June is “National Home Safety Month” and more broadly “National Safety Month.” Either way, our concern is for keeping each other safe as we remain in our homes and age in place successfully. While we may not be able to have a large influence on what people experience outside their homes in terms of personal safety and remaining incident-free, we can directly impact how well they can do inside their homes.
Each month, make that every day, should carry a home safety pledge, but having one month out of the year so identified is a good start and a great way to emphasize the importance of keeping people safe in their homes.
Homes are meant to be a sanctuary – a safe retreat from the trials and turmoil of the outside world that we are subjected to in various amounts everytime we leave home and go into the public arena (work, bus or train, parks, shopping, or just going for a walk). Understandably, the world is not always a safe place, but we expect that our homes will be nice to us. This is where we can help as aging in place specialists.
As people remain in their homes, they may tend to overlook some of the factors that make their homes less safe than they have a right to expect. They don’t give such issues the critical eye or the attention such items deserve. They have learned to compensate or deal with unsafe conditions rather than correcting such items themselves or hiring contractors to fix them. As a result, our homes are more challenging than they need to be.
Home safety concerns can be present due to many reasons – some involving the physical nature or condition of the home and some attributable to the occupants – especially with age-specific issues. If homes are not maintained, little items that can be fixed quite easily at the time they are first noticed become major issues when left unattended. Then it is more involved to address them.
There are many areas of the home that can be challenging to us. Narrow doorways and hallways can cause us to squeeze through them or to bump our hand, leg, knee, or shoulder as we are trying to carry an object through the doorway. Worn out or uneven flooring can result in loss of balance or stumbles as we walk across it or use a mobility device for assistance. Inadequate lighting can mean that we could walk into an object that is partially obscured in the shadows or that we could trip over something on the floor that we did not see. Opening stiff or stuck windows or ones that require us to use more range of motion or arm strength than we have means that we can possibly injure ourselves or that the windows won’t be used any longer. While not physically part of the structure, furniture choices, wall colors and patterns, and that of furnishings and accessories can cause visual confusion or a misjudgment about where items are that could mean a fall.
Issues that can be attributed to personal conduct in the home that we want to alleviate to the extent possible are such things as tripping or stumbling over shoes (that we have left by the door, near the edge of the bed, or in the hallway), cutting ourselves with knives or other sharp objects (even packaging materials) in the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, garage, or elsewhere in the home, falling from a step-stool or ladder while trying to dust or vaccuum walls or ceilings or to change lightbulbs (although fortunately this is mostly a thing of the past with LED bulbs), or tripping or slipping on wet floors in the bathroom (or clothing, footwear, or towels that might be on the floor), walking into objects that we don’t see, or losing our balance or falling while getting dressed or getting out of bed. There are many more areas in the home that can present issues for us, so we have to be ever-vigilant in looking out for possible dangers and eliminating as many as we can as we notice them.
We can’t eliminate all potential dangers in our homes because we need furniture even though we might walk into the corner or edge of it accidentally. We have to have cooking utensils and serving items even though they can injure us if we handle them carelessly. We can be momentarily blinded or disoriented by strong glare from sunlight reflecting off shiny or glossy surfaces. We can catch our toe or stumble while walking across the floor. We can slip off a stair tread. We can become momentarily dizzy or lose our balance and possibly fall. We can miss the edge of a chair as we are sitting. And there are more.
National Home Safety Month is a great reminder for us to fix what we can in our homes (and those of our clients) and to be even more careful than possibly we have been until now.