This week is National Patient Safety Awareness Week.
As we age we typically have more medical issues and take more medications. Statistics show that older adults are seven times more likely than younger adults to have a medication issue that leads to hospitalization. (CDC, 2017) Blood thinners and diabetic medications are two of the most problematic medications.(Web MD 2011)
Falls are also more common with seniors, and if you fall once, you are more susceptible to another one. There are many risk factors that may contribute to a fall. As your risk factors increase, so does your probability for falling. Check out this informative post from the CDC regarding safety and falls.
When you work with a patient in their home, you have a great opportunity to provide individualized education, which can help improve medication safety, prevention of falls, and prevention of hospitalization. If you are a senior or family caregiver, make sure to talk with your physician to see if home health care is appropriate, if you have any home or health safety concerns.
When a patient has a change in health via new illness or recent hospitalization, their health safety may be at an increased risk.
Working in home care for many years, I have seen several situations that have led to health issues for patients.
It is imperative that a patient or family caregiver understands the areas of greatest risk, the symptoms to be alert to, and the plan to address them if they are present. Well written instructions, steps to take, and names/phone numbers are important to have available and clear. (This is my motive behind my Premium Resources: patient safety and best practices!)
Medication follow through is a signifiant issue in patient safety.
It is imperative to have an organized and regularly updated medication list for greatest safety. It is also important to follow the medication instructions in detail, and be aware of interactions and side effects. It is vital to communicate with your physician if you are unable to access/afford your medication, as they may want to adjust other medications in that situation. For greatest safety, make sure you connect with your physician or pharmacist if you have any concerns, or want to make any changes.
Home set up may be the most challenging area to consider in patient safety.
People can have many different physical challenges, and may live in such a variety of settings. Many homes have bedrooms up stairs, which can be tiring for people with weakness, and challenging for those with balance issues. You may be in a retirement facility with no steps, but have to walk 500 feet down a long hallway to meals. I have worked with patients who moved into a ranch home, only to realize the mailbox was difficult to access, or the garage had steps. Older homes may have all bathrooms and showers up stairs, or no rails on the front porch steps.
A home health assessment can be very helpful if a patient is having difficulty with home safety.
There may be adjustments that can make your home or situation much safer.
Is there equipment you can add to make the environment safer? You may need to add a piece of equipment such as a bath chair, an elevated toilet seat, or a few rails in the bathroom. It may be helpful to place a captain’s chair in the bedroom for dressing, or the bathroom for grooming. Many people put in additional rails near steps. Many seniors purchase second walkers or canes to make transitioning levels in the home, or getting to /from the car easier. *Make sure your cane tips are not worn down!!
Are the pathways to the rooms you use regularly safe? Another consideration is to evaluate the pathways of where you walk during the day: bedroom to/from bathroom, bedroom to/from kitchen, kitchen to/from living area, living area to/from car. Make sure the paths from room to room are open, well lit, and clear.
You want the path you walk to be wide enough for using a cane/walker/wheelchair so that you don’t quit using it, or become off balance due to “squeezing through”. Lighting is very important also-especially in bathrooms, hallways, and on the stairs.
The walking path should be clear of cords, papers, blankets, or any unnecessary items– especially the floor area around the chairs you use. I have had several patients fall because of blankets, newspapers, and heating pad cords near their feet, that tripped them when they stood up. Use a basket on your walker if needed, to keep your hands free when you walk through the house! (affiliate link)
Plan your activity to improve your safety at home.
Think through your daily routine, and make a list of the activities that seem challenging or tiring. Consider how to adjust a difficult route. Place a chair at the top or bottom of the stairs, add rails or grab bars by steps, add a ramp if needed, or keep a second walker/cane at the top or bottom of the steps. If you must take a longer walk, plan a spot to sit and rest, or time it for your most energetic time of day, and rest afterwards.
I had a patient who lived in a ranch, but had steep steps to the side door. They put a stair glide in to avoid those steps, and were able to remain independent at home. Stair glides are costly, but so is moving or recovering from a bad fall!!
There are many other ways to improve patient safety at home, including a health assessment for vision, footwear, balance etc!
I would love to hear what you think! What would you add for home safety? What are your biggest struggles with home safety? Subscribe for a few printable freebies!