Monday, April 6, 2009

Making a safe home for mom

As my mom gets more frail due to osteoporosis and arthritis I've tried to make her home safer to reduce the chance of falls, bumps, bruises and minor mishaps. Her situation is complicated because she uses a walker due to a bum knee, is blind in one eye and has become gradually weaker. As she's aged we make adjustments to enable her to continue to do things for herself; often these are not attractive alterations but it's more important to make her home safe. We hope to help maintain her independence, dignity, self-worth and to help her feel that an aging body is not robbing her of self-control.

These ideas below are in NO WAY meant to be professional full-proof measures but are just a few things we did at my mothers home as adjustments to help her. To avoid getting sued, I suppose I MUST say: Try these things at your own risk. Consider your own knowledge on use of tools and hardware before trying to do it yourself. Don't attempt something you are not familiar with; it's better to pay a professional to do it right the first time rather than have incur more expense and disruption later.

Here is a list of things that my family and I have done around Mom's home:

Remove area rugs. This prevents tripping over folds and eliminates one more thing to clean. Even if the rug remains flat, it can be a trip hazard. Old folks often can't lift their legs high when they walk, they tend to shuffle. That small 1/2" rise is enough to catch a toe or heel and cause a fall.

Be sure cabinet doors close: Open cabinet doors are right at eye or knee level, if they hang open it's one more thing to bump into. Sharp or pointed edges can crack or break a bone if someone falls against it. We installed magnetized gizmo's to hold the doors closed. As mom got older the magnets were too strong and she didn't have strength to open the door so I applied tape to the magnets to weaken their hold; it was enough to keep the door closed yet Mom could still pull it open.

Stabilize appliances: Mom once lost her balance as she pulled the fridge door open; the whole thing began to tip over. Luckily my nephew was there and big enough to catch her with one arm and push the fridge back with the other (he's a 6'5" hunk with strong arms and back). We solved this problem by nailing a 2X4 board across the front of the fridge; my husband drove very long screws through the board and into the toe kick of the cabinets. We painted it to match the cabinetry so it's not ugly. Since many refridgerators are deeper than cabinets this might not work in all situations. Other options we considered were a metal bracket that attached to the side or top of the fridge and then to a stud in the wall or even a strap around the top of the fridge and attached to the wall. The 2X4 was the "least ugly" of these solutions and most acceptable to Mom.

Check other appliances for stability: Wiggle other appliances to judge their stability. Consider the stove or dryer - anything where your elder could hang one, lean or fall on the open door. Front loading washers are not as big a worry since their weight is mainly on the bottom of the appliance which makes it more stable.

Get appliances on the living level: Mom's washer / dryer was in her basement and the stairs were a huge worry for us especially if she tried to carry anything. We converted a linen closet to a laundry closet and moved these up stairs.

Secure other furniture to walls with brackets: cook cases, china cupboards, curio cabinets - anything that might be top heavy and fall over when used as a hand hold. All it takes is a small "L" bracket and a couple of screws. Or, move heavy objects from upper shelves to the bottom shelves.

Get a taller toilet: Often our elders have a hard time getting up from low seats. Given that, the bathroom poses a huge problem. They are alone, exposed and it's often in tight quarters. A taller toilet enables them to more easily raise up from a seated position, installation of a grab bar to pull with their arms can help even further. Other options like a "riser" - a plastic toilet shaped device that fits over the toilet - are possible but these are hard to clean which creates another set of issues. Don't get a toilet that's too tall or they can't get on it in the first place.

Bathroom hand holds
: Install grab bars near the toilet, shower or tub. If you notice that they hold on to a towel rod to walk across the bathroom, ensure that it is securely fastened to a stud in the wall; don't trust the little 1/2" screws that come with the towel bars. After we noticed that the towel bar was loose, we replaced it with a real grab bar; it does double duty for towels and to steady Mom.

That's it for now - I have many other tricks and I'll share those as time permits.