Current Topics in Health, Healthcare & Your Practice
Keeping Patients Safe at Home
Health care often deals with lifestyle issues including diet, smoking, and exercise. But one of the most important issues for a senior or physically-challenged patient is their ability to function safely at home.
That's where accessibility solutions differ from mobility. A wheelchair or power chair provides the transport; accessibility products, such as stair lifts, ramps and a wide range of other products noted later in this article, help ensure that the individual can access their home and avoid falls.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, "one out of three older people falls each year, but fewer than half tell their doctor. Falling once doubles chances of falling again."
Your intervention via direct questioning could make a difference.
Assessing the Patient's Home Safety
A few simple questions help ascertain the patient's safety at home and just as important, they can make your patient aware of the need to consider solutions.
Can you easily enter your home? (Or with a mobility device if relevant?)
Does your home have another floor that is difficult to access?
Can you easily enter your bath or shower? And do you feel steady while bathing?
Are you preparing healthy meals? Is it difficult to move around the kitchen (or reach counters or shelves if using a power chair)
How do you reach high shelves?
Since falls are the greatest danger for seniors, a positive attitude can help them accept simple adaptations that may enable them to enjoy their daily life and remain in their home as long as possible.
Nearly 90 percent of people over age 65 want to stay in their home for as long as possible... However, for older adults to age in place, their physical and service environment must be accommodating.
Mobility products may be covered by Medicare or other insurers when medically necessary. Unfortunately, home accessibility products are rarely, if ever, covered.
Occasionally, depending on state, Medicaid will cover some medically-necessary items provided they enable individuals to remain in their homes and avoid nursing home placement. In addition, some outside sources such as state, non-profit, or foundation grants may cover some costs to adapt a home for safety.¹
In any case, living independently at home for as long as possible is not just preferable for comfort, privacy and lifestyle, but is usually more economical than an assisted living facility.
Good News for Doctor-Patient Communication
Seniors overwhelmingly report that they have good lines of communication with their doctors. Only 4 percent of seniors say they communicate poorly with their doctors regarding health questions and concerns.
AARP Survey 2012
Home Accessibility Solutions
The best solutions depend on patient's living situation and mobility. Below is a brief overview of potential accessibility options.
According to the National Institute on Aging, more than 80% of senior falls occur in the bathroom. Bathroom solutions include grab bars, tub rails, shower stools, toilet safety rails, and bath lifts. And, bed assist rails provide extra security.
Wider doorways, a roll-in shower, lower countertops, easy-reach electric switches, and many other home renovations make a home safer and more functional. Some renovation companies specialize in converting homes for those in power chairs and wheelchairs.
Accessibility solutions can be customized to the individual, their home and budget. Most important is that patients become aware that options are available. That knowledge can go far in enabling them to explore the best solutions in order to live at home safely, for as long as possible.
Patient Resources for Age in Place Planning
The Age in Place website offers a range of advice for individuals, including an excellent patient questionnaire that helps them plan for senior years based on physical, social and financial factors.