Thursday, May 19, 2016

"Are We Losing The Battle For Safety In The Home?"

We know just how important it is for people to feel safe and secure in their homes - especially as they are aging and possibly living without close relatives nearby. They may not know their neighbors that well either.

All that said, just how safe are the homes people live in, and are we winning, losing, or holding our own in the fight to keep people safe in their living space?

As aging-in-place professionals, we have a big responsibility to evaluate and assess the safety issues that are present in the homes of our clients and potential clients - and then to recommend acceptable solutions. Some are very simple - picking things up, moving awkward and potentially dangerous items out of passageways, and eliminating unsafe situations where we see them. Some are more complex and factor into how people use their homes.

We can never be a hundred percent effective in eliminating unsafe conditions from people's homes. We have to give it our best shot though. If someone uses a kitchen knife, box cutter, razor blade (to open a carton, cut a string, or for shaving), scissors, or cooktop, sooner or later there will be a cut or burn. It's inevitable.

People expect their homes to provide a reasonable amount of safety for them - especially when compared to the relative perils of the outside world. Public spaces are unpredictable - traffic, crowded sidewalks and elevators, public areas of buildings, retailers and restaurants, and their office space. Each day away from home presents its own set of challenges, whether it is a workday or not.

On non-work days, people may go biking or running, play other types of sports, go shopping, attend a ballgame or concert, or run errands. There are plenty of opportunities for minor scrapes, cuts, and mishaps while engaging in or conducting those activities, although those are never anticipated.

Back to the homefront. People are familiar with their homes and theoretically should be able to navigate them effectively and safely without ever falling, tripping, or running into objects. However, we know that stumbles and loss of balance happens. This can lead to bruises, cuts, and even more severe injuries depending on the type of fall or what objects were involved.

People get careless and set items down - on stairs, stacked precariously on tables, in walkways and hallways, on countertops, and elsewhere where they shouldn't be. Sometimes those items fall onto people or can be tripped over when people aren't looking for such items to be where they are walking. Small pets and children can have the same effect on people of getting in their way and cause falls or stumbles. People often injure themselves through a fall or twisted joint in an attempt to keep from stepping on or hurting their pets or children (grandchildren) who get entangled with them.

Our best attempts at eliminating safety concerns in people's homes is to evaluate potentially unsafe conditions that we see and alleviate or remediate them - people stretching or reaching too far to turn something on or open something like a window or cabinet, pathways that aren't well lit, burned out bulbs or insufficient lighting in rooms where activities are conducted, kitchens without adequate counterspace, hallways and other areas (kitchens and baths, for instance) where space is just too tight to navigate them easily, inadequate number or location of outlets, worn flooring (carpeting, hardwood, vinyl, or ceramic) that can present tripping or stumbling issues, and handles and knobs that are difficult to use.

Homes likely will never be totally safe because life happens. However, we can do our best to anticipate events that are likely to happen based on the furnishings, general layout, and features that we see - and the activities that occur in the home - and make or suggest the appropriate courses of action.
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Steve HoffackerCAPS, MCSP, MIRM, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555.