Making the World Safe for Grandma: Safety Hazards for the Elderly

I’ve always had a close relationship with my grandmother, and that made it especially hard when I learned that she’d have to move into a retirement community. She had been fiercely independent for 20 years after my grandfather’s death and spent her time actively, doing what she called “granny shenanigans” like donating to museums, writing letters to editors and feeding ducks at a park; she enjoyed those things anyway, but now that she was old she said it had become her duty.

When she wasn’t doing “granny shenanigans” she was doing what she had always done: practicing tai chi and mixing cocktails (she is particularly fond of Vodka Gimlets and Crème Sherry).

By the time she needed to move into a home, she was 85 (it’s unbelievable that it has already been 10 years since she moved in) and she was on the road to accepting a slightly toned down lifestyle. Her savings (and some research) helped her to find a nice community of apartment buildings that catered to the elderly: the management had a medical staff, alert systems, a fleet of vehicles for trips to the grocery or what have you, including some handicap vans for wheelchair bound residents. But most importantly they provided the community and comfort of human companionship that my grandmother had been missing ever since she’d lost Grandpa.

Companionship

Companionship is a real human necessity, just like vitamins, sunlight and shelter from the cold. Loneliness causes increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, as well as relapse of cardio problems. It can lead to decreased memory and learning and it can slide into bad decision-making. In the worst case scenario, it can be more or less fatal. So one of the main supports that my grandmother’s new residence offered her was a rather diffuse and hard-to-measure resource—other people.

Safety Hazards for the Elderly:

This autumn Grandma sprained her leg. That took away tai chi and the painkillers made it so she couldn’t mix her drinks. I decided to go take inventory of her living space and see if there was anything that could be done to make it safer as she is less light on her feet now than she was last year.

Mobility Aids

Because she had been in such good shape for so long, she didn’t have a need for walkers or wheelchairs, but once her leg sprained that changed. The community provided her with a wheelchair since it was a temporary injury and I made sure a walker was available to her when she was ready to ditch the chair.

Emergency Aids

The apartment’s security system was in order: smoke detectors worked, the fire extinguisher was new. I decided to get her an alert system just in case something happened and she couldn’t get to her phone.

Healthy Food

My grandmother was never the cakes, cookies, and pie type. Not in the traditional sense. She ate healthy nearly her whole life and the aforementioned grocery trips would only take residents to the nearby market, which was totally fine, but lacked some of the things she believed contributed to her “stellar health.” I hired a woman to come check on her twice a week and she would also supplement regular groceries with whatever my grandmother would want. Once a week, the aide would cook food for the next few days so my grandmother could continue to eat healthy in her old age.

Shower Chair

Baths take too long to draw, showers require standing on old bones for too long, so I bought my grandmother a shower chair. It was a bit of an awkward purchase for me, but she would go on and on about the joys of sitting in the shower, making it so awkward.

“I appreciate what you’re doing for me,” my grandmother wrote on a pad, “but this shower chair makes me feel incredibly old.” Grandma, I signed (for she was deaf), you are old. This made her smile wide.

 

Thomas Stone

Thomas Stone is health blogger at doseofmyown.com and he focuses primarily on the benefits of exercise and nutrition for health.

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