Take time to make homes safe for older visitors

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Modern Life


If you are one of the 76 million baby boomers in the United States, it might be wise to take the time not only to "kid proof" but also to "parent proof" your home for the holidays.

Playing host to older guests, especially if they are spending the night, requires particular preparation.

The Home Safety Council (homesafetycouncil.org), which focuses on home safety and education, recommends injury-proofing your home to reduce slips, falls and other common holiday-related injuries that occur to seniors.

"Slips and falls remain the No. 1 cause of unintentional injury and deaths in the home for Americans age 65 and older," said David Oliver, president of the council, which is based in North Wilkesboro, N.C.

"Toys, decorations and winter weather combine to create an extremely high-risk period for seniors who are already prone to slips and falls," he said. "It's important to take the time to rid homes of potential hazards so your parents spend the holidays in your living room, not in the emergency room."

Kathee Henning, a council board member, said she takes inventory before her parents arrive for a visit. Her father is legally blind, and her mother has arthritis.

"I'm one of the those kids who fell and cracked their head on a coffee table with corners," Henning said. "Before my folks arrive, I try to put a table like that away and replace it with one with rounded corners."

Here are some tips to help create a safer home for older guests:

* Ensure that there is ample lighting in all hallways and stairways, both inside and out.

* Check all handrails and tighten loose railings.

* Inspect stairs for worn or loose carpeting and make any necessary repairs.

* Secure rugs to the floor with double-sided tape or rug gripper pads to avoid slips and trips.

* Arrange furniture so that it is out of high-traffic areas.

* Keep stairs free of obstacles, such as toys or decorations.

* Install grab bars and safety rails in the bathroom. Never use towel racks or wall-mounted soap dishes as grab bars; they can easily come loose and cause a fall. Temporary products exist that can be installed when guests arrive and removed after their departure. Apply nonskid strips or mats to the bathtub.

"Make sure that cords are not placed in walkways where they become a tripping hazard," Oliver said. Chances of falling are also increased by illness, fatigue, haste, use of alcohol and even prescription drugs. The best method of prevention is observation, so keep a watchful eye on senior guests.

Henning also suggested increasing the wattage of fluorescent kitchen lights.

Tom Kelly writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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