by Joyce Payne
For New Pittsburgh Courier
(NNPA)—Spring has sprung! While many of us are beginning to clear out the clutter in our homes, we also may be helping loved ones with those same chores. And while you’re visiting your mom or dad, this time of year also offers the perfect opportunity for important conversations with them about staying safe at home.
For instance, you may help your loved one by cleaning the kitchen and inside the refrigerator. At the same time, you can find out if your mom is eating a balanced nutritional diet or keeping food longer than is safe. Engage your mom in conversation, and talk about what you’re seeing in the fridge. You may say something like, “Mom, this beef stew looks really good, what recipe did you use?” Or, “This chicken has got a lot of mold on it. How long has it been in here?”
DR. JOYCE PAYNE
You can follow up with other questions to find out if your mom is having difficulty seeing what’s in the refrigerator, preparing meals, or even getting to the grocery store.
Next, check out the bathroom. If you’re scrubbing the floor, see if the tile is non-skid. This is especially important because statistics show that more than one-third of adults age 65 and older fall each year in the U.S. That floor you are cleaning could be the biggest safety hazard in your loved one’s home.
The medicine cabinet is another source of important information. Be sure to look at the expiration dates on the prescription bottles and any over-the-counter products. Also, match up the different types of medications to the current list that you keep of the drugs your mom or dad takes.
Another key room to inspect is the bedroom. If your loved ones have area rugs, be sure to notice if rugs are frayed or if they slip around on the floor. Attach double-sided tape to keep rugs in place. And as you’re cleaning out the closet and dressers, you can also be checking out the condition of your parents’ clothing. You might notice that there are dirty clothes. This might mean that it’s getting harder for them to do the laundry. The washer and dryer may be too far away if located in the basement; or perhaps your mom’s arthritis is making it hard for her to load and unload clothes.
If your loved one’s house has stairs, check to see if the handrails are sturdy. Are the treads on the stairs covered with old and slippery carpeting? Also, how well lit is the staircase, both at the top and the bottom? If you see something, that concerns you, say to mom, “I noticed that the old carpeting on the stairs is looking worn. Have you or dad had any problems with your footing?”
Let’s not forget that spring cleaning wouldn’t be complete without the proverbial window cleaning. And believe it or not, this can really make a difference. Research shows that more natural light is better for everyone, especially for people with aging eyes. So clean both the inside and outside of the windows, and examine the window treatments to ensure that they are not blocking sunlight.
Spring cleaning can also be a chance to update the light bulbs throughout the house. Consider using compact fluorescent bulbs. They’ve been proven to be an effective investment that can save money and increase brightness.
In high traffic areas like halls and doorways, it’s easy to accumulate piles of things. So, tidying up improves both appearance and safety. Clutter can result in falls, and most fractures among older adults are caused by falls. Even more importantly, many people who fall develop a fear of falling that can cause them to limit their daily activity.
If your loved one’s home doesn’t have a smoke detector, spring is a great time to install one. Otherwise, check the batteries of the existing smoke detector and make sure it is functioning properly. Other security devices such as fire extinguishers or carbon monoxide monitors should be checked as well. Finally, this is a good time to make sure both you and/or a trusted neighbor have keys to your mom’s house so that someone can get in should a need arise.
(Dr. Joyce Payne is board chair, AARP Foundation.)