Safety Tips for the Elderly
A GIRL skates around an ice rink. Suddenly she slips and falls. Seconds later she is on her feet again, suffering no more than a little embarrassment. An elderly lady trips and falls in her home, fracturing her hip. She undergoes surgery and spends months in rehabilitation. Now even more afraid of falling, she avoids physical activity and grows weaker.
In one Western land, each year more than a third of the people 65 and older fall. What is more, in that age bracket, falls are the leading cause of injury-related death. With good reason the Bible says of older ones: “They have become afraid merely at what is high, and there are terrors in the way.”—Ecclesiastes 12:5.
Even though old age often brings physical challenges, you can take practical steps to enhance your personal safety and the quality of your life. For one thing, you can strive to maintain reasonable health and strength. For another, you can make your home safer.
Maintain Your Health and Strength
As we age, our coordination may suffer and we may have trouble with our eyesight and sense of balance. We may also become more frail as our muscles and bones weaken. However, regular physical activity and good eating habits can slow this decline. “It is important to do exercises that improve balance, posture, strength, and flexibility,” says Nita, a physical therapist.
A publication of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states: “Regardless of their health and physical abilities, older adults can gain a lot by staying physically active. Even if you have difficulty standing or walking, you can still exercise and benefit from it. In fact, in most cases, you have more to lose by not doing anything.”* Among other things, physical activity can help you to combat heart disease, joint pain, osteoporosis, and depression. It can improve your circulation, digestion, and sleep, and it can enhance your self-confidence and alertness.
If you are not used to doing physical exercise, you would be wise to see your doctor first. Also, consult him or her if you feel faint or experience chest pain while exercising. In fact, in such a situation, you may be wise to call the emergency telephone number. Do not treat such potentially dangerous symptoms lightly! And it is recommended that you have your eyes checked by an eye doctor once a year.
In regard to diet, avoid meals that lack vitamins and minerals, even if they are quick and easy to prepare. Older people especially need food high in vitamin D and calcium, both of which can help to maintain bone mass or at least slow the loss of it. So try to eat meals that include whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Check with your doctor before you make major changes in your eating habits. He or she may suggest useful dietary options or foods to avoid because of certain health factors.
Additionally, try to stay well hydrated. Dehydration, which is common among older people, especially those living alone or in nursing homes, can predispose one to falls, confusion, constipation, poor skin elasticity, infection, and even death.
Make Your Home Safer
Most falls occur at home. Yet, by taking a few practical precautions, you can significantly reduce that risk. Think about your home as you read the following.
● The floor should provide good footing when wet.
● The shower or tub should have a nonslip mat or finish, and if you have a shower chair, it should allow easy access to the faucets. It may also be helpful to have a handheld showerhead so that you can remain seated when bathing.
● It is good to have grab bars for support when you step into or out of the bathtub or use the toilet. These supports should be strong and firmly mounted. Also, make sure that the toilet seat is high enough for you to sit and stand without too much exertion.
● Keep night-lights on, or use a flashlight.
● Stairways should be uncluttered, in good condition, and well lit.
● Stairways ought to have stable handrails on both sides if possible as well as nonslip strips and light switches at both the top and the bottom.
● Walking up and down stairs can help older ones to maintain leg strength. If you have balance problems, however, you should try to avoid negotiating stairs alone.
● Allow sufficient space for you to move around the bed and other furniture safely.
● Have a chair where you can sit to dress.
● Keep a lamp or a flashlight within reach when you are in bed.
● Countertops should be uncluttered so that you can easily set down groceries and other items.
● The kitchen floor ought to be nonslip and low glare.
● Items in the cupboards should be neither too high nor too low but easy to access without assistance. Try to avoid the use of ladders and step stools, and never climb up on a chair!
● Have night-lights that illuminate the way to the bathroom and other areas you may go to at night.
● It can be helpful to use a cane or a walker at night when you are not fully awake or alert.
● Your chairs should be stable (no wheels), have armrests, and be the right height for easy sitting and standing.
● To prevent tripping, you should repair, replace, or remove frayed carpets, lifted linoleum, or broken tiles. Lay all electrical cords along walls and not across walkways.
● Throw rugs can be a trip hazard and should be removed from carpeted areas. If they are placed on a smooth floor, such as tile or wood, they should be firmly anchored with a nonslip backing.
● Avoid wearing slippers that are loose or worn out or do not have backs or nonskid soles. And do not wear high-heeled sandals or shoes.
● Some medicines can make people feel faint or unsteady. If you ever feel like that after taking medication, be sure to tell your doctor. He or she may change the dosage or the medication itself.
If you notice anything that needs attention that you cannot safely attend to yourself, why not seek the help of family members, friends, or those who may be responsible for building maintenance? And try not to procrastinate.
What Others Can Do
If you have aged parents, grandparents, or friends, what can you do to help them avoid potentially harmful falls? For one thing, you can tactfully go over the aforementioned checklist with them and help make arrangements to correct problem areas. Depending on the need, perhaps you could prepare a wholesome meal or two for them each week. Older people also need regular exercise. Can you take them for a walk, perhaps in conjunction with your other activities? Many older ones would be glad to get out of the house if they had a trusted companion to accompany them. In some lands the government offers assistance in the way of home nursing, physical or occupational therapy, and home safety. Your physician should be able to refer you to such services.
Our Creator, who himself is called “the Ancient of Days,” requires that we show respect for the elderly, especially aged parents. (Daniel 7:9) “Honor your father and your mother,” he commands. (Exodus 20:12) He also directs: “Before gray hair you should rise up, and you must show consideration for the person of an old man, and you must be in fear of your God.” (Leviticus 19:32) Yes, respect for older ones actually reflects a wholesome fear of God! In turn, when older people are genuinely thankful for help given them, they invite loving, respectful consideration. Assisting such ones is anything but a duty. It is a pleasure!
The May 22, 2005, issue of Awake! examined in more detail the benefits of regular exercise.
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ELECTRONIC HELP IN AN EMERGENCY
In some lands seniors can obtain a small electronic device that they can use during an emergency, such as a nasty fall, to summon assistance with the push of a button. These devices may be hung around the neck or attached to the wrist. If this service is available in your area, perhaps you could consider taking advantage of it—especially if you live alone.