Tripping, falling and breaking a hip is a bad news scenario for seniors. That is why senior fitness expert Betty Perkins-Carpenter, PhD of Rochester, New York, stresses the importance of fall prevention and other safety measures when evaluating assisted living safety.
A recipient of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Achievement Award, the 79-year-old suggests individuals and families look for physical safety measures in combination with an atmosphere that encourages residents’ personal responsibility.
Where to Start for Assisted Living Safety
For starters, the author of “How to Prevent Falls” recommends assisted living communities provide a baseline of fire and supportive device safety. Smoke detectors and fire sprinklers as well as handrails and ample lighting need to be available not only in the hallways, but also in common or community areas such as dining rooms and activity rooms.
Otherwise, does the assisted living community provide safety locks on the windows, an emergency generator or alternative power source? Ask if the facility has fire drills and an emergency plan that is publicly displayed. Check apartments to see if the carpeting allows for the easy movement of walkers and canes. Is the bathroom equipped with a safety-signaling device, proper matting and safety bars?
Beyond these assisted living safety measures, Perkins-Carpenter provides further fall prevention tips. When walking through an assisted living community, check if the bottom step has recessed lighting or a strip of colored tape.
“When the last step is not differentiated, it’s an accident waiting to happen,” says the former Olympic diving coach. “In addition, make sure area rugs are not allowed to creep or project over the top step of a stairway. These little things tell you if a facility is alert to preventing falls.”
When evaluating assisted living safety also keep in mind, says Perkins-Carpenter, “The brighter the light the better, especially for people with vision loss, cataracts or trifocals.”
Bathrooms are another area of special concern for those evaluating the safety of an assisted living community. Appropriately placed handrails near the toilet and in and out of the shower are imperative. And does the shower (no tub, please) have a seat? Because many seniors experience occasional dizzy spells, shower seats are a critical measure in the prevention of falls.
Dr. Perkins-Carpenter advocates that individuals in assisted living communities take personal responsibility for fall prevention and their overall safety. In her book, she teaches people how to enhance their balance and strength through an easy six-step method, that includes stretching in bed, ball balancing and, yes, dancing with pillows.
Just as it sounds, seniors at assisted living communities are invited to hold a pillow to their chest with one arm and lift the other in the air. Then, move with the flow. “Dancing with pillows takes seniors to another time and place when they had no infirmities,” observes Perkins-Carpenter. “It’s fun and they discover they are capable of more activity than they thought.”
Written by senior care writer Leslee Jaquette