Thursday, June 16, 2011

Caregiving from a Caregiver's Perspective - Part Five

by Diane Forrest, RN

Part 5 - Caregiver Safety

Being a home caregiver means not only do you take care of the physical and emotional needs, but you must also practice preventative and safety measures.  There are many reasons why a family member may need home care.  The first reason that comes to mind is age.  As we age our eyesight becomes weaker as well as our hearing and muscle tone.  You need to check your home for your family member's safety as you would baby proof your home for a new baby.   Check each room for potential hazards.  Two of the main areas for potential accidents are the kitchen and bathroom.

In the kitchen:

  • Make sure there is proper lighting
  • Keep all electrical cords secured and out of the way
  • Check for any flammable materials and make sure they are in a safe place.
  • Keep sharp knives in a Knife block or easy access drawer
  • Secure or remove throw rugs.
  • Quickly clean any spills or splattered grease from the floors to prevent slipping

One of the first things anyone in home health nursing will tell you is to remove throw rugs.  These cause many accidents as they can cause trips for seniors with unsteady gaits.  We had a physiatrist (physical therapy doctor) come to our home with his therapist.  Both made their own separate report about things to be done to our home for my husband's safety.  Each of them had placed remove all throw rugs.   Well as a nurse, I did not see how this would possibly be an issue, since my husband was paralyzed and at that time was in a wheelchair.   I have hard wood floors and tile in the kitchen and bathroom for the use of the wheelchair.   I also have throw-rugs at each outside door, in front of the kitchen and bathroom sinks, and in front of the shower.   Providing safety measures mean keeping everyone safe, not just 1 person.   My solution to the rug issue was to place double sided tape around the edges of the rug and secure them to the floor. 

In the bathroom:

  • Install grab bars around the shower and tub as well as around the toilet
  • Install a "handicap" toilet; these are only slightly higher than the traditional toilet, and much easier to get off of.
  • Keep the floor free from clutter
  • Install grounded outlets around the sinks and tubs
  • Make sure there is plenty of lighting in the room
  • I have a friend who travels with her own light bulbs to make sure she can see because most hotel rooms or even family guest rooms only use a low watt light bulb.

In the bedroom:

  • Provide a side rail.  My husband was in danger of falling out of the bed.  I located a half-length side rail that slid under the mattress.  He felt safe being protected from falling, but not imprisoned in the bed. 
  • Place a table lamp beside the bed
  • Place a telephone beside the bed

Other Rooms:

  • Again, make sure there is plenty of lighting;
  • Keep any cords off of the floor, or secured; and
  • Arrange furniture so there is an easy path for walking.
When my husband became bedridden, there were many issues that came up that I had not given thought to.  Since I was always here with him except for trips to the grocery or drug store, I guess these things never entered my mind.  We were visited by a company to inspect the house for the purpose of installing a lift, and one of the employees brought these items to my attention:
  • Remote control locks
  • Outside video surveillance

While we live in a safe neighborhood in a small quiet town, I never thought about leaving him for an hour or so with the door unlocked.  It never occurred to me that he may not feel safe.  I didn't want to lock the door in case he needed help and no one could get in.  However, we had a tornado come through our neighborhood.  When it was over, I went out to take pictures to bring back for him to see.   I wasn't gone long, maybe 15 minutes because trees were blocking the roads.  During that time a neighbor walked in to check on him and it startled him so much that he never wanted me to leave with the door unlocked again.  A remote control lock and video would have made things more secure for him.

Also, always make sure that a telephone is available within reach, and fully charged.
The main thing is to make sure the surroundings are as safe and secure as possible.  If you have any other ideas or experiences, please share them with us.

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