Q: What are some measures that can be taken to improve the safety for older adults in their home bathroom?
A: The moisture that can occur in a bathroom, in addition to the hard, slippery surfaces usually found there, is certainly a recipe for fall hazards.
A study by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) determined that more than one-third of people older than 65 slip and fall each year, with 80 percent of those falls occurring in the bathroom.
While most people understand the need for grab bars in the bath or shower, there are some other things to consider. Focus should be on the tub/shower and toilet, but also the floor and the lighting in the bathroom.
In terms of the floor, remove all loose throw rugs and bath mats or secure them with strong, double-faced tape or tacks. Keep the floor and the tub/shower clean to counteract slippery soap or mildew build-up.
Make sure to address any leaks from the tub/shower that cause water to get on the floor. Also remove from the floor any cords to hair dryers, electric toothbrush units, etc. – whatever might cause a tripping hazard.
Assess the lighting in the bathroom to ensure it is adequate in the day and at nighttime. Install an illuminated switch, or utilize nightlights to make it easier to see at night. Consider adding a light in the shower or bathtub area if there is not one there currently.
The majority of slips and falls occur getting in and out of the tub/shower and getting on and off the toilet.
Grab bars, properly installed and mounted to a wall stud, are critical. Be sure to get bars that can bear the full weight of an individual – towel bars and soap shelves are not adequate.
Other useful safety items for the bath are rubber mats to reduce slipping in the tub, seats or transfer benches, and hand-held shower wands, which minimize moving around in the shower.
Toilet seat risers as well as frames or rail surrounds that are adjustable and have hand grips also are great safety measures.
Q: My grandmother wants to stay in her home, but she’s been falling, and we want to improve her safety there.
Besides the bathroom, what other areas should be assessed for hazards?
A: The simple answer to this is anywhere in the home where your grandmother might go, but certainly the kitchen and the bedroom are areas that should also be assessed.
As in the bath, throw rugs should be removed, as well as any other tripping hazards, such as cords, floor lamps or small pieces of furniture like a plant stand, which might block a walker from getting through an area.
Run cords along walls, and secure them in place. Remove or relocate other tripping hazards out of the walking areas. Also, as in the bath, make sure other areas, such as long hallways, closets and the bedroom, are well-lighted.
Many people don’t consider the garage for safety issues but, even if you don’t think your loved one has any reason to be in the garage, it should be assessed for slipping and tripping hazards, such as those from storage clutter, oily spots on the floor, and tools, bikes or machinery that block walkways.
The kitchen and the garage should be checked for unsafe storage of cleaners, combustible liquids, oily rags and the like. Store combustible liquids in containers that are clearly marked, tightly closed, durable and kept away from heat sources such as appliances, heaters and direct sunlight.
Finally, make sure to limit reasons to be on stairs or any kind of step stool. Consider relocating laundry to a main floor if necessary. Add railings, securely mounted to a wall not just the steps, for stairs into the garage, off the porch, or between rooms inside the home.
Be sure needed items are put in lower cupboards so there is no reason to stand on anything to reach for a dish or a jar.
For more information, www.nia.nih.gov has great tips and checklists for home safety and preventing falls.
Sara Duris is community information liaison of Region IV Area Agency on Aging in Southwest Michigan. Questions on age or independence services? Call the Info-Line for Aging & Disability at 800-654-2810 or visit www.areaagencyonaging.org. The Generations column appears each Sunday in The Herald-Palladium.