A poll in the November issue of Caring Right at Home showed that many readers will be hosting family in their homes for the holidays. This is the time of year when families and friends come together to reconnect, to enjoy each other’s company, and to celebrate traditions that are dear to them.
Often these holiday events include beloved elderly family members and friends. Whether these senior guests will be staying overnight with you, or just attending a gathering for a few hours, it’s worthwhile to make your home as safe as possible for their visit. Before your senior guests arrive, ask about specific preparations you can make to ensure their safety. It is better to inquire in advance, not only so you can be prepared, but also to avoid putting your guest on the spot during the party.
Here are some easy, thoughtful preparations to make:
1. Remove obstacles and clutter that could cause a fall. Falls are a serious issue for older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one-third of all people aged 65 or older will fall each year, and many of these seniors are seriously injured. Here are things you can do to lower the possibility that a senior guest will fall in your home:
- Remove or secure area rugs and carpets. Each year, thousands of seniors trip over the edges of carpet, or slip on an unsecured throw rug. Secure the edges of area rugs with double-sided tape or a nonslip backing, or remove them entirely during your guest’s visit.
- Remove clutter promptly. Keeping floor surfaces free of obstacles is especially challenging during the holidays, when boxes and personal items are often left about. Move these items from the living area and keep them off the floor. Even in the midst of a gift exchange, help guests place packaging in receptacles and maintain a clear path at all times.
- Rearrange furniture so guests with impaired mobility or vision don’t need to make their way around sofas, chairs and coffee tables.
2. Deck the halls—safely! Position the Christmas tree or other decorations out of the main footpath of the home. And remember, wrapping greenery or strands of holiday lights around banisters and handrails creates a hazard for guests who need extra support and stability on the stairs.
3. Increase lighting throughout the house. Holiday lights are festive and candles are romantic—but neither provide adequate light for people with decreased night vision, which includes most of us older than 65. Turn on hall and bathroom lights, and leave them on if your guest is staying overnight. Night lights are another easy, inexpensive way to keep senior guests safe. (If you choose festive holiday night lights, be sure they are adequately bright.)
4. Be aware of winter weather hazards. Clear snow and ice from the driveway, walkways, stairs and sidewalks. If walks are slippery or outdoor lighting is inadequate, accompany senior guests from the car and into the home.
5. Consider accessibility needs. If an elderly overnight guest has trouble going up and down stairs, assign guest rooms so the person can stay in a downstairs room that has easy access to the bathroom during the night.
6. Enlist the help of young guests. Remind grandchildren, as well as their parents, to keep toys picked up and to take care while moving around the house. Be sensitive during this conversation—you don’t want to discourage children from spending time with senior guests!
7. Remember mealtime safety. If you will be serving a meal or refreshments, learn ahead of time whether your guest has dietary concerns or problems with eating, chewing or swallowing so you can offer some foods that your guest can easily and safely eat.
8. Even for a short visit, consider some simple home modifications. Night lights and a nonslip mat for the shower are easy ways to reduce the risk of falls. Ask your elderly guest or a family caregiver if you need to purchase or rent further modifications, such as a raised toilet seat or grab bars for the shower. (Be sure to follow directions carefully when installing and using safety equipment—or seek professional assistance.)
If family caregivers are accompanying your senior guest, they will be a good source of information about safety steps you can take. And by keeping their loved one safe, you also increase caregivers' ability to relax and enjoy the festivities. Assure older guests and caregivers that you are happy to accommodate their needs. Your message should be: "Just let us know if you have any concerns … we’d love to help. We are so pleased you are honoring us with a visit."
And remember: Safety steps you take during this holiday season will make your home safer for guests of every age, while helping your home meet your own needs as you grow older.
Posted by Jackie Major, CSA, Right at Home, In-Home Care & Assistance