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Senior Safety in Long-Term Care: What to Look For

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Senior Safety in Long-Term Care: What to Look For
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Senior Safety in Long-Term Care: What to Look For

July 26, 2021

One of the primary reasons family members and caregivers step in to assist seniors is to keep them safe. As we age, our physical and mental capacities naturally diminish. This presents safety issues with daily living activities. A good alternative to keeping seniors safe at home can be long-term care. The decision to move your loved one to a long-term care home should be made with a focus on safety.

an elderly person holding a rail for stability

Why is Patient Safety in Long-Term Care Facilities So Important? 

Seniors are particularly vulnerable to safety concerns because of certain medical conditions or simply the frailties and diminished capacities that can come with aging. As a caregiver, you know a fall or an accidental medication mix-up could reduce the quality of life for your senior loved one. It is important to prioritize safety when considering long-term care options. The right long-term care option, with appropriate safety precautions and an active social community, could actually improve the quality of life for aging seniors.

Meeting Senior Safety Needs: From Independent Living to Memory Care 

Seniors have a wide range of needs, which can change over time. Independent living, for those who are able, can be more enjoyable in a place that is designed for senior living. Independent living communities offer plenty of amenities as well as accessibility features that support different physical abilities, personal emergency response devices and more. In many independent living communities, you can also have peace of mind knowing that if your loved one reaches a point where they need more assistance, the care they require is available nearby.

Some seniors will progress from independent living to assisted living. Others begin their long-term care journey with memory care. The advantage of being in a reputable senior care center with long-term care at any stage is that changing needs can be met within the same community. Safety should always be a priority at each level of long-term care.

Physical Safety in Long-Term Care 

Physical safety in long-term care starts with fall prevention measures. Seniors are likely to have balance issues, brittle bones and heal more slowly. A long-term care facility should provide physical safety measures for seniors, including grab bars in bathrooms, handrails in hallways, elevators as well as stairs, appropriate lighting and flooring that does not present trip or slip hazards. In addition, plenty of supervision by staff and an alert system in case of injury will help keep your loved one safe in a long-term care community.

Most household accidents happen in the kitchen or the bathroom, so these areas should be designed for senior safety. Grab bars, higher toilet seats, and low-threshold showers with seats help seniors avoid accidents in the bathroom. Fire hazards in the kitchen should be reduced by keeping towels and draperies away from the stove. Automatic fire prevention systems and alert systems that can be triggered in case of an accident are also necessary.

The security of a long-term care facility also contributes to the physical safety of your loved one. Guests should be checked in when they enter to keep strangers from coming in. In a memory care facility where residents are experiencing dementia, the environment should be secure and monitored to keep seniors from wandering off-site.

Prioritizing Emotional Safety for Senior Wellbeing 

Moving to a long-term care community is a big adjustment for most seniors. Think of it like going off to college without the ambition and bravado of youth. As their first contact in long-term care, the staff can play a big part in how quickly your senior loved one gets adjusted to their new surroundings. Well-trained, compassionate associates should check in with your loved one, ask how they are feeling, and develop a rapport. They will be the first to notice any behavior or mood changes that might show mental health issues.

Long-term care communities should include activities to make it easier for seniors to socialize and help them enjoy their days. Seniors who are active to the highest level of their ability and part of a social network of friends are more likely to maintain positive mental health. Declining mental health, depression and anxiety can be part of the aging process, but the right long-term care program can promote emotional safety and a positive mental outlook.

Long-Term Care Homes Should be Designed for Safety 

Safety is in the design of a quality long-term care community. Every detail should be configured to make it easy and safe for people who have reduced mobility to get around. Handrails in the hallways help prevent falling for people who are sometimes unsteady on their feet. Elevators are much safer than stairs for multi-level buildings. Even doorknob design can improve safety by including levers rather than round knobs which can be difficult to grasp. There should be no area rugs or other tripping hazards. Wall-to-wall carpets are less slippery than hard-surface floors, and they provide a softer landing, just in case.

When you tour a long-term care community, think about how accessible it would be for someone with a walker or in a wheelchair. Spaces need to be uncluttered and large enough to turn around; directional signs need to be easy to read from any height. These are the details that help keep residents safe. Ask yourself, does the community offer all the safety precautions it should to keep your loved one safe?

Senior Safety During Natural Disasters 

We hope a natural disaster never happens, but if it does, we need to be prepared. A safe senior living facility has a detailed plan for emergencies like natural disasters, no matter how unlikely. The plan should include everything from who is in charge to how to evacuate residents. If a natural disaster strikes, there will be no time for thinking and organizing. The plan has to be in place and rehearsed before anything happens.

Every staff member should know what to do in case of a natural disaster. Residents may need to be evacuated without the use of the elevator. In addition to residents, medications and records will need to be accounted for and family members notified. Ask to see a copy of the plan to be sure it is thorough.

Hazards in Senior Care Facilities: What to Watch For 

Environmental hazards in care communities such as wet floors or beds that are the wrong height can contribute to the fall rate. Here is a checklist you can use during a long-term care community tour to gather the information you will need to assess the safety of the facility:

  • Flooring Surfaces: Are they well-maintained? Do they present tripping or slipping hazards?
  • Lighting: Are areas bright enough to prevent tripping over obstacles? Is the lighting so bright it creates a glare?
  • Bathrooms: Do they include adequate grab handles? Are items positioned to prevent bending or stooping to reach?
  • Safety Alerts: Do all living areas have a safety alert system used to call for help? Are they in good working order?
  • Seating: Are chairs too low or too soft to facilitate getting up and down? Do chairs have sturdy armrests?
  • Medication Administration: How are medications administered? Are there double-checks built into the process?
  • Idle Residents: Are there many residents sitting alone not talking or engaged in any activity?
  • Security: Is there a monitored security system to prevent residents from leaving and unauthorized visitors?
  • Abuse: Have there been any reports of abuse? How are abuse allegations handled?

National patient safety goals for long-term care facilities for 2021 include identifying residents correctly, using medicines safely, preventing infection, preventing falls and preventing bedsores. These goals are based on identified problems in healthcare safety and provide some good areas to focus on when assessing the safety of long-term care homes.

Senior Safety at Home: Is the Cost Worth it? 

The alternative to senior safety in long-term care is learning how to keep seniors safe at home. Most seniors reach a point where they are no longer safe in their existing home. That two-story house where they raised their kids is not safe for your senior loved ones to live alone. Modifications can be made to improve their safety, but at what cost?

Older two-story homes don’t usually have a full bathroom on the first floor. This is a necessity to keep seniors from walking up and down stairs all day. Bathrooms need to be fitted with grab bars, higher toilet seats, and low-threshold showers. Getting in and out of a bathtub is extremely dangerous for seniors. Creating a bedroom on the main level may also be important, now or in the future.

Kitchens should be remodeled to make cooking safer and easier. Fire hazards like towels and draperies near the stove should be relocated and passive fire suppression systems installed. Install a pull-out pantry and drawers rather than cabinets. These put items where they are easy to see and reach rather than having to bend or stretch for things. Replace existing flooring with slip-resistant material and be sure there is enough room to move through the kitchen with a walker or wheelchair. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines recommend 40 inches between surfaces.

In addition to the changes on the inside of the house, most seniors will need help maintaining the outside of their property. It is not safe for seniors to climb ladders to clean gutters and windows seasonally. Even cutting the grass once a week will become unsafe. Snow and ice removal in the winter will also need to be handled. Otherwise, seniors may risk falling just stepping outside their door to get the mail.

If the neighborhood has declined over the years, you may need to consider better locks on the doors and windows or a monitored security system. Even in good neighborhoods, seniors tend to be the target of crimes. They are more likely to open the door for a pleasant stranger or give money to what sounds like a worthy cause. Senior safety tips, like cautions about not opening the door for strangers, are good reminders and should be repeated often.

Even with all these improvements, there are inherent dangers for seniors living alone. Without these changes and constant home maintenance, it is not safe for your senior loved ones to age in place. For most seniors, a long-term care community is the safest solution.

When you are ready to look at long-term care for your loved one, check out Elmcroft Senior Living communities, where we prioritize safety and excellent care. Learn more about how Elmcroft keeps seniors safe.

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