The normal aging process can introduce new home-safety hazards that may require special precautions to prevent accidents, according to a physician at New York University Medical Center.
"Awareness of the changes that may occur with increasing age should lead to practical precautions, some of which underscore basic home-safety rules," said Howard G. Thistle, M.D., associate professor of clinical rehabilitation medicine."The home environment may have to be adjusted to suit individual physical needs. Also, evaluation should be encouraged if problems emerge: most are treatable."
An article in an upcoming issue of the New York University Medical Center Health Letter includes the following among home hazards that may accompany aging and precautions needed to protect against injury:
Problem: Strength and endurance may decrease. An older person with musculoskeletal or cardiac problems may not be able to lift heavy weights, and attempts to do so may cause serious injury.
Precautions: Place objects where they are within easy reach; ask for help when needed. Additional supports may also be advisable, such as "grab bars" to assist getting into and out of the bathtub. Towel bars, Thistle pointed out, are not meant to support a person's weight.
Problem: Vision may become less acute.
Precautions: Be sure all stairs and hallways are well lighted; use lights regularly (a good rule at any age). If possible, remove easy-to-overlook (and trip over) doorsills. Use contrasting colors; walls can be painted dark, floors light.
Problem: Hearing may become less acute.
Precautions: Doorbells and telephones can be increased in volume (or lowered in frequency - detection of higher-pitched sounds is most affected by normal aging); amplifiers can be added to receivers. Lights can be added to doorbells and telephones.
Problem: Balance may become poorer, reflexes less sharp.
Precautions: Remove scatter rugs, which frequently lead to falls (which cause many fractured hips, Thistle reported); the same goes for all unnecessary floor clutter. Stairs should have rails, which should always be used; never negotiate stairs with both hands full. Use rough-surfaced decals to prevent bathtub tumbles.
Problem: Memory may become less reliable.
Precautions: Establish a reminder routine - a checklist to follow before leaving home. (This is a good idea at any age.) Among items to check: Are any electrical appliances still on; is the stove or oven on; has water been left running; have keys, eyeglasses, wallet, change purse and any needed tickets or forms been taken.
As a person ages, it is important to plan for emergencies, Thistle observed. What will I do if a fire breaks out? If I fall and cannot get up? Can I reach help - a neighbor - in a hurry? In some instances, a personal alarm or intercom system is a valuable acquisition. Medical-alert systems may also be useful.
Thistle noted that difficulties with stairs are common among older people. "If possible, plan to spend your senior years living in a one-level residence with ground-level or elevator access, or have a chair lift installed."