The holiday season is usually a joyful time of year meant for getting together with family and friends. It’s a time to reflect on our lives and loved ones, and certainly a time for celebration. The holiday season, with its festivities and decorations, is not without its health and safety risks. In fact, it can be one of the most dangerous times of year for seniors.
We at LifeFone are committed to your safety. Falls are more likely to occur at this time of year, but there is a lot you can do to prevent them. Please read on for some tips from the experts.
Indoor Holiday Safety
According to Boomers-with-elderly-parents.com, holiday decorations are blamed on many elderly falls and senior accidents in and outside the home. Caregivers should look for potential dangers or fall hazards that may prove dangerous to the overall well-being and safety of family members and friends over 65. You can and should use your traditional holiday season decorations, but be aware of how they may affect the ability of your loved ones to navigate the home or property without increasing safety risks.
For example, if your living room is decorated with a Christmas tree, several floor arrangements and extra decorations on the tables, make sure there is enough room for a walker, scooter or wheelchair so that your parent can navigate the space if she or he is using any of this equipment.
Extra electrical cords used to plug in Christmas trees, Menorah candles, lights and tabletop decorations may prove to be an elderly fall risk. And decorative floor rugs or furniture throws can also pose problems. Falls can be prevented by taking a careful look at your holiday decor and objectively determining whether it creates hazards for the elderly in the home.
An individual with Parkinson’s disease may be unable, or unwilling, to lift his feet from the floor when walking. The shuffling gait associated with Parkinson’s disease and other conditions may very well prove hazardous if extension cords and electrical cords cross hallways, flooring or near the front door unless they are secured down with duct tape.
If you or an elderly loved one needs to reach down to plug in the Christmas tree lights, will it increase the chance of falling or bumping into other nearby objects? Speaking of electrical cords, are you following adequate safety when using outlets and not plugging too many electrical cords into one receptacle?
Holiday decorations add ambiance to any room, but too much clutter can be overwhelming for an elderly person diagnosed with dementia. If someone in your home has Alzheimer’s, you may not want to set that bowl of holiday fruit decorations on your coffee table, or she may mistake it for edible food.
Outdoor Holiday Safety
When decorating outdoors, make sure that extension cords for outside lighting and yard or lawn decorations are tucked safely against the base of buildings or along the sides of walkways and paths and won’t cause a trip or fall hazard for older residents. In winter conditions, ensure that walkways, patios and driveways are kept clear of snow and ice.
In the fall, raking leaves, sweeping and bundling piles of leaves into trash bags result in an alarming number of trips and falls among the elderly. Outdoor decorating for the holidays is another task that may be more enjoyable than raking leaves, but still poses greater risks of falling for those over 65. If there’s a way to get help with this task, it’s a great idea. And take a good look at the decorations that you’ve used for years to make sure that they will not block a path, shine light in a pathway that may impact night vision, or pose any other safety risks for seniors whose balance and vision are not what they used to be.
Consume Alcohol in Moderation
Common sense, if not personal experience, will tell you that alcohol consumption affects balance at any age, making you more likely to fall. Agingincanada.ca, a website dedicated to alcohol issues that affect older adults, reports that excess alcohol consumption can damage our bones, and that people who drink alcohol at high levels are at greater risk of bone thinning and fractures. However, there have been some studies that suggest that moderate alcohol consumption (one drink per day) can have a beneficial effect on bone mineral density.
Alcohol literature usually lists frequent falls as a sign that a senior may have an alcohol problem. Alcohol is well recognized as having an important role in falls among young people. And many of the health consequences of long term drinking, such as peripheral neuropathy, are known to be associated with older adults falling. Brain imaging research also indicates that heavy alcohol consumption leads to shrinkage of the cerebellum, which helps regulate coordination and balance.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), consuming 14 drinks or more per week (two or more drinks per day) has been shown to elevate the risk of falling. Long-term alcohol use combined with age-related decline in the portion of the brain that controls posture and balance can increase age-related postural instability and increase the likelihood of falling. In addition, alcohol use can accelerate the loss of postural control.
Alcohol consumption also increases the risk of hip fracture. It may be due to the increased risk of falling while a person is intoxicated, combined with the decrease in bone density that is associated with alcoholism.
Every individual’s health situation is different. Some medications do not mix well with alcohol. The bottom line is this: If your doctor advises you that it’s safe for you to consume alcohol and you are over the age of 65, like everyone else, it’s truly best for you to drink in moderation. There are many occasions to toast and have a cup of good cheer during the holiday season. If you want to prevent falls, our advice is to limit your intake to no more than one drink per day.
Wear Sensible Shoes
You may have heard this advice – and given it – over the years. It turns out there is scientific evidence to support this sensible recommendation. High heels can do more than give you corns and bunions. The WHO has confirmed what many of us already know; high-heeled shoes impair balance and are thus associated with an increased risk of falling.
To avoid falls, it’s not only about what shoes you wear, but also about actually wearing them. The WHO reports that 25% of older people do not wear shoes indoors. Whenever or wherever you’re walking, walk wearing shoes. Walking barefoot or even wearing only
socks or slippers increases the risk of falling at home. The U.K.’s Department of Veteran’s Affairs recommends in their Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development that older people should wear shoes with low heels and firm slip-resistant soles both inside and outside the home. Such shoes give you the traction you need to help prevent falls.
Home Heating Safety
The holiday season is winter season, and for those of us not living in a warm climate, that usually means home heating and fires in the fireplace. If often also means lit candles. According to Comfortkeepers.com, people age 65 and older are three times more likely than younger people to die or be injured in a house fire.
Seniors also need to beware of the dangers of carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that can be given off by heating devices fueled by gas, oil, kerosene or wood. Carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in the bloodstream and can cause headache, dizziness, nausea, convulsions and death within two hours. The effects can happen even faster for someone with a respiratory or heart condition. Here are some precautions that you should consider taking:
- Install smoke detectors on all floors and carbon monoxide detectors in areas where fuels are being burned. Replace batteries annually.
- Have all chimneys and flues inspected yearly and cleaned as needed.
- Before winter, have the furnace inspected to make certain it is in good, safe operating condition.
- Open a window slightly if using a kerosene stove.
- Place space heaters at least three feet from curtains, bedding, furniture and anything else that might burn.
- Keep a fire extinguisher handy, replace as needed and know how to use it.
If you are a senior and experience a winter power outage, seek help to get to an emergency shelter if necessary, particularly in the event of a prolonged outage. You will also want to make sure that your friends and family know of your whereabouts. It’s advisable to have a Personal Emergency Alarm Service (PERS) to summon help in an emergency and make the necessary notifications to family and friends on your behalf.
Seniors should have plenty of warm blankets, candles and working flashlights and batteries on hand, along with an emergency supply of canned goods and other food. To preserve food, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as long as possible. An unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours. A full, unopened freezer will keep foods for about 48; half full, it will keep about 24 hours.
Avoid driving during and after winter storms, but if you must:
- Keep the gas tank full.
- Let someone know your destination, route and expected time of arrival, and bring your cell phone.
- Check for construction detours, and for longer trips, get a weather forecast before you leave. Most states and/or state law enforcement agencies provide road-and-highway information either on-line or at a 1-800 number; check to see what conditions they report before leaving. Visit the Federal Highway Administration’s related webpage, “National Traffic and Road Closure Information”
- Keep an emergency travel kit in the trunk, including a snow shovel, blankets, flashlight, water, and first aid kit.
- If your car gets stuck, stay with it. Start the car and use the heater for about 10 minutes every hour. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow so fumes do not back up in the car. Keep arms and legs moving to keep blood circulating and stay warm. Keep a window open to let in air.
- Travel during daylight hours if possible.
- Carry a cell phone with you (but don’t use it while driving). If possible, know the emergency cell codes for the area you’re in. Click here for a state-by-state listing of highway-related cellphone codes
At LifeFone, we believe the best way to handle emergencies is to try to avoid them. But when they do happen, it’s important to be prepared. That’s why we’re here to help at the press of a button 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. For more information, just call us at 1-800-882-2280.
We wish you a safe and joyous holiday season and peace and health in the coming year.