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You may have become used to
"disposables"—everything from cameras to contact lenses—but
you need to remember that if your parent is a member of the senior
generation, who lived through the Depression and World War II, he or
she was taught from their earliest days to make do with what was on
hand. To use it up. To wear it out.
Unfortunately, that means in the homes of
some elderly people, they're "making do" with a hodgepodge
octopus of ancient extension cords rather than having a wall outlet
fixed or buying one cord of the proper length and correct electrical
They're "using up" old
prescriptions even though the doctor has taken them off the
They're "wearing out" items like
space heaters or fans to the point that there's a danger of getting a
shock or starting a fire.
They're emphasizing self-sacrifice and thrift
to such an extent that their safety is jeopardized, and that can be a
serious, even deadly, mistake.
In the same way that a couple expecting their
first child have to "baby-proof" their home for safety, you
need to walk through your parent's house with safety in mind.
● First, are the basics covered? Some
items need attending in any home. For example, no overloaded electric
outlets. Sufficient smoke detectors. A bath mat in the bathtub. No
exit doors blocked by furniture. No drapes, furniture or other
flammable items near electric baseboard heaters. And so on.
These are just a few suggestions:
● Remember all stairs, inside and out,
need sturdy handrails and they need to be well lit.
● Make sure the bathroom has a grab
bar. Don’t use an empty towel rack for this. Grab bars are designed—and
installed—to bear the weight of an adult. Medical supply stores
offer literally dozens of similar safety items—from bath tub rails
to raised toilet seats—that can make a home safer. Many stores also
rent items and have catalogs available.
● See to it the kitchen has a sturdy
step stool—or none at all. Also, move bulky and heavy items to lower
cupboards because it can be difficult for your parent to reach up and
lift things down. Items taken from lower cupboards, even if dropped,
will land directly on the floor, not on Mom or Dad.
● Put a night light in Mom's bedroom or
make sure she can be easily reach a lamp from
bed. The one-touch style lamp is great for this.
● Get rid of clutter. Furniture buried
in mounds of junk mail and floors stacked with old newspapers and
magazines can make it difficult for anyone to get around and
especially someone using a cane or walker.
● Help Dad throw out prescribed
medication that he no longer needs or has passed its expiration date.
Some seniors just hate to throw away a "perfectly
good," passed date prescription just because it cost so much. You
can remind him that outdated medicine loses its effectiveness, and
older medicine, combined with his current prescriptions and
conditions, could cause serious side effects.
● Make sure medicine bottles are
clearly labeled in print large enough for Mom to read. (The same
applies for household cleaners.) If she has trouble remembering what
medicine to take when, use a seven-day medication dispenser (available
at drug stores).
● List needed phone numbers, in large
print that can be read without glasses, by each telephone. These
should include your work and home numbers, the doctor's office and the
general emergency 9-1-1. Also, program those numbers into any
● Write down your parent's address and
phone number and keep them by his or her phones. When a crisis arises,
anyone can have trouble remembering that information.
● Remind Dad to be safety-conscious.
For instance, don't smoke in bed or just before nap time in that
favorite chair. Don't wear the bathrobe with the floppy sleeves when
cooking something on the stove. Don't use the stairs for storage.
Most of your suggestions won't be new to your
parent. Mom may seem a little annoyed as she answers, "I know, I
know." Don't let that discourage you. It's probably the same
answer you gave her years ago when she was first teaching you these
Two other points to consider:
It may be worthwhile to see about getting an
emergency response system for Mom or Dad. By pushing the call button
on a necklace or bracelet or the system’s base, your parent is on a
speaker-phone with a system attendant. If your parents pushes the
button but is unable to speak or is too far from the base to be heard,
the attendant summons aid.
Ask your parent's doctor about companies
offering the service. Find out if the response is local or if it's
monitored in another part of the country. And if it is called, do
staff operators then call you or call the police in your parent's
Also, be aware some of the companies
emphasize sales (they may vigorously push entire home-alarm systems)
but fall short when it comes to service.
Another choice is a reassurance phone call.
Again, ask your parent's doctor about this. With this system—often
administrated by the local hospital—someone calls your parent at the
same time every day to make sure he or she is all right. If there's no
answer, the person informs whoever is on your parent's
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