Elderly loved ones and those who care for them face many challenges, but home hazards don’t have to be among them. Creating a safe home environment can prevent accidents and emotional stress, often by making simple changes and checks. For patients and caregivers who also welcome clinicians in their homes for services like home care, home health or hospice workers, a safe set-up can also help ensure that care is provided efficiently and without obstacles. 

But where to start? 

To ensure your home safety plan is comprehensive, consider these questions to ask yourself and some answers from our Addus HomeCare clinicians:

How do I plan for emergencies?

  • Work with your local fire department and home care provider agency to receive instruction in fire prevention that will assist both caregivers and patients in establishing fire plans, which should include working smoke detectors with fresh batteries. 
  • Your emergency plan should also include education and training in the proper operation, maintenance, storage, and cleaning of home medical equipment (this can include oxygen, which is highly flammable, hospital beds, and tubing that can become dirty or tangled) to ensure optimal performance and prevent infections.
  • Caregivers should complete CPR training, which you can find through the Red Cross and your local fire and/or police departments.
  • Keep a list of phone numbers to call in emergency situations, and ensure it is placed in a place that all people in the home can easily locate and access.

Consider mobility

Caregivers need to understand each patient’s ability to enter and exit their home, move between rooms, and access the bathroom. Ask if the patient can benefit from a wheelchair or walker. If the patient is not ambulatory, review checkpoints that include the width and height of doorways, stairs, and ramps.

How can I prevent falls?

Falls can happen to all of us, but people with advanced illness are more prone to these accidents. Common causes of falls include muscle weakness, confusion, failing eyesight, dehydration, agitation, side effects of medication and incontinence. People who have fallen before may also be more likely to fall again. 

Caregivers can help a loved one avoid a fall by making sure they:

  • Keep the home clean and free of excess clutter that can hamper mobility, cause falls, and lead to misplaced supplies. These can include untethered scatter rugs, poor lighting, slippery floors, and mobile furniture.
  • Wear sturdy, well-fitting, low-heeled shoes with non-slip soles. 
  • Wear glasses and/or hearing aids whenever possible. 
  • Move slowly, sit a moment before standing, and get their balance before starting to walk. 
  • Have a lamp or light switch within easy reach. 
  • Avoid slippery clothing or slick bed sheets. 
  • Have grab bars installed in bathrooms. 
  • Be aware that some medications may cause dizziness or unsteadiness, be aware of this and take precautions. 

You just mentioned medications. What safety precautions should I follow for taking or giving medications? 

  • Make sure you have a comprehensive list of all prescribed, as well as over-the-counter medications and vitamin supplements to share with your care team. 
  • Ask about foods, drinks, and activities to avoid while taking certain medications, and let your medical providers know about any food or drug allergies.

What about infection control, especially with COVID-19 still a concern?

Controlling infection risk and ensuring that all waste materials are safely disposed of are important issues for everyone’s health and safety, now more than ever. Here are some tips for caregivers who may be handling waste materials. 

  • Always wear gloves when cleaning spills or equipment and when disposing of soiled items or sharp objects. 
  • Washing hands is still your best defense against the spread of germs. Always use soap and running water and wash for 15-20 seconds. You do not have to use hot water, which may excessively chap hands and injure skin. 
  • Make sure to wash your hands before and after handling any type of equipment, soiled laundry, or contaminated materials, even though you have worn gloves. Also remember to wash hands immediately before providing care to the patient and after caring for personal needs, such as toileting, nose blowing, combing hair, sneezing or coughing.  
  • An alcohol hand sanitizer may be used to cleanse hands that are not visibly soiled. Apply product to palm of one hand in an amount sufficient to wet both hands. Vigorously rub hands together to cover all surfaces of hands and fingers until hands are dry. Do not use tissue or a towel to dry your hands. 

What else do I need to think about? 

Pets. Even though furry critters can be lovable and therapeutic companions, it is critical to ensure they don’t create safety hazards when caring for a loved one in the home. 

  • Pets should be secured when clinicians visit to keep the clinician and patient safe and prevent potential bites and scratches by nervous or aggressive animals or being knocked over by exuberant pets. 
  • Keep pets themselves, their toys, food bowl, and water bowl out of walkways to prevent falls.
  • Patients should avoid walking or chasing pets if mobility issues pose a hazard.

For patients of Addus HomeCare, a member of your care team can provide a safety assessment of your care environment. We would be happy to develop an individualized prevention plan focused on increased awareness, overall safety and ensuring adequate help and supervision.

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