When one of your parents had an accident at home, no matter how minor, did you have a minor panic attack? Have you noticed your kids asking you the same questions you asked your parents, with the same concern in their voices?

“You fell? What hurts? Did you hit your head? Do you need an x-ray? Should I take you to the hospital?”

Sound familiar?

I am a big believer in being proactive. So, I did some research to find out more about home accidents and frankly I was shocked!

For starters, more accidents happen at home than anywhere else. Also, falls are the leading cause of home injury deaths, followed by poisoning, fires, and burns. This should be especially alarming for the women in the Sixty and Me community because more women than men over 65 die from accidents in the home.

We Need a Home Safety Checklist

Keeping safe in your “home, sweet home” takes some work. This is true for all of us. If I’m honest with myself, I worry about becoming a fall risk. My Jacuzzi tub is simply too hard to get out of safely. I’ve been known to try to carry too many groceries up the stairs at once to “save a trip.” I should probably just be safe and embrace the exercise!

Fortunately, I have been able to recover from a near trip in flip-flops (more than once) – but will the time come when I’m not able to catch myself?

I started thinking, why not have a home safety checklist in place to avoid the many possible, but fully preventable, home accidents? Here are a few ideas for each of the areas of your home.

Be Safe in the Bathroom

Thousands of people end up in emergency rooms every year due to falls and other injuries suffered in the bathroom, with one out of three injuries occurring while showering or bathing.

In addition, the likelihood of an injury while showering increases with age. As we get older, our balance tends to decrease and our ability to recover from a fall and “catch” ourselves before we hit the ground is lessened.

Fortunately, there are several things we can do to improve our safety in the bathroom.

For example, we can have grab bars installed in the shower, near the tub and by the toilet. And remember, the bars on glass shower doors are NOT grab bars. You need something solid to hold on to.

You may also want to consider upgrading your shower or tub to increase its accessibility and safety. New roll-in showers or walk-in tubs can make your life a lot easier – and safer.

Sometimes, even getting out of the shower safely can be tricky. That’s why you should put down rubber mats in the bathtub to prevent slipping.

Finally, you may want to consider changing your flooring if it gets particularly slippery when wet. If you’re using non-slip bath mats, ensure they are large enough to stay flat and do not in fact create a fall hazard.

Home Safety Checklist - Safety at home

Prevent Falls in the Rest of the House

Millions of adults over the age of 65 fall every year. A fall can cause moderate to severe injuries – and even death. Sadly, a fall can bring a person’s independence to a screeching halt. This is especially tragic, given the fact that falls are largely preventable. So, here are a few tips to prevent falls.

First and foremost, clear the clutter! Use storage bins, shelves or cupboards. Don’t store things on floors and certainly not on the stairs. Keep hallways, stairs, and paths well lit and clear of objects such as laundry, books, or shoes.

Next, consider installing railing on both sides of the stairs – inside the house and outside. Also, ensure that your stairs have a non-slip coating. There may have been a time the natural wood was beautiful, but it might be time to consider a carpet runner (firmly attached) to reduce the smooth surface.

Remove loose scatter rugs. Not only are they dangerous, but they’re a nuisance to clean! You may also want to wear flat, non-slip footwear throughout the house.

If you have a cane or a walker, use the darn thing! Holding onto a wall is not the same and is certainly not safe.

Put things that you use all the time in easy-to-reach places and never stand on a stair to try to reach something. Wait until someone can help you and then pick a more practical spot to store it.

Finally, you may want to buy a couple of extra cordless phones so you don’t have to feel like you should rush to answer the phone. And if you can’t get to it in time, it’s okay! Your friends and family will leave a message.

Prevent Food Poisoning

According to the World Health Organization there is a growing problem of food-borne illness around the world. There are three things that combine to make food dangerous.

First, remember that bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms need to be present on or in the food. Second, most harmful organisms require temperatures in the Danger Zone – between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Bacteria multiplies at alarming speed within this range. Finally, time is required. Temperatures in the Danger Zone are only hazardous if foods are kept longer than two hours – the time needed for bacteria to reproduce.

To help keep you safe in the kitchen, here are a few tips.

First and foremost, wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling food.

Defrost meat for grilling in the microwave or refrigerator. If you store the meat in an airtight bag, the meat can be defrosted in cold tap water, but change the water every 30 minutes. If you defrost the meat in the microwave, cook it immediately. Never refreeze thawed meat unless it is cooked.

Marinate meat and poultry in the refrigerator, not at room temperature on the kitchen counter. Also, never use marinade left over from use on raw meat or poultry on cooked foods.

Cook ground meat to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill bacteria. Use a meat thermometer for accuracy. If you’re ever in doubt about the safety of any food, just throw it out – it’s not worth the risk.

When traveling longer than 30 minutes with perishable foods, keep everything safe in a cooler surrounded by ice or gel packs.

I knew food poisoning was serious but I did not realize that the same pathogens that cause food poisoning could cause chronic arthritis, kidney failure, meningitis, and brain and nerve damage.

Efforts to prevent food poisoning should not be underestimated.

Home Safety Checklist - Prevent Food Poisoning

Avoid Fires and Burns

Fire injury prevention programs have been successful in reducing deaths and injuries due to fires over the past few decades. However, since fire and burns are still the third cause of injury in the home, we obviously have more work to do! Here are a few ideas.

Avoid burns from hot water. Set the thermostat on the water heater no higher than 120° F (48 C). This is safer for your grandchildren too!

Even if you are careful, accidents can still happen. So, keep a working fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Review how it works so you’re prepared in an emergency.

While, you’re reviewing your kitchen safety, do a quick inspection of electrical cords throughout your home and take note if any seem unusually hot when you unplug them. Replace appliances if you find the electrical cords are fraying or damaged.

Don’t use extension cords to plug extra lights or appliances into a socket. Cheap extension cords are not always the safest. Certain appliances, such as window air conditioners, need extra heavy gauge cords to accommodate the increased wattage.

Make sure you have working smoke alarms; replace the batteries twice a year and have a fire escape plan from every room in your house or apartment.

Never smoke in bed. In fact, don’t smoke at all! Quitting smoking is great for your health at any age.

Don’t leave candles burning unattended. The new battery operated candles are a much safer option and just as beautiful.

Turn off space heaters when you leave the room and never leave them on when you’re out of the house. Newer electrical appliances have built in safety features, but, why take any chances?

Be safe when cooking. Although we all multi-task, don’t leave the kitchen if you have pots and pans on the stove top. (Oh darn, that’s one more thing I’ve done! Left the kitchen only to come back to find a pot had either boiled over or boiled dry!)

When we consciously think about what we do that is reckless and recognize the danger we create, we are one step closer to changing the bad behavior for the future.

What are your worst habits – the ones that just invite an accident? What steps have you taken to make your house safer recently? Please join the conversation.

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