Nothing dampens the holiday spirit like someone getting hurt. Think ahead about potential hazards and challenges for older visitors.
My mother-in-law is over 80 but far from feeble. She enjoys downhill skiing and scuba diving, and basically can run circles around the rest of our family.
Her physical fitness and mental agility make it easy to forget that she might occasionally need a few accommodations when she visits us. Still, as I get older and less limber myself, I’m increasingly aware of potential hazards for her and other older guests. Nothing would ruin the holiday spirit more than someone getting hurt.
Some safety moves are pretty obvious — like using nightlights in bathrooms and hallways and keeping walkways to our home well-lit and clear of ice, snow and leaves. But experts helped point me to some safety and comfort tips I might not have thought of. Check them out as you consider the specific challenges facing your guests:
1. Invest in nonslip rug grippers
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I’ve slipped on throw rugs myself, so I know this idea from Keith Barnhardt, an expert from 101 Mobility, a supplier of mobility goods, is a great idea. You can find rug grippers at various retailers including Home Depot. Jennifer L. FitzPatrick, author of “Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing the Stress of Caring for Your Loved One,” goes even further and suggests removing throw rugs wherever possible. It’s always preferable to have a flat, unobstructed surface on which to walk.
2. Wrap up wires
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You may be used to stepping over wires you’ve strung across floors — think lamps, entertainment systems and computers plugged into various outlets — but guests may trip on them and fall. Barnhardt suggests using inexpensive floor cord covers to keep everyone safe. “They are simple to use and remove if necessary, but will ensure no one trips on the wires,” he says. “Often people will use a rug or mat, but this still poses as a potential tripping hazard.” You’ll find the covers at retailers including Amazon.
3. Get creative with bar soap
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Ever stayed at someone’s house overnight, dropped the soap in the shower, then banged your head on the soap dish after you retrieved it from the shower floor? Yes, me too. Barnhardt recommends placing bar soap in the foot of a nylon stocking. It helps people grip the soap, plus it’s great for exfoliating skin!
4. Bring up those lights
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Yes, it’s charming to spend an evening with just the glow of the fireplace and holiday lights, but low lighting can be dangerous, too. “As we age, we are at an increased risk for falls for a variety of reasons. When presents pile up and kids’ toys are scattered all over, a living room can be risky for an older adult to navigate,” said FitzPatrick. “It’s important to note that even though an older loved one might not look frail, if she is older than 65, her fall risk is increased. Vision changes as we age. It is better to have brighter lighting.”
5. Lower the temperature of your water heater
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“Elderly people lose a layer of adipose tissue [body fat] and are more susceptible to heat and cold,” says Marie Rhemann, an assistant clinical professor with Texas Woman’s University, Houston. “They also may not be able to react as quickly to unexpected hot water coming from the faucet.”
6. Consider seating options
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If you know a guest may have trouble getting out of a chair, supply a sturdy chair with arms to help them lift themselves out. Also, remember seating that is higher is generally easier to get into and out of, said Terri Lemere, an occupational therapist in Frederick, Maryland, who blogs with her twin sister, Pam, at Housewives of Frederick County.
7. Use kitchen helpers strategically
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Many guests want to help prepare holiday meals, but hauling heavy platters and hot liquids might not be the best tasks for older visitors. “For an active senior who has functional vision and no cognitive issues — you could have them sit at a table and cut up salad ingredients,” says Lemere. Other ideas for meal prep include sorting, stirring or measuring instead of chopping or cutting, according to Sharon Roth Maguire, chief clinical quality officer for BrightStar Care, a home care staffing company. “Encourage a seated position while doing baking activities,” she says. “Instead of removing cookies from a baking sheet, have them be the ones to place the cooled cookies into the storage container.”
8. Respect hearing limitations
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We’ve all been in groups where conversations can be difficult to hear. That’s even more common as people age, says Roth Maguire. “Certain sounds can be overwhelming and contribute to confusion and anxiety for the older adult especially those with hearing loss. For example, multiple loud conversations and background music simultaneously playing can sound like a mish-mash to the senior and cause them to withdraw from the conversation or festivities,” she says. “Try to create smaller more intimate conversation spots away from the crowd to enhance the seniors’ enjoyment.”
What measures do you take to accommodate older guests? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.