Community corner: Safe at home as I grow older…

By Brian Penny, South County Community Services Senior Outreach Coordinator

I am amazed at how many daily tasks we take for granted. As we grow older, something as trivial as taking a shower suddenly becomes a little more daunting. According to statistics, there are nearly 200,000 bathroom accidents per year. That’s 70 percent of all home accidents, most of which involve individuals over the age of 65.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the more manageable adaptions that most anyone can do. To do this effectively, we must first be able to identify the obstacle, challenge or concern, and then implement a workable solution.

The Toilet: You can add a high rise to your existing toilet seat. This piece of equipment will add six inches of additional height to the stool. Some models are better than others, so I encourage you to shop around. Some high-rise additions will actually clamp tight to the bowl and others only set loose for easier removal. Another common device is called a universal toilet frame. This is an aluminum frame that bolts to the toilet seat and provides armrests on each side. This is a great device for using your arms to push down on while going into a standing position. Since the armrests from the frame extend to the floor, all of the weight displacement is transferred to the solid floor and not the porcelain toilet. Of course, a properly located grab bar on a wall across from or next to the toilet will also aid in the transition. A more substantial solution is to replace your current toilet with a taller stool. The ADA (American Disabilities Act) recommends a standard 17-inch comfort height. These larger toilets can be found at any local home store.

Night Lights: A night light located in a bathroom or in the hallway is especially helpful for those late-night callings. Most plug-in night lights have sensors that automatically turn the light on at night and off in the daytime.

Lever Doorknobs: Lever styled doorknobs open easily especially if your arms are full or when turning a cylindrical knob is a challenge due to hand strength or arthritis. Also consider replacing older two-handle faucets in your bathroom and tub with easier to use single-lever type faucets as well.

The Tub: Ideally a “walk-in” shower will allow for the safest solution; however, a properly located grab bar will also give you a solid hand hold as you are entering in and out of the tub or shower and help maintain your balance.

Non-skid tape in the bottom of the tub will help with traction. Be cautious using rubber mats in the tub as they may bunch up and become more harmful than helpful. And if you do use bathmats on the floor, always make sure that the edges are secured to the floor with carpet tape.

Bathing can be a challenge to someone with a mobility problem due to injury or illness. A seat designed for the bath or shower can be very helpful. Seats come in different styles and sizes. You will need to choose the model that best fits your needs. In any case, look for one that is strong, stable and has rubber feet to prevent slipping. A transfer bench may also be an option. A person can sit down on the bench outside the bathtub, and then move inside by sliding across the bench. Once in the shower area, I would advise additional grab bars on the interior walls to help with stability and with getting up or down from the bath bench.

Handheld Shower Heads: Replacing your standard shower head with a hand-held shower head model will allow you to bring the flow of water down to you in a direct spray. It is most helpful when used in conjunction with the shower chair and are very simple to install.

Grab Bars: Adding grab “handles” around the home is one of the lowest cost modifications with the highest safety impact return on your investment. A grab bar can be utilized most anywhere you need a little assistance with balance. Since most household slip & falls occur in the bathroom, that is the most logical location. Although some grab bar installations can be a fairly straightforward project for the experienced “do-it-yourselfer,” proper placement and attachment to the walls is vital for adequate strength and security. Because of this, I would recommend contacting a professional or experienced provider.

A STRONG WORD of CAUTION: Many homeowners are utilizing the versatility and easy installation of suction cup grab bars. Although they are intended for balance assistance only and not for leverage or body weight, I believe that they give a false sense of security. At some point, the handle WILL come loose in your hand. I DO NOT RECOMMEND SUCTION CUP GRAB BARS.

Living in a home adapted to your own personal needs can make a big difference in our daily lives. Yet, oftentimes, we fail to recognize the need for modifications. Many of these changes listed are inexpensive and easy to do, but always consult a professional for any repairs or modifications that are beyond your skill level.

If you are 55 years or older, call South County Community Services at 649-2901 for a FREE Home Safety Evaluation. You may qualify for in-home safety modifications at no charge to you!

[Brian Penny lives in the Scotts area.]

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