Hacks to help older people live safely

With older people, falls, burns and medication mix-ups are among the top health risks. But there are simple steps we can take for safer independent living, says TREVOR FLANAGAN
Hacks to help older people live safely

There are practical things you can do at home to make it more safe for older people. Picture: Stock

WITH our ageing population, there is a move to change how we care for older people; shifting the focus to the home and the community, to local GPs and healthcare providers, as well as to the individual themselves and families.

It is thought that, with the right supports, more older people can live longer and healthier independent lives at home, rather than needing hospital or care homes.

Trevor Flanagan is a specialist in assisted living supports and mobility aids who is part of the Halocare Help panel, advising on smarter ageing. He has this practical advice on tackling some problems around the home that older adults can face.

Better safe than sorry is good advice, and there are simple steps we can all take for safer independent living and for peace of mind. With older people, falls, burns, and medication mix-ups are among the top risks.

Falls are more problematic as we age. They can even contribute to ageing and will slow us down. We do more damage and may not recover as quickly. So, play it safe and make a plan to avoid falls in the first place!

Have eyesight checks regularly and get glasses or a cataract operation, or whatever is needed to ensure you have the best vision possible.

Chat to your GP or community nurse in case you need medication to reduce low blood pressure, which makes you dizzy. And discuss the side effects of medication you are on that may lead to dizziness or drowsiness.

Ask about physio or an exercise programme of simple movements to do, a couple of times a day, even from the comfort of a chair.

Foot pain or unsuitable footwear won’t help stability or mobility, so a GP or chiropodist can help with simple shoe inserts, surgery or medication.

Eat regularly to keep strength up and drink lots of water, as dehydration makes us lightheaded.

Declutter around the home so there’s fewer obstacles to navigate. Remove loose rugs, fix wobbly steps or floorboards, and install rails for support if needed. Put stools to rest on by the cooker, at the bathroom sink, or wherever you need to be on your feet for a while.

Raised toilet seats, handrails and shower chairs are helpful in the bathroom, as a steamy room and wet floor makes slips more likely.

If stairs are difficult, or narrow or uneven, could you move your bedroom downstairs?

If you feel quite unstable, don’t risk falling. Stay away from uneven ground, like the back garden, and get support in the form of a walking stick or walker. Use a wheelchair or mobility scooter if you need to cover a lot of ground.

TOP MOBILITY TIPS

Check out these simple ‘life hacks’ for older people that could make yours, or the lives of older relatives, a bit easier and safer.

• Get rid of rugs you could trip on or secure them to the floor with double-sided tape.

• Rubber soled non-slip footwear that fits snugly is best to avoid falls.

• Sit, whenever you can, so you’re comfortable and won’t lose your balance; a chair in the bathroom for brushing teeth, and a tall stool with arms in the kitchen for washing-up or making dinner.

• Tape down extension cords and trailing wires or use cable ties to keep them together.

• Get someone to clean or replace your light bulbs with brighter bulbs and use both ceiling and lamplight so you can see clearly, especially at night.

• If you have fallen before, or are worried, buy an alarm bracelet or necklace, to simply press for the emergency services if you fall and can’t get to the phone.

• It is difficult with mobility issues to find products in a low cupboard. Pop a clear hanging shoe bag over the back of the kitchen door, or on the cupboard door, and keep regularly used cleaning supplies in the pockets.

• You can get stick-on corner guards to round out sharp furniture corners, like coffee tables or nightstands, to prevent injury.

QUICK FIXES AROUND THE HOME

• Wearing rubber gloves makes opening jars easier. If the jar is really tight, turn it onto its lid and slip the top of a rounded dinner knife into the gap between the lid and the jar. This releases the air seal so the jar opens much easier when turned upright again.

• Rubber bands wrapped around cups and mugs make them easier to grip for weak or shaky hands. This also works for things like toothbrushes or pens, or you can buy more comfortable foam grips that enlarge the handle.

• Attaching a key ring to zips makes them easier to grasp. Put your belt into your trousers before you put them on too.

• Carry a small handheld torch when you’re staying somewhere unfamiliar, like a hotel or a friend’s house, so you can safely make your way to the toilet at night.

• Stick your remote controls to the coffee table or the inside of your armchair with Velcro, so you don’t lose them. This works with other items too, like reading glasses.

• If you’ve lost an earring or something small like a battery on the carpet, cover the vacuum cleaner tube with nylon tights so the item can be sucked up onto the tights.

There are numerous home modification and technology solutions for independent living and GPs and public health nurses can help with information. HaloCare is technology that supports older adults in living independently, so they stay safe and socially connected. The 24/7 digital care solution simply connects the various parties involved in caring, including local GPs and nurses, the HaloCare support specialists, the user and their family, and provides monitored health and safety checks in the home.

Trevor Flanagan is a specialist in technology-driven assisted living supports, mobility and healthcare aids. See https://www.beechfieldhealthcare.ie or call 01 539 0004

For more on HALOCARE see https://halocaregroup.com/

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