Home safety

By Alan Koenigsberg, M.D.

Continuing with the theme of a healthy new year, several miscellaneous thoughts occurred to me about home health and safety.

If you are taking medications regularly, please consider buying four weekly pill boxes and use them instead of taking pills out of their original container every time you need them. It’s well worth the few dollars to do so. In fact, I give every new patient a one-week pill container for just that reason.

Taking the same medications for an extended period of time, it’s incredibly easy to pause, look at the bottle and wonder if one took the medication or not. By taking about 15 minutes monthly and filling four pill boxes with your meds, you have now removed that possibility. If the meds are in that day’s compartment, you haven’t taken them.

Next, safety around the house. If you don’t have grab bars in the bath or shower, please seriously consider buying and installing a pair. They are inexpensive and last six to 12 months. I recommend getting the longer pair (about 18 inches) and installing them at a 45-degree angle, not vertically or horizontally. They mount via suction cups and take a few minutes to install. If you have the opportunity to permanently install them via long screws in the wall, that’s a more permanent solution. The suction cups are an excellent option, however.

I recommend a quick check every time you step in the bath or shower, to ensure the suction is proper. They are readily available at big-box stores and online.

Then there are adhesive strips for the bath or shower tub floor. Many of the bath and shower floors can become rather slippery; these adhesive strips affix easily to the floor and provide a friction surface that can aid in fall prevention.

Keeping bath and other floor mats firmly affixed to the floor is another recommendation. Many floor mats do have some sort of rubber bottom that helps keep the mat from moving, but many don’t. Make sure yours are firmly set in place.

If you are comfortable with some form of smart speaker in the bathroom, not only can that provide news and weather, but in a pinch, you can alert the smart speaker to call someone if you need help. Most of the smart speakers have an option to cover the camera, or you can just put a band-aid over the camera for privacy in the bathroom.

Another option with some smart speaker systems is that you can activate them and call a family member or friend with voice commands if you have it set up that way. In the event that you need help, you can verbally activate the smart speaker and ask it to call the phone of the person you have programmed it to call.

Having adequate lighting is essential as we get older. Not only do some of us develop cataracts and not realize it’s getting more difficult to see, but older people are a bit less stable and insufficient lighting can add to the likelihood of falls if one can’t clearly see cords or pets on the floor.

Lastly, falls tend to be more common as we age. One concern I have run into regularly is older men and women having their blood pressure drop too low. The golden idea of 120/80 is indeed appropriate for most people in their 30s, but when we get past our 70s, most have at least some hardening of the arteries and require higher blood pressure to ensure adequate oxygen to the brain.

Some physicians are not well-trained about the older population and may prescribe antihypertensive medication to lower the blood pressure; this may precipitate falling. Please discuss this at length with your treating physician if you feel faint or dizzy and are taking blood pressure medicine.

If you have any additional health or safety suggestions, please let me know!

Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas. He can be reached at akoenigsberg@mac.com.

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