With spring comes a flurry of activity in the yards and homes around us, as we all enthusiastically set about the task of maintaining our gardens, houses and apartments.
You, though, may not be too enthusiastic if you are worrying about your elderly parents overdoing it, or even injuring themselves.
With that worry in mind, I’ve prepared a list of –
- senior safety tips for spring
- on how to talk with your elderly parents about this
- on how to implement the tips without annoying your parents
- for everyday safety for the elderly
Contents Overview & Quicklinks
What’s the first step in spring safety for seniors ?
The first step is to find out what your elderly loved ones can do without any risk.
You don’t want to curb their enthusiasm if there is little, or no risk, as the exercise of doing gardening, pruning, raking, weeding etc., is good cardiovascular exercise, and the stretching involved will help keep them supple.
Jobs of organizing and creating, such as gardening or house organizing, can occupy the mind and reduce stress, by stopping your loved ones thinking about anxieties they may have about growing old, or becoming lonely.
And the last thing that you want to do, is to make your parents feel that they are unable to do the things they enjoy, especially if they are capable of doing them.
If your parents are fit and healthy, and simply getting on in years, you may not need to hold them back from taking on the bulk of the spring jobs.
So for the first step, you need to see –
- how mobile and fit are your parents
- how is their balance
- how treacherous are the areas they will be working in – what is the state of their home
- how risky are the conditions
- what are the sizes of the tasks to be accomplished
- how happy are they doing the different spring-cleaning and gardening jobs themselves – you may find they are tired and don’t want to do this at all
How do I find all this out ?
There are several ways you can go about finding out how your parents are doing physically and mentally –
- go and spend time with them to see how they are managing and how they move – you will quickly see if your loved one is getting around easily or not
- look around the house and see if your parent is keeping everything clean and orderly
- look around the garden to see what needs to be done
- check for any signs of neglect around their home
The easiest and best way to find out about how your parents are feeling, is to have a frank conversation, and to let them know that you were worried that they may not be feeling up to doing all the spring maintenance tasks on their own.
You can discuss with your loved one –
- what do they feel needs doing ?
- what jobs had your parent intended to take on themselves ?
- discuss whether, or not, some tasks are maybe a little risky and not suitable for them to be doing alone
- ask if they would like you to help if you are available
- if you can’t help, ask if you can organize someone for the tasks which are more risky
Which tasks are suitable for the elderly ?
This of course to some degree depends on your loved ones’ degree of strength and fitness, but common sense should help you decide which tasks are the least suitable.
If you can, though, separate the jobs by degree of risk –
- cleaning the gutters
- house repair on ladders
- heavy work, including masonry repairs
- sweeping off the roof
- light washing
You will be able to draw up a plan of things that your parents and you, are comfortable with them doing, and maintain their motivation.
There are also obviously jobs that require professionals, and some of my “high risk” options, such as masonry or roof sweeping, may well fall into that category already.
You may want to get a professional in to check tools such as –
- the lawn mower
- the air conditioning
- the drains
- roof repair
- any painting jobs
- high window cleaning
What can I do if I live far away from my parents ?
Some of the best ways of finding out how parents are coping from a distance are –
Frequent phone calls to your parents –
- frequent phone calls asking how things are going
- lots of questions about what the parents have been doing
- activities they are involved in
- you can learn a lot about how a parent is doing from frequent chats
Use a video service such as Skype or FaceTime, as when you can see them you will pick up signs of how they are
- you will be able to see how the house looks inside
- look to see if your parent is taking care of themselves
- look at their clothes, hair etc. to see if they look clean
- ask them to do something where they have to get up to show you something
- ask your mom to get up and give you a twirl to see if she is mobile
- do they wince when they move
- try to see how they are in general
Develop a rapport with your loved one’s neighbors
- go and visit and introduce yourself to the different neighbors
- take telephone numbers from the neighbors and stay in touch
- call and ask the neighbors how your parents seem to be doing
- find out if your parents are going out and doing things to stay active
You can make it clear to the neighbors that you worry and just want to know that your parent is doing well.
Much like the neighbors, you probably know some of your parents’ closer friends, and could discreetly find out how they are doing from them.
If the person is a true friend to your loved one, they will know that your questions and actions only reflect your caring for your parent
Once you have established how your parent is doing, you can have a discussion and see how they feel they are coping, and if they want help etc.
Spring safety for seniors continues indoors
The spring is a very good time to make sure that some other safety checks have been done, and some of these are particularly of concern to elderly parents who may be getting a little forgetful –
- checking the medicine cabinet is cleared of out of date drugs
- check any fire extinguishers
- check fire alarms are working
- check smoke alarms are working
- check flood alarms are working
- have the boiler checked after a winter of heating
- check that there is a carbon monoxide detector and that it works
- making sure there are safety overflow devices in working order on the taps in the kitchen and bathroom
- maybe think about a stove with a safety turn-off if your parents are particularly forgetful
Year round safety checks for the elderly ?
As well as the specific checks for safety in the spring, we need to make regular checks that we are reducing the risk to our elderly parents of falls and other injuries in their homes.
You may also need to step up the frequency at which you do these checks for some things, as our parents will be getting more fragile and forgetful with each year.
What I had to keep checking on 2 yrs ago for my mom is about a quarter of what I have to do now.
There are very many simple things which can be done to reduce the risks –
- make sure that there is bright lighting in all areas of the home
- make sure that the lighting is particularly good between the bedroom and the bathroom, as seniors with age get up in the night to use the bathroom with greater and greater frequency
- if you can afford it there are simple remote sensor lights which come on when someone moves which can be used in all rooms to avoid seniors having to reach for light switches, and particularly at night
- also put up grab bars or rails along the route from the bedroom to bathroom, if your parent has poor balance or is frail
- put some kind of alarm or medical alert button in the bathroom, or keep a mobile phone there, in case your parent slips at night and needs help
- remove all clutter from the floors, entrance ways and stairs – if you make the floor clear there is much less chance of falls occurring
- remove rugs and mats which have curled up edges or which are not non-slip
- have grabbers in each room next to where your loved one sits, so when they need to reach or pick things up, they don’t overstretch and fall
- remove furniture from in front of curtains so that again your parents don’t have to reach over things to close the curtains
- do the same for windows and keep them clear of objects
- check the windows open easily, so your parents don’t have to force, to open them
- try to remove as many cables from areas where your parents are walking
- make sure that there is a clear path without obstacles through each room
- get a doorbell with intercoms for each room and place them next to where your parent sits
- make sure that the stairs are in perfect condition and that there are no tears if there is carpet, and that the edges are tacked down
- try to make the floors non-slip and have carpet wherever possible as it avoids slips and cushions a fall
- have a handrail on any stairs in the house
- if there are basement stairs which your parent uses, make sure they are in good condition and that they have a handrail
- are the switches and sockets throughout the house at a good height for your loved one, to avoid toppling over or having to reach up too high ?
Remember to also check porches, entrances and hallways
It is of course not just inside the house that you will need to check for your loved ones’ safety, but also any porches, walkways and entrances that they or, their friends may use –
- do any steps have rails outside the house ?
- does the front door have a peephole at the right height for your parent?
- are there potential tripping hazards as you come in through the door ?
- can you clearly see and reach the doorbell ?
- if you have any decks or porches, do they have railings to prevent falls ?
- if you have a porch, is the surface in good shape ?
- is there a non-skid surface if there is a porch ?
- do you have proper exterior lighting around your doors ?
- do the doorways have frame lips which can cause tripping ?
- if your parent has to step up a little into the entrance way, is there a grab bar so that they can steady themselves after stepping up ?
- does their doorway have enough room to open for mobility aids ?
- especially for when your loved one must turn and lock the door
- do the doors themselves have the handles, knobs and latches at an easy height, – lever handles are far easier for seniors to turn ?
- if your parent wants to have rugs in the entrance way, maybe just tack them down, so the edges don’t cause a hazard.
- don’t keep lots of shoes etc. up against the edges of the hallway as these will be lethal
- is there a light switch right next to the door as you come in so that the hallway can be brightly lit ? And is it at a good height ?
- make sure the lighting is bright enough, as a lot of elderly adults have visual impairments.
Bathroom safety for the elderly
I am only going to give you one statistic in this article, and that is that apparently 85% of all falls occur in the bathroom. So this is where you need to make your greatest effort –
- does it have non-slip flooring
- do you have some form of alarm in case your loved one falls and needs to raise an alert – or at least a pager for their caregiver
- has all clutter been removed
- does your parent have good lighting to help them see ?
- have you installed remote sensor lighting which comes on and off ? This will automatically make it easier for your loved ones to see
- if there are switches, are they accessible and easy to reach ?
- are there non-slip mats for the bath and shower, or non-slip tape ?
- do you have grab bars for the tub and shower ?
- does your loved one need a raised toilet seat, or maybe a frame around the toilet and a grab bar, or two, so they can sit down and get up easily ?
- if your parent is unsteady, do they have shower chairs or bath chairs ?
- are all cupboards and shelves secure and at a good height ?
- is everything for the bath tub within easy reach when they are bathing ?
- if you don’t have grab bars for your parent, have they got a transfer seat to help them into the bathtub ?
I have a far longer and more involved article about bathroom safety that you may want to look at, which has over 50 tips on how to improve bathroom safety and descriptions of some products which I have used with my parents, and which may help you as well.
If you are wondering whether your loved one can get help to pay for some bathroom safety equipment, I have an article on Medicare and bathroom safety equipment which tells you about Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, State funding and grants, Veterans Benefits, Assistive Technology Projects and the USDA Rural development Section 504 Home Repair program.
You can find that article here.
Kitchen safety for the elderly ?
There are areas where what you need to check is pretty obvious, and some kitchen is like that –
- does your parent have a smoke alarm and a fire alarm ?
- is there a fire extinguisher ?
- does the stove have an automatic shut off if your loved one walks away and forgets it?
- are the counter tops at a good height ?
- is the floor nonslip ?
- is there somewhere to place hot pans and casseroles which have just come off the stove, or out of the oven ?
- is there a microwave to make heating up food safer ?
- is there an anti-scald device at the sink ?
- are the taps clearly labeled ?
- are any instructions needed next to devices to remind your loved ones how to use them ?
- is there a good chair and table for your parent to sit at to chop and perform other kitchen tasks ?
- does the oven open easily ?
Lastly, and one of the best safety tips for when your parents get a lot older or start to get forgetful –
- do you regularly check the refrigerator ?
- is their food which has gone off ?
- is the fridge clean ?
- is there much food which is way out of date ?
You will really be able to see how well an elderly person is looking after themselves, and if they really are in need of help, from the state of their refrigerator and what is in it.
Does your parent drive ?
If your parent drives, you will want to check the state of the car, and that especially before and after the winter.
- if your loved one gets snow etc. you’ll need to check the tires are all correct for the season you are in
- has your loved one checked the tire pressure recently
- has the oil level been checked ?
- has the water been checked ?
- has the car had its yearly vehicle inspection ?
- is your parent making sure that all repairs are being done ?
If your parent does a lot outside and drives, have you checked the garage ?
If your parent is driving, then they will most likely be using the garage, and as it is not somewhere everybody else goes it may be rather neglected !
Our garage was a full to the brim when I first started to look after my parents.
I completely gutted it, getting rid of so much unwanted stuff which created more room for things which were needed, but becoming a hazard in the house.
So take a look and see –
- is there a lot of clutter around the doors which can cause your loved one to fall ?
- are there cables etc. on the ground which could cause a fall
- is the entrance for the car well lit ?
- is there an outside light, so you can see where you are walking once you are out of the car ?
- are all the cupboards at a good height, well lit and easy to access ?
- are the lights automatic, or is there an easy-to-access switch ?
- there is often a drain for roof guttering next to garages, if it blocks it can overflow and cause a build up of slimy mosses on which people can slip
Check frequently used items around the home
This is especially relevant to electrical items, which get a lot of usage –
- what state are the devices in ?
- are the plugs and cables in good condition ?
- is the vacuum cleaner a huge, hefty item, or a more lightweight version which is easier to use ?
- are the cleaning supplies easy to get to and at a good height ?
- are brooms and dust bans stored in a clutter-free space and easy to get to ?
- are any extension cables your parent has in good condition ?
- what is the condition of the wall sockets – should any be replaced ?
- check batteries on any remote detector devices, chargers, push buttons etc. your parent is using on medical alert devices, bed sensors and sensor controlled lighting
Final tips for elderly safety
If your parents are not very forthcoming about discussing the situation with you, or you are reluctant to ask, for whatever reason, make a visit and just look around to see the following –
- the general state of the house
- take a look in the bathroom to see if it’s clean etc
- grab something from the fridge and see how that looks
- take a walk around the house
- look to see if there is a lot of unattended to bills and unopened mail
- it’ll be pretty apparent if your parent isn’t vacuuming etc., and if their clothes are clean or not
If you do these few things, you will get a very good picture of whether, or not, your parents are managing to keep on top of things.
I hope this helps, and if you need more information I have an article on fall-proofing the home and other safety tips which you can read here.
Good luck !
I’m Gareth, the author and owner of Looking After Mom and Dad.com
I have been a caregiver for over 10 yrs and share all my tips here.