Improving Safety in the Home

Published by Steve Hedberg on October 20, 2011 Under Senior Health

For seniors and others who have difficulty walking, ensuring that the stairs can be accessed easily is a very important step in home safety and accessibility. There is no other single area in the home as dangerous to a senior as a staircase, as this is where the majority of serious falls happen each year.

Since for most, moving to a home that does not use stairs or simply avoiding the stairs in your own home is not a good choice, making a strong effort to increase staircase safety is usually the better option.

There are quite a few different factors that can make using the stairs, or, for that matter, other areas of the home difficult for the elderly. Most often, it is not just a single factor, but rather a combination of medical conditions. For instance, arthritis is a very common type of diseases among the elderly, as is difficulty seeing.

When you combine these two, issues, it can have a major affect as not only is it difficult to physically move up the stairs, but it is also harder to see the steps, increasing the risk of a fall. Other factors, like osteoporosis, which results in weakened bones, can subsequently increase the risk of injury after a fall, with falls from rather short distances often resulting in an injury.

Since injuries are much more difficult to recover from for seniors, making an effort to prevent them is very important.

Improving Visibility and Adding Visual Clues

Since not being able to see well is very common among those who are elderly, making it easier to see and feel the steps, while removing obstacles that may increase the risk of a fall is very important.

A good place to start is by removing all objects that could result in a tripping hazard around the staircase. This includes decorative items, like plants, vases, and tables, in addition to loose rugs. One of the biggest hazards of rugs, even non-slip rugs, is that the edge can turn up, which can catch the foot of a senior. Using dual banisters, which are easy to grasp and at an adequate height for the senior is also an important step for preventing falls on the stairs.

Adding visual and physical clues to the steps can also make them easier to use. As an example, it is often a good idea to add a textured layer to each step, such as by adding some grip tape. This provides a physical cue to the senior, because they can feel the steps, as well as increasing traction on the steps. If the tape uses a color that is bright enough and contrasts the staircase’s other colors, it can also provide a visual clue as to where the step is. It is a good idea to alternate colors between steps, so as to ensure that each step can be picked out.

Using Lifting Aids in the Home

In addition to helping to make the stairs themselves safer, it can also be a good idea to use devices in the home like lift chairs and stair lifts. Lift chairs are used to make it easier for a senior to stand up from a recliner, while stair lifts are used to carry a senior up and down the staircase.

The type of device used will largely depend on the abilities of the senior, in addition to the way the home is setup. For example, when attempting to improve safety on the stairs, a stair lift is often the best choice for interior staircases, providing the senior is able to walk independently. Stair lifts attach directly to the staircase and provide a chair or platform to move the senior up the stairs. Since stair lifts move along the length of the stairway, a different type of lift, called a vertical platform lift, is usually used on exterior staircases.

Vertical platform lifts, sometimes called porch lifts, move up and down vertically, providing an elevator like platform. These are also used for those who use wheelchairs or mobility scooters. For those who use wheelchairs and need to access an interior staircase, an inclined platform lift is good choice. Inclined platform lifts work similarly to a stair lift, moving along the length of the staircase, while providing a platform that a wheelchair can be driven onto.

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