Experts offer safety tips for seniors, those with mobility issues

By: Sarah Wojcik | Metro | Published August 11, 2021

 Railings such as these can provide extra stability when navigating steps.

Railings such as these can provide extra stability when navigating steps.

Photo by David Wallace

METRO DETROIT — As humans age, they become frailer and more prone to serious injury or worse in the case of a fall.

With an increased awareness of their living space and the inclusion of helpful aids and devices, senior citizens and those with mobility issues can add a heightened level of safety to prevent injury and improve their quality of life.

Charlotte Balluff, a certified senior adviser and founder of A Place For You, a senior living and care consulting company, has been working with aging individuals for three decades.

Balluff offered a slew of tips for seniors or those with mobility issues to navigate their lives more safely.

“There’s millions of seniors that fall every year. It is a problem that affects their health and their ability to be independent,” she said. “It’s also a financial burden if someone really hurts themselves, with long hospital stays and rehab or getting help in the home if they’re not ready to be independent.”

While removing throw rugs and clutter from commonly used walkways is a simple way to prevent a slip, Balluff said her philosophy revolves more around a whole-home risk assessment and making sure an individual’s needs are being met. She categorizes solutions into no-cost, low-cost and higher-cost improvements.

No-cost solutions include ensuring that medications are taken as prescribed, with special attention to side effects, as well as regular monitoring of blood pressure to make sure it does not dip too low or rise too high.

“Many seniors fall because their blood pressure dropped and they weren’t monitoring their blood pressure,” Balluff said. “They should be taking their blood pressure on a daily or weekly basis, staying hydrated, and making sure their nutritional needs are met.”

Other no-cost solutions to living confidently, she said, include regular socialization and getting a minimum of two-and-a-half hours of aerobic exercise and two hours or more of muscle strengthening weekly.

“Rearranging furniture and removing any unnecessary furniture (allows) for easy movement throughout the living area,” Balluff said. “Rearranging kitchen cupboards and bathroom storage is a good plan to bring things down from high spaces.”

She recommended purchasing a cane or walker as a low-cost solution and, if a senior is particularly attached to a rug, to make sure it has a non-slip backing. Inexpensive non-slip backings can easily be installed to prevent a fall.

“Accenting step downs in living rooms with yellow tape or paint (offers an added layer of safety), especially if someone has dementia,” she said. “I suggest installing wall-mounted grab bars in the shower and toilet area of the bathroom.”

A shower chair is another low-cost device that can help prevent slips.

“Shower chairs can be very useful, even if a person doesn’t have mobility issues. If they are weak or frail, they’ll spend less time standing and more time taking care of the business they went in the shower for,” Balluff said.

She also recommended a bedside commode for seniors who have to use the bathroom multiple times each night, placing night lights along hallways, and keeping flashlights with charged batteries in easy-to-access areas of rooms.

“A Handybar is a really cool tool to prevent falling while getting into your car. It goes in the doorjamb,” she said. “Seniors can also add technology like medical alert devices.”

Balluff said her mother’s home is outfitted with fall detectors, she wears a medical alert bracelet, and she also carries a GPS locator in her purse when she leaves the house.

A lockbox also comes in handy, she said, in case a senior experiences an emergency and the doors are locked. Emergency personnel and family can enter the locked home without breaking down the door. Cameras inside the home can also connect a senior with loved ones.

Higher-priced items, she said, include stair lifts, lift chairs, walk-in showers and tubs, generators, and ramps.

“No matter how minimal a fall, a senior should always tell someone and seek medical treatment if the fall was unwitnessed,” Balluff said. “They may not remember or realize they hit their head, and as humans age, their brains decrease in size and can shift in the skull, causing brain bleed.”

John Siedlik, director of marketing and business development for AmeriCare Medical — a Troy-based company offering home health care, medical staffing and medical equipment — said a good place to start is with a hip kit, which is sometimes covered by insurance.

“It’s probably the most popular and affordable item you can get to help with accessibility and making life easier,” he said. “It has a reacher in it, a device to help put on socks, a shoe horn, a long-handled bath sponge and elastic shoelaces.”

One of the most common areas that needs to be renovated or outfitted, he said, is the bathroom. He recommended purchasing transfer benches to get into the shower, bath mats to reduce slips, a seat with a back, and grab bars.

“We do have suction (grab bars) so they can move them around and find the best space. The suction works really well, and they give you some maneuverability and opportunity to find your best place to put it,” Siedlik said. “Sometimes you take more showers or more baths.”

Power lift recliners are another helpful aid for those with limited mobility, he added. The motorized chairs can change a user’s position from lying down to upright sitting to totally standing.

While stairway lifts are expensive, generally starting around $600, Siedlik said they can solve long-term mobility issues. They can curve along stairs and bend around a landing.

Other solutions include interior handrails, custom stair rails, and both temporary and permanent ramps, he said.

“Medical equipment and supply companies are great providers for helping you find your way,” he said.