye, she has lost depth perception. So she isn't able to tell, you know, Like if there are stairs where they begin, where the end how far away something is.

[00:07:31] Janet: So that has made her fall several times, even though she's very familiar with her home. I have asked her on multiple occasions to move into my home. We have a finished basement that has, it's also a walkout basement. You know, it has complete privacy. She has access to the outside. It's bigger than her house.

[00:07:56] Janet: Because she lives in a, in a small condom. [00:08:00] But she feels that her and her husband aren't ready to make that move yet. So I have to respect that. But. I wanted to share in this podcast that there are five basic things that you can do to modify your home, to make your home safer. So number one is improve or increase the natural and artificial light in your house, especially in hallways.

[00:08:34] Janet: And. . And so when I say artificial light, I'm talking about the lighting that comes from lamps, you know, lighting that you may have overhead as in the ceiling. And preferably this is LED lighting because this is going be more economical. It's going to last longer. It requires less maintenance. Also you can choose, you know, between having [00:09:00] bright daylight, which is the best light.

[00:09:02] Janet: For the human eye to be able to see in. So all of this should be in place. Now, when I talk about natural light, we're talking about the light that's coming in through your windows. So often I would go into patient's homes and all of the blinds would be drawn. The curtains would be drawn cuz they were either trying to save energy or they were also.

[00:09:27] Janet: Tr trying to be safe and keeping prying eyes from looking inside their house and them becoming targets. But actually that's a big No no when it comes to fall prevention, you want to open your blinds? You wanna keep your curtains open because you want that natural daylight to come in. Number one.

[00:09:50] Janet: Natural daylight is the best light for us to be able to see and for the human eye to be able to see and, and perform tasks. Number [00:10:00] two, we need it for our emotional health, for our own wellbeing. We need that natural light. We need that vitamin D. So it's very important for natural light to come into the.

[00:10:12] Janet: And it really goes a long way in preventing falls. And then number three, it's freak. Why more than we take advantage of something that is free. Don't keep your blinds closed. If you're a caregiver and you see your parents doing this, please be them open your blinds. Open your curtains. It's dangerous for you to keep your windows closed.

[00:10:39] Janet: You need that natural light. You need to be able to see what's going on in your house. You need to be able to see where you're going when you're walking down the hallway. And when you're doing things in the kitchen and in the bathroom, and you need that natural light for your own mental health. Okay.

[00:10:59] Janet: Remember, [00:11:00] depression is one of the leading causes to dementia. Okay. Not having enough natural light can lead to depression. So it is very important to have natural light in your house on a daily basis. So moving on to number two, create clear pathways to the kitchen, the bedroom, the bathroom, and the entryways.

[00:11:25] Janet: So often I would go into patients homes and I would see. Electrical cords on the floor that weren't taped to the floor. So one could easily trip over them. You see boxes, you know, you just see general items that are on the floor for no particular reason other than they've been there for a long time.

[00:11:48] Janet: And no one has taken the time to remove them and find a suitable place for them. So if you're a caregiver, please remove. Any [00:12:00] items that are blocking a pathway, every pathway should be clear, especially if it's a pathway that leads to the kitchen, which is frequently traveled to the bathroom, which is even more frequently traveled to and the bedrooms and the entry.

[00:12:20] Janet: all right now, number three, remove throw rugs and tape down those loose electrical cords. So I just mentioned that. So if you have to have electrical cords that are going across a frequently traveled pathway, then you can tape it down with. Electrical tape or duct tape, but just make sure that it's not going to lift under someone's foot, or it's not going to lift under a Walker hurricane now throw rugs.

[00:12:50] Janet: That's another thing. So a throw rug by definition is a rug that moves freely. Okay. So [00:13:00] when we're talking about big, heavy, Rugs like Oriental rugs or decorative rugs, something that's at least a five by seven. I would not consider that a throw rug because it's heavy enough to just stick to the floor.

[00:13:17] Janet: Okay. Now a throw rug is something that underneath has no friction has no backing. So usually the throw rug, the material that's on the. Is also on the bottom. And unfortunately that makes it very easily moveable. So a rug that is easily moveable is also going to be a major trip hazard. So that's what you wanna remove.

[00:13:44] Janet: It doesn't matter how 


[00:13:45] Janet: it is, how expensive it is, get rid of it because if you fall or your, your mom or your dad falls and they break their arm and they break their hip, it's not going to be. [00:14:00] the prettiness of that rug. whatever value that brought that rug brought to the room. Okay. Now, if it's a heavy rug, it's okay to leave it.

[00:14:12] Janet: Now, another thing you can do to make your rugs even safer is you can add double sided tape to the corners, or you can add a liner to the. So that the rug will not move when someone walks over it. All right. So you can have rugs in your house. I love rugs. I'm not against rugs. I just don't like throw rugs when they move easily.

[00:14:43] Janet: That is a big, no, no. So number four, repair or remove carpeting in the. Especially if your loved one uses a mobility device. So when I'm referring to a mobility device, I'm talking about a [00:15:00] wheelchair, a Walker, or a cane, or it could even be a heavy Walker, which is commonly used when someone has a stroke.

[00:15:07] Janet: The reason for this is because carpeting creates friction and it makes it harder for people to move across a. so you want a flooring that is low maintenance and non skid continuous flooring, such as vinyl. Vinyl is a great option. It's cheap. It looks good. It comes in many different colors and it's non skid and it's low maintenance.

[00:15:37] Janet: So what happens with carpeting is when it bubbles up so old carpeting, you know, that isn't flat on the floor anymore. That's going to create a trip hazard in and of itself. Just the fact that it's bubbling up. Okay. Then carpet also, like I said, it creates friction. So if you have a wheelchair, it's gonna be much [00:16:00] harder for that person to move across that surface.

[00:16:03] Janet: If they have to WID, especially if they're having to wheel their own, self-propel their own wheelchair, but you as a caregiver, If you're pushing that wheelchair, it's also going to be harder for you to do that, especially if you're doing it on a daily basis, let's say you're taking your mom or your dad to the bathroom and you have to go inside the bedroom and you and the bedroom has carpet, which is very common.

[00:16:30] Janet: And you're having to go through that area every single day. It's it's going to wear on you. So if you have the funds, if you have the opportunity. Remove that carpet just get rid of it completely. And you can add a, an area rug. If you still want that, you know, comfort that rug spring, you know, it brings that warmth.

[00:16:53] Janet: You know, it makes it softer. It looks beautiful in a room, add an area rug. It's a great [00:17:00] place to add. It's a great way to add to your design without making the entire area difficult to navigate. So number five is increased, safe access to the tub and the shower and the toilet. Okay. So now keep in mind and we all know this.

[00:17:24] Janet: Everyone uses the bathroom every day, multiple times a day. So it is imperative that it is accessible and it is a safe space to function. So think about it when we're not able to use the bathroom independently, then that automatically requires us to either have a caregiver or we're relinquishing safety for independence.

[00:17:55] Janet: So in order to maintain [00:18:00] independence with bathing and toileting task, we. And have dignity as we age, we need to make our bathroom safe and accessible. How do we do that? We add if we don't have a lot of money for modifications, we can add equipment. So if we have a tub transfer bench, we can add an extended tub transfer bench.

[00:18:27] Janet: So I'm sorry. I said, if we have a tub instead of a shower, We can add an extended tub transfer bench, which is a chair that has two legs that go on the inside of the tub and two legs that go on the outside of the tub. And this allows us to get into the tub in a seated position. So instead of stepping over the tub to get inside, we're actually going to sit down at the outside [00:19:00] of the.

[00:19:00] Janet: And then we're gonna raise our legs and slide into the tub. So that is a much safer way to transfer into a tub. Now, if we have a shower, perhaps what we need is a shower bench in there so that we can do most of our bathing tasks sitting down. If you don't want. you know, something durable medical equipment that looks ugly.

[00:19:26] Janet: You can put in a teeth bench. There are lots of benches out there that are very beautiful that no one would ever know that you're using them. Because you need to sit down during your shower. For example, Ponte Guilio makes beautiful shower benches that don't look like they're for. Accessibility or function, you know, anyone can use them.

[00:19:52] Janet: So that's always an option put flooring in your bathroom. That is non-skid. So that's very, very [00:20:00] important because in the shower, in the bathroom, it's eventually gonna get wet. You get water from the sink on the floor. You may get water from the shower that comes outside. So you really need to.

[00:20:13] Janet: Flooring that is non skid. So another way that you can make flooring non- skid is if you have more grout lines. So having grout lines naturally increases the friction that there is across the tile, or you can purchase tile that has where the friction coefficient is. So that it, it, it needs to be at least 0.62.

[00:20:46] Janet: So these are all things that we can do actively that are pretty easy. You know, where you don't have to hire a contractor, you know, you don't have to hire another professional to make these changes in your [00:21:00] home. You can make them take, it'll take a little bit of time. It'll take a few hours, perhaps a few days.

[00:21:07] Janet: But it is well worth your time to make sure that your mom or your dad or your loved one, whoever it is that you're taking care of is going to be safer in that space, because if you prevent a fall, then that means that that person is going to be healthier for a longer period of time. Not only are they going to be healthier, more likely, they're going to be able to live alone.

[00:21:35] Janet: or without the assistance of a caregiver for a longer period of time. So this is all money that you're saving. It's all stress that you're saving, you know, is in quality of life. That's being increased dignity for the older person that's being increased. So all of these things are well worth your. So [00:22:00] think about it when we have a young child, you know, we make all of these changes in our home to make our home safer for that child.

[00:22:07] Janet: Right. Because we can't police that child, everything that that person is doing all the time. Right. So we put things in our, on the, the electrical outlets so that if the child sticks their finger in. You know, they're not gonna get electrocuted, you know, we put monitors in their room so that we can hear what's going on.

[00:22:29] Janet: You know, perhaps we protect our furniture with foam, so that sharp edges that everything covered, because obviously we all know that children fall frequently because you know, they're just learning how to want. So they're. Where their body is in space, you know, isn't so apparent to them. So these are the same changes that we have to make when we have our loved ones that are getting older.

[00:22:56] Janet: So we wanna be proactive [00:23:00] and we wanna plan and we want to avoid a fall and we want to avoid an accident. That's how we're gonna come out winning. So I hope you enjoyed this podcast, please. If you have any ideas on topics that you would like me to talk about please share them with me. My email is info@agingmatters.health

[00:23:29] Janet: so just remember as caregivers, we need to do everything we can to make our jobs easier and safer. . If you get hurt, helping your loved one, transfer to the toilet or the shower or the tub, you may not be able to continue caregiving for that person. So if you don't take care of yourself first, you cannot take care of someone else.

[00:23:55] Janet: So if you want more significant modifications in your. [00:24:00] Please hire a home modification, occupational therapist to help you create a home for life. Thank you for being with me today.