Section 7: The Safe Living Guide - A Guide to Home Safety for Seniors – Keeping safe with safety aids

Many of the products on the market today can make your life easier, more enjoyable and safer. Many are not very expensive, and some would make nice gifts. These products can be found in hardware stores, pharmacies, medical supply stores, mail-order catalogues and other specialty stores. Also look in the Yellow Pages under "Senior Citizens' Services and Centres," "Hospital Equipment and Supplies," "Medical Equipment and Supplies" and "Orthopedic Appliances."

Useful Aids

For Walking

Canes can be a handy aid for walking, and these days they come in some fashionable styles too. It's very important to make sure your cane is the right height and the rubber tips are checked every once in a while to ensure they are still in good shape. Wrist straps can be attached to your cane to prevent dropping. A clip can be put on the cane so that it will hang on the edge of a table or walker.

Cane spikes fit over the end of your cane for extra grip on an icy day. Spikes with four or five prongs are best. Many spike attachments flip up or down as needed. The spikes should be flipped up or taken off your cane when you enter a store or shopping mall, as the spike can slip on floor surfaces.

Safety soles are anti-skid detachable soles with studded treads that make walking safer in the wintertime. The safest design is a full sole that runs the entire length of the shoe. These have to be removed when you are walking indoors, such as in a shopping mall, since they will slip on floor surfaces.

Walkers—If walking for 20 minutes without help is a problem for you, an inside or an outside walker could be worth having. With a walker, you can go further, longer and, with some models, you can even have a seat when you want to take a rest. Many models also come with a basket for carrying packages. Special tote bags, trays, and cane and oxygen holders that attach to the walker can also be purchased.

Appropriate footwear—Comfortable shoes that provide good support can help to prevent falls. Lower heels are easier on your feet and back and are more stable for walking. Elastic laces are available to make laced shoes easier to get on and off. Beware: easy-on shoes or slippers without fitting around the heel (i.e. backless) can be dangerous; shoes with smooth, slippery soles can cause you to fall; and composition soles, such as crepe soles, can stick to carpets and cause you to trip.

Bathroom Aids

Ensure that you have non-slip surfaces in the tub or shower. There are products available, i.e. anti-slip liquids, that can be applied directly to the tub itself to create a non-slip surface.

Bath mats on the floor beside the tub should have rubberized or non-skid backing.

Bath seats allow you to take a shower sitting down. If you have trouble standing, or if you find it difficult to lower yourself into the tub, a bath seat will help you. Some models are specially designed to make it easier to get in and out of the tub.

Grab bars and poles can be installed by the bathtub or shower and beside the toilet to provide more stability and help prevent slips and falls. Grab bars must be anchored firmly into the studs in the wall. Towel racks or soap dishes should never be used for support! Floor-to-ceiling poles, securely installed, can also help to steady you while getting out of bed or while dressing.

Hand-held shower heads can make showering easier, especially if you're using a bath seat. The shower head can also be installed with two or three mounting positions, allowing it to be used by standing or seated bathers. This type of shower head is inexpensive, widely available and relatively easy to install.

Raised toilet seats (by 10 to 15 cm) can make getting on and off the toilet easier. There are many designs available — some adjustable, some portable and some with safety/hand rails.

Kitchen Aids

An automatic shut-off is featured on many appliances, such as kettles, irons, electric frying pans, toaster ovens. The switch turns the appliance off once it has been idle for a few minutes' time, eliminating the potential risk of fire.

Large-handle utensils give you a better grip. So do L-shaped knives and heavy cutlery. Find out what's available for cooking and eating safely.

Pot stabilizers consist of a wire frame that keeps pots from spinning while you're stirring the contents. Since this item holds the pot handle in place, it can also prevent the cook or any children from accidentally knocking the pot off the stove. Pot watchers are small ceramic disks that are inserted in the pot to prevent boiling over. These can be purchased in most kitchen gadget stores.

Stepladders can keep you from harm. Don't risk your safety reaching for an item on your top shelves. Get someone to reach for you or use a short stepladder with a grab bar.

Reachers are very useful for those who have trouble bending or reaching high places. Many have suction cups, grips or magnets on the ends to ensure a firm grip on the object to be reached.

Vision Aids

There are a number of technologies available to help you with vision loss, from sunglasses to large playing cards, and from large pad touch-tone phones to magnifying glasses. Vision rehabilitation clinics and a wide range of assistive devices are available across the country in eye care centres and through the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB).

Hearing Aids

Most people report significant benefits from hearing aids—in family relationships, mental health and other areas that affect the quality of their lives. Devices, such as a hearing aid, a telephone handset with built-in volume control, and a flashing light to signal when your doorbell or telephone rings, can help to compensate for loss of hearing. Keep in mind that choosing a hearing aid is a very individual process and the right device for you depends on your preferences and the nature of your hearing problem. Ask your family doctor about regular hearing testing, and if required, consult a qualified hearing health professional for the trial and purchase of a hearing aid.

Memory Aids

There are a number of ways to compensate for memory loss, such as writing down information, using pictures on containers and cupboards to label contents and putting your medications in pill organizers. Some technologies are also available, such as talking clocks and vibrating watches. Important factors in stabilizing memory with age are physical activity, a healthy diet and social activities.

Other Aids

Cordless and cellular telephones can be safer because the receiver can be separated from the telephone’s base, eliminating the need to run telephone cords across a room or across frequently travelled areas. You can keep the phone close at hand and don’t have to run to answer it; you can sit in your favourite chair while you talk.

Medication organizers (dosettes) are compartment boxes designed to help you keep track of medications. They're available in drugstores.

Wire/cord clips enable you to tack down electrical and telephone cords along the walls so they don't run across the floors, where they're more likely to cause you to trip. You can find these clips at most hardware stores.

Emergency response systems are communication devices that will get help for you in case of an emergency. A variety of businesses and some non-profit organizations are involved in this kind of service. The company will install the device in your home for a minimal price and then charge a monthly fee to monitor the unit. You wear a wristwatch or pendant-type of device with a call button, which you press in case of an emergency. To find out more about these devices, look in the Yellow Pages under "Medical Alarms."

First aid kits can be a godsend when there's an emergency. Make up your own first aid kit or purchase one from a reputable provider. Take note of where you keep it.

Asking for Help

One of your best aids is your own voice. Don't hesitate to ask for help when you need it. Most people are delighted to be of assistance, and asking for help may well respond to your neighbours' and friends' need to be useful and to enjoy your company! All kinds of community and health services are available, for example, Meals on Wheels. Asking for help is also a way to keep safe by making your environment aware of your presence and your needs.

Peter's Story

Peter is a 75-year-old veteran who was severely paralyzed in a car accident. A keen volunteer, he had enjoyed working with students at his local library. After his accident, he underwent therapy but worried that he would not regain his autonomy or remain a useful member of society. His health and spirits sagged.

The therapy paid off and he was eventually able to sit and use an electric chair. From then on, Peter began to reclaim his life. "My objective was to become useful again. At first, I was very wary of trying new gadgets and aids. I felt it made me look vulnerable."

With time, Peter learned to navigate his wheelchair with art. He also learned to use the computer to write because of his weak right hand and acquired many of the bathroom and kitchen aids that facilitate his daily activities. He started to use Meals on Wheels and has become great friends with the senior who makes the deliveries.

He returned to his volunteer work when at his request, the library gladly had the three-step entrance made level and provided facilities for him to use the washroom. He now enjoys his students again and feels very much part of the community.

"I don't care who sees me using aids anymore, I just want to stay safe. And I try to get all the help I can. It feels good knowing that my neighbours know me!"

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