Safety is a major concern for aging in place. No one likes the idea of getting hurt or injured, and it is even harder to accept when it happens at home. The kitchen and the bath are especially dangerous in terms of where accidents happen in the home.
So, how can we get out in front of this or be more proactive in educating people about how to be safer in their homes?
The root of home injuries – at any age but particularly as we age – is distractions. There is not just a single type of distraction or a typical result, but they definitely are problematic.
In a related matter, state legislatures across the country have banned texting while driving, and in some cases using the cell phone for a call – all in an attempt to prohibit distractions and presumably accidents. While these are valid concerns, they do not, and cannot go far enough. The only way to completely prevent distractions while driving is to have someone else drive and to go along just as a passenger.
Moving past the phones, consider all of the other distractions that can occur while driving. Changing the channel on the radio, turning it up or down, advancing a selection on a CD or internet music app, trying to read a road sign or billboard that has too much information on it to read while driving the speed limit, singing along to a favorite song as we hear it, trying to remember the lyrics to a song we haven’t heard in a while, glancing down to look at the gauges, checking the mirrors, watching the street signs or mile markers so we turn where we need to, talking with a passenger in the car with us, mentally rehearsing a sales call we are on our way to make or reviewing an argument we recently had with someone, thinking about all that we need to get down at home or the office, and talking to ourselves (quieting or aloud when no one else is present).
It’s a daunting list, and these are all distractions of one form or another because they can move our focus away from paying attention to the road and traffic around us.
This brings us back to the home and safety concerns there.
Carving meat, slicing or trimming vegetables, or cutting up fruit is something we have done – usually without incident. But what happens when we begin thinking about something that is bothering us, something we hear on the news, people that might be joining us for dinner, or something else? That momentary focus on a subject other than using a sharp knife correctly and watching where the blade is going in relation to our fingers can mean that we can easily cut ourselves. Careless? Only in a larger sense. We were distracted. It’s that simple. We know how to use a knife correctly, but we didn’t maintain our concentration on what we were doing.
The same type of lapse of focus can happen while getting in and out of the tub or shower, while shaving, while getting dressed, or any activity in the home where we need to maintain our balance, avoid slipping, or use a tool or instrument correctly.
Our minds don’t come with an on and off switch, so we likely will always be prone to mental distractions that move our focus away from what we are doing physically. We just need to work extra hard to stay on task – and do the same with our aging in place clients.