Home Safety Guide for Caregivers

All patients and their families need to take special precautions to ensure a safe living environment. Most hazards that can impact your health and safety can be removed or made less dangerous. The following list will help you find ways to make your home a safer place for your recovery. Please talk to your nurse or therapist or call your local branch office at any time you have questions or concerns about patient safety.

Home Set-Up and Moving Around Safely

At least half of all falls happen at home. Each year, thousands of older Americans experience falls that result in serious injuries, disability, and even death. Falls are often due to hazards that are easily overlooked and easy to fix. Your nurse or therapist will let you know what places you at risk for a fall. Our therapy team can develop a treatment plan that addresses your specific risks. Part of the plan may include teaching you how to safely get up off the floor in the event that you suffer a fall.

Review each of the following safety tips and note the ones you need to work on:

Keep emergency phone numbers in large print near each phone or programmed in the phone’s memory.

Carry a phone with you whenever you can in case you fall and need to call for help.

Consider wearing an alarm device that brings help if you fall and can’t get up.

Get up slowly after you sit or lie down. Use an assistive device for extra stability, if needed.

If you use a cane or walker, have an extra one on each level of your home.

Wear supportive shoes with safe soles and heels as recommended by your therapist.

Remove things you can trip over (such as papers, books, cords, and shoes) from stairs and places you walk.

Remove small rugs or use double-sided tape to keep them from slipping.

Remove furniture and other obstacles as recommended by your nurse or therapist.

Clean up spills right away.

Keep items used often within easy reach (about waist high) in cabinets.

Place a lamp, flashlight, and extra batteries within easy reach of your bed.

Place night lights in bathrooms and walkways so you can see where to walk at night.

Make sure stairways, halls, entrances, and outside steps are well lit. Have a light switch at the top and bottom of the stairs.

Fix loose handrails or put in new ones. Make sure handrails are on both sides of the stairs and are as long as the full flight of steps. Fix loose or uneven steps.

Install grab bars next to your toilet and in the tub or shower.

Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors.

Use an elevated toilet seat and/or shower stool, if needed.

Have your nurse, doctor, or pharmacist look at all medicines you take, even over-the-counter medicines. Some medications can make you sleepy or dizzy.

Have your vision checked at least once a year by an eye doctor.

Exercise regularly. Exercise makes you stronger and improves your balance and coordination. Talk to your doctor or therapist about which exercises are right for you.

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Medicine Safety

Here are some tips and guidelines to follow to make sure you are safely taking the right medications:

Do not take medicines that are prescribed for someone else.

Create a complete list of current medicines (including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, herbal remedies, and vitamins) and keep this list with you at all times in the event of emergency situations. Review the list for discrepancies and make changes immediately as they occur.

SHOW YOUR MEDICINE LIST EVERY TIME you have a medical appointment, fill a new prescription at any pharmacy, or get treatment at an emergency room or other health facility. This helps prevent duplicating or combining drugs inappropriately.

Know the names of each of your medicines, why you take it, how to take it, potential side effects, and what foods or other things to avoid while taking it.

Report medicine allergies or side effects to your health care provider.

Take medicines exactly as instructed. If you are not sure if you are supposed to swallow or chew your medicine, ask your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse. Ask if a pill can be cut or crushed.

If a medicine looks different than you expected, ask your health care provider or pharmacist about it.

Drug names can look alike or sound alike. To avoid errors, check with your health care provider if you have any questions.

Do not use alcohol when you are taking medicine.

Do not stop or change medicines without your doctor’s approval, even if you are feeling better. If you miss a dose, do not double the next dose later.

Use a chart or container system (washed egg carton or med-planner) to help you remember what kind, how much, and when to take medicine.

Use a light when you take your medicine so you can read the label.

Keep medicines in their original containers and read labels and warnings carefully.

Store medicines safely in a cool, dry place according to instructions on the label.

Keep medicines away from children and confused adults.

Federal Disposal Guidelines for Medications

Follow any specific disposal instructions on the prescription drug labeling or patient information insert. Do not flush medications down the sink or toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so. If your community has a pharmaceutical take-back program, take your unused drugs to them for proper disposal. If no such program is available, remove drugs from their original containers, and mark out any identifying information on the original containers. Mix the drugs with an undesirable substance like coffee grounds or kitty litter. Place the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container and place it and the empty original containers in the trash.

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Fire Safety and Burn Precautions

Here are some guidelines to follow to keep you and your loved ones safe from fires and accidental burns:

Make sure you have easy access to a telephone, and post the fire department number on every telephone. All family members and caregivers should be familiar with emergency 911 procedures.

Notify the fire department if a disabled person is in the home.

Do not smoke (including e-cigarettes) in bed or where oxygen is being used. Never leave burning cigarettes unattended. Do not empty smoldering ashes in a trash can. Keep ashtrays away from upholstered furniture and curtains.

Install smoke detectors on every floor of your home, including the basement. Place smoke detectors near rooms where people sleep. Test smoke detectors every month.

Install new smoke detector batteries twice a year or when you change your clocks in the spring and fall.

Fire extinguishers should be checked frequently for stability.

Make a family fire escape plan and practice it every six months. Plan at least two different escape routes from each room for each family member. If your exit is through a ground floor window, make sure it opens easily.

If you live in an apartment building, know where the exit stairs are located. Do not use an elevator during a fire emergency.

Designate a safe place in front of the house or apartment building for family members to meet after escaping a fire.

If your fire escape is cut off, remain calm, close the door, and seal cracks to hold back smoke. Signal for help at the window.

Evacuate a bedbound patient to a safe area by placing him or her on a sturdy blanket and pulling or dragging the patient out of the home.

Avoid excess clutter of newspapers, magazines, clothing, etc. These piles can become a fuel source for potential fires.

Electrical outlets should be grounded. Outlets should not be overloaded with too many plugs.

Keep cooking areas and nearby storage free of flammable/combustible items.

Don’t reach over burners or leave a stove unattended.

Be sure heating pads/blankets are in good working order. Unplug when not in use.

Keep removable cover on heating pad and place layered protection between pad and skin.

Place heating pad on top of, not underneath, a body part so heat is not trapped.

Never use a heating pad on a person who cannot feel temperature changes or is paralyzed.

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Oxygen Safety

Use oxygen only as directed. Oxygen creates a high risk for fire because it causes an acceleration of flame in the presence of flammable substances and open flames.

Do not smoke around oxygen. Post “No Smoking” signs inside and outside the home.

Keep oil/petroleum-based products (such as Vaseline, oily lotions, and face creams), grease, and flammable material away from your oxygen system. Avoid using aerosols, including room deodorizers, near oxygen.

Do not use alcohol-based hand sanitizers within 5 feet of an oxygen source. The gel and its vapors are flammable as they evaporate.

Keep open flames (including gas stoves and candles) at least 10 feet from an oxygen source. Keep equipment that can spark (including e-cigarettes) at least 10 feet away.

Keep at least 6 inches of clearance around an oxygen concentrator at all times. Plug it directly into a wall outlet, limiting the use of extension cords.

Have electrical equipment properly grounded. Avoid using appliances (including razors and hairdryers) while using oxygen.

Change the oxygen tubing every two months. Keep oxygen tubing less than 50 feet in length to not alter the amount of oxygen delivered.

Avoid tripping over your tubing. It may help to tape the tubing to the side or back of your shirt.

Keep the humidifier bottle half-filled with distilled water. Clean the bottle weekly with warm soapy water or a teaspoon of vinegar and rinse well.

Clean the filter on the back/side of an oxygen concentrator every other day by rinsing with water and patting with a towel or allowing to air dry.

Dust an oxygen cylinder with a cotton cloth as needed. Do not drape or cover the oxygen system with any material.

Store oxygen cylinders in well-ventilated areas away from heat and direct sunlight. Do not place under outside porches/decks or in the trunk of a car. Do not allow oxygen to overheat or freeze. Place cylinders in a stand to prevent tipping or secure to a wall or place on their side on the floor.

Have a backup portable oxygen cylinder in case of a power outage or concentrator failure.

Use 100% cotton linens and clothing to prevent sparks and static electricity.

Alert property management of oxygen use when living in a multi-dwelling residence.

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