Caregiver Question | 06/27/24

What can I do to keep him safe at home?

DEAR CARALLEL: My father is 86 years old and as independent as they come. He’s sharp mentally but unsteady on his feet. I live six hours away and while he’s finally agreed to let me bring in outside help for him a few times a week, I’m afraid he’ll fall when nobody is there. What can I do to keep him safe at home? –Alan in Overland Park, KS

DEAR ALAN: Thanks for sending in your question. The fact that your father has agreed to have periodic help come into the house is a great first step. Good on you!  

His need for support will likely continue and increase over time but it sounds like you’re doing a great job of balancing his need for that support with his personality and wishes. 

Here are a few ideas to keep him safe at home and give you some peace of mind. 

Talk with his healthcare provider
It’s important to communicate how you’re feeling about the situation with professionals. Lay out the facts as you see them and ask for their advice. Pay special attention to things like his medications and eyesight, which could unintentionally add fall risk for your father. 

Do an assessment
In speaking with his doctor, they may suggest this. Even if they don’t, I recommend it because it’s useful to step back for an objective view of the situation. 

An assessment is a great way to do that. Well, actually two assessments in your case. 

First one for your father. This is all about getting a realistic perspective on his current abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and risks. This checklist from the CDC “Stay Independent“, is a handy tool to help you do that. 

The second assessment is of the home itself. And it can be most helpful to actually start by observing your dad at home. 

Where does he spend his time? What are the high traffic areas? Kitchen? Bathroom? Bedroom? TV room? What about the exterior? 

Removing as many risks as possible
Once you’ve assessed the situation, you can focus on making sure potential hazards are removed. For example: 

✅ Getting rid of clutter in high traffic areas such as hallways and stairs 
✅ Using double-sided tape to make sure throw rugs don’t move
✅ Or removing throw rugs altogether
✅ Ensuring there is ample lighting with the right wattage light bulbs
✅ Adding grab bars in the bathroom and no slip mats in the shower

Keep him active
Paying attention to physical fitness could help get your dad more steady on his feet than he is today. Not to mention it could have the added benefit of being another activity that keeps him engaged. 

You could check with your local Area Agency on Aging to inquire about fitness classes for older adults or other resources that could help keep his body strong. 

Use technology 
While not a cure all, technology can help provide you with some peace of mind and keep your dad safer from a distance. As a first step, take a look at Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS). Also known as medical alert systems, they make access to help in an emergency easier. 

There are lots of options and the functionality ranges from basic push-button calling of first responders and/or family, to more advanced 2-way voice activation and monitoring for falls or even smoke/fire/carbon monoxide detection. 

Many of these systems come with a cost (for the device and a monthly subscription) and are not covered by Medicare Parts A & B. However Medicaid, Medicare Advantage plans, and the Department of Veterans Affairs may cover some or all of the cost. It’s worth checking with your father’s insurance company and your local Area Agency on Aging to explore options for paying for a PERS. 

If you don’t want to go the PERS route, many smart watches like the Apple Watch and others have fall detection, SOS, and health tracking now built in. 

And as your dad’s needs change over time, it may be worth looking into the growing list of available ‘smart home’ technologies such as voice-activated assistants, medication dispensers, motion sensors, thermostats, kitchen appliances, security cameras and more. 

Before I go, you might find this Carallel Caregiver Conversation helpful: Seven Home Safety Tips to Prevent Falls For Your Loved One

Hope this helps! 

–Jennifer, Carallel Care Advocate 

PS – If you can see all of our Caregiver Conversations (and the upcoming schedule) here.

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