Most of us await the holiday season for usually the same reasons: food, rest, bonuses, presents, and togetherness. Because of the excitement and thrill, we suddenly overlook safety and forget the several hazards of the hustle and bustle that our vulnerable loved ones—children, pets, and seniors—are exposed to. According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, over 12,500 of you have to leave the company of your loved ones to rush to the emergency room due to holiday-related accidental injuries.
Seniors are particularly more at risk during the holiday season than any other age group, so it's important that everyone takes extra precautions regarding safety for seniors at this time of year.
Keep the “happy” in "Happy holidays" by making sure you keep your elderly loved ones safe this holiday season.
Holiday Season Safety for Your Elderly Loved Ones
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, falls are the leading cause of injuries and deaths among elderly Americans. Around 33% of the elderly fall at least once a year, and these falls result in over 2 million visits to the emergency room. Even when the fall did not cause any serious injury, the experience can still be so frightening to seniors that they may avoid certain activities all because they’re afraid they’ll fall again.
When decorating your home, it's important to make sure that walkways are kept clear to reduce the risk of a senior stumbling or tripping. Use basic decorations that won’t create clutter, and always confirm that there is plenty of space to walk in rooms and hallways. Be sure to keep extension cords out of the way of walking areas to avoid risks of falling. You may also consider rearranging furniture so everyone can comfortably move around it. Also, move Christmas grocery items to lower shelves so they don't have to use step stools to reach them.
Decorations are also prone to house fires. Avoid any decorations that are made of flammable materials including tissue paper, tinsel, and cotton. Stick with flame-resistant decorations so you'll reduce the risk of fire significantly. One of the main concerns for any household is the Christmas tree. If your senior loved one would like to put up a tree, use an artificial one. They're much less likely to catch fire than live trees and can be just as beautiful. However, make sure your tree is on a sturdy stand so no pets, kids, or even adults can knock it over and catch carpeting, tree limbs, or drapes on fire.
Toys from pets and children can become tripping hazards. If your elderly loved one is just visiting, keep your children’s toys or pets’ toys away as much as possible. Perhaps you can identify a special out-of-the-way space for children to play with their new toys while the older person is in your home. Don’t forget to keep the family pets from playing around while the senior is walking through the house.
Poor lighting and decreased vision are common culprits of slips and falls among the elderly. We all know a person's eyesight changes as they age. Indeed, many falls in the senior community occur because of vision problems or limitations, but many of these risks can easily be reduced by using adequate lighting and making sure that lighting is working properly. Add more lighting or replace some bulbs with brighter lights if necessary. Also, consider replacing traditional switches with glow-in-the-dark or illuminated switches to make sure all light switches are easily accessible for them. Put a nightlight in the bedroom and bathroom the senior will be using.
To counter decreased vision during the holiday season, families should add more lighting or brighter lights if necessary. Subdued holiday lighting can mask fall hazards and make it challenging to see around furnishings in the home, so forget about dim or moody holiday lighting for now. You don’t want that to cost a life. However, don't forget to unplug all these holiday lights and put out all the candles at the end of the night. We highly suggest you use battery-powered candles instead of real candles, however. But if you still prefer using real candles, keep these sources of fire shuttered or isolated and never leave them unattended. Don’t forget your fireplace if you have one.
Electrical issues are another fire hazard to consider. Once you hang holiday lights or use illuminated decorations, you're bound to have extra cords running throughout the house. Ensure that all these decorations are in good working condition before even using them! This means high-quality lights and no frayed wires or broken bulbs. You should also make sure the extra yardage on cords is stowed safely. Keep cords out of walkways, and finally, be sure not to overload outlets with too many extension cords.
Keeping fire safety at the top of your mind in the house during this joyous but hectic time is important, especially when there’s a lot of activity and people at home. Many seniors like to cook for their families during the holidays. It's a wonderful tradition, but cooking is also the number one cause of house fires this time of year. Food that's being cooked should never be left unattended, and seniors have a huge tendency to forget that they’re cooking something. Perhaps you can encourage them to take a more advisory role this year while the younger generation shoulders the cooking, hosting, organizing, and clean-up duty. If they insist to cook, then do the cooking with them. But don’t get too confident now. Make use of phone alarms and reminders so you both don’t forget
Install a smoke alarm near your kitchen, on each level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. And having a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, just in case, is a must. Put up the fire extinguisher not more than 10 feet from the stove, on the exit side of the room. And make sure that you know how to use your fire extinguisher!
Understand your senior family member’s dietary needs, restrictions, likes, and dislikes. Be open to trying new recipes and starting new, healthier food traditions that will benefit everyone in the family, including your senior loved ones. Note that food poisoning is also a common problem during the holidays. Be considerate about your elderly family member's—and everyone else’s—food sensitivities and allergies. Don’t reuse plates, bowls, or cutting boards that have come into contact with raw meat or eggs. Always wash your hands thoroughly before preparing food, after handling any raw poultry or meat, and before eating. Clean and sanitize your food preparation surfaces and utensils to reduce the risk of salmonella poisoning. Use separate cutting boards: one for meat, poultry, and fish and one for cooked foods, vegetables, and fruits. Sanitize the cutting board after each use. Wash all vegetables and fruits before you prepare them.
Prepare healthy, tasty alternatives for family members with sensitive stomachs. Refrigerate all leftovers within two hours after cooking. Leftovers should be eaten within three or four days. If you are going to freeze leftovers, do that right away, not after they have been refrigerated for several days.
If you have a senior loved one coming to stay for the holidays, make it as easy as possible for them to navigate. Let them stay in a first-floor room close to the bathroom. You may also have to move all the rooms they need to use to the first floor so they don’t have to climb up the steps. Minimize the need of having them coming upstairs. All celebrations should be downstairs as much as possible.
If you have time to install them, grab bars and handrails are actually crucial for many simple daily activities such as going up and down the stairs, getting on and off the toilet, stepping in and out of the bathtub, and even walking along the hallways.
Love and support
While aging can bring wisdom and experience, there are inevitable losses that even the healthiest seniors face. Loved ones and friends fall ill and pass away. Energy and mobility levels often decrease, resulting in feelings of lost independence and opportunities. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, older adults who are socially isolated are at higher risk for depression. The holiday season’s focus on family, friends, and togetherness during this time of year can actually bring melancholy feelings to the forefront for many elders.
If you believe that your grandparent, parent, or spouse may be feeling lonely or depressed during this holiday season, there are steps that you can take to help lift their spirits. Make them feel loved and included this season is to simply spend time with them. Help them add decorative touches to their room. Try to decorate in stages to prolong the fun and give them something to look forward to. Many seniors enjoy reflecting on past holidays as they unpack cherished decorations, so be sure to listen to their stories and ask about special items. Look at family photos, watch home videos or holiday movies, listen to seasonal music, or do crafts together. If possible, ask family members and friends to contribute a simple card, photograph, or drawing.
Be especially careful not to act like what you do for them is done out of a sense of duty. Show them they are loved.
Juggle elderly family members and the holiday season festivities can be tough! Do what you can to help your senior loved one feel involved because they are still part of the family. Remind them how important they are as a part of your life, your family members’ lives, and these annual holiday celebrations.