Today my heart is heavy as I grieve the loss of an old friend to COVID. The theme of staying safely at home is more relevant than ever in light of the dangers the 2020 pandemic brings to unexpected sectors of our society. My friend was barely 60 years old, still working and golfing and hanging out with friends. Everyone loved him. He was a son, a husband, a father, a business leader, and a faithful friend. When he contracted COVID-19 everyone expected him to be able to recover quickly; instead over several weeks he was hospitalized, intubated, transferred to a more advanced hospital, and then moved to a long-term care facility where he died on October 4. His life was cut short by a capricious virus that claims young and old alike. This series of messages about home safety (not COVID-related) is dedicated to the memory of Chuck Harwell from Dublin, GA, a good man who didn’t have the opportunity to grow old safely at home.
If we are honest, we know that home is where most people want to stay as they grow older. Our house has almost everything we could want. Over time as we build our “nest,” we surround ourselves with possessions that give us pleasure, comfort, and a sense of safety and familiarity. Often, it’s where we raised our children, held gatherings with family members and friends, and made the memories of a lifetime. Some families move around and home changes, while others live in the same homeplace for generations. Whether the place where you live is big or small, old or new, multi-level or ranch, it’s home sweet home.
As we age, our abilities may start to decline, and we might find it harder to live safely in the home that we love. Your dwelling might have elements like stairs, low lighting, clutter, or tub-showers that don’t seem like dangers to someone in their thirties or forties. Still, these features can become deadly to those much older. Some threats are easily seen, like frayed electrical wires damaged by pets or furniture friction. Overloaded extension cords that build up over time might be visible or could hide behind sofas or corner tables. Expired medications or foods can also pose unanticipated dangers to older adults.
Other dangers are more easily missed by the untrained eye. My mother had a colorful throw rug in her den. She loved that rug, but as she grew older, it’s wrinkles and creeping ridges became treacherous to her more shuffling gait. One evening when my family was visiting, Chris was sitting on the floor playing with our son. As my mother crossed the room, her foot caught in the rug, and she fell. Chris reached up and caught her before she got hurt. While she adamantly refused to give up the carpet during that visit, it was rolled up and waiting for me to take it home with me when I next came to see her.
Raised doorway thresholds pose a similar threat because they might also ensnare the foot that occasionally drags, causing a sudden and unexpected fall that might end in hospitalization. Low toilet seats are hard to rise from for someone with arthritic joints, balance issues, or leg weakness, and more dangerous if safety grab-bars are not securely installed. Poorly placed light switches can cause someone with age-related eyesight problems to trip and fall as they cross a dark room to turn on the lights. Spaces overcrowded with furniture can also cause bumps, bruises, and falls. Bathroom fixtures like tub/shower units that require the bather to step up and over the tub wall can further endanger your unsuspecting loved one.
It might seem like falling is the greatest danger to continuing to live at home, and in fact, it is. Click here for a Home Safety Checklist that covers the risks mentioned above and more to help you and those you care for to remain safe as we all age together in the place we call home.
Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how to safely grow older at home.