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For many people, the ultimate goal is to stay in their own home until the day that they die.  While this may not be possible for everyone, the goal can be very attainable for many.  There are some obstacles that you may face, however, with regard to safety in your home as you age.  There are many possible hazards in your home and as the body changes with age, these hazards become more dangerous.

As people age, the normal senses of the body tend to become more dulled including sight, touch, hearing, and smell.  In addition to the common dulling of the senses, reaction time also declines.  These changes can result in a decreased ability to judge distance, perceive foot placement, or react to sudden events like tripping.  There are a few areas of the home that can be particularly dangerous as we age including the stairs, bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom.

The stairs can be very treacherous if depth perception is altered, overall strength has declined, or balance is poor.  In order to ensure safety on stairs, use the following guidelines:

  • Have a sturdy handrail preferably on both sides of the staircase or steps
  • Have good lighting with accessible light-switches at the top and bottom of the steps
  • Clear the steps of all objects
  • Have secure, non-slip strips or carpeting of good condition on each step
  • Use colored tape on the edge of each step if you have difficulty seeing the edge of the steps (ex. problems with depth perception or overall vision)

Bathrooms hold several different hazards from tubs, to toilets, to water temperature.  Without proper management of the bathroom space, a fall may likely occur.

  • Use a non-slip surface or mat in the tub
  • Place grab bars in the shower and by the toilet for assistance when needed
  • If you fatigue quickly while standing in the shower, use a shower chair
  • Clean up any water spilled on the floor immediately to avoid slipping
  • Mark your faucet nobs clearly as hot and cold
  • Turn the water heater thermostat to 120 degrees F or lower to avoid scalding
  • Leave a light or a night-light on in the bathroom in case your need to use it at night

The kitchen holds some similar hazards as the bathroom in relation to spilled water and properly marked nobs, but one significant factor that is more dangerous about the kitchen is the greater risk of a fire.

  • Make sure the kitchen is well lit especially at the counter spaces for food prep
  • Make sure that no curtains hang over the stove that could fall and catch fire
  • Wipe up any grease or liquid spills immediately
  • Do not leave any open flames unattended (ex. gas stoves)
  • Do not wear long, loose sleeves while cooking
  • Oven controls should be clearly marked and placed in the front or side of the oven
  • Keep pot holders near the oven and use for both the oven or removing things from the microwave to avoid burns
  • Have all commonly used items within easy reaching range and use only a sturdy step stool to grab items that are placed higher
  • Unplug any small appliances when not in use (ex. toaster)
  • Have a fire extinguisher readily available

The bedroom is most hazardous late at night or early in the morning when you are tired and there is more risk of tripping in the darkness.

  • Arrange the bed and furniture so that there is plenty of open space to walk
  • Have a lamp or flashlight near your bed for any need to get up in the middle of the night
  • Use a night-light for possible trips to the bathroom
  • Keep electrical cords against the walls rather than across the floor
  • If you use an assistive device for getting around your home, make sure that it is next to your bed for when you get up

There are several more ways to improve safety in your home including eliminating throw rugs, having telephones at a level that can be reached from the floor with emergency numbers posted by each phone, having someone come in the winter to spread salt or sand on icy areas outside of your home, and using boots with good traction if you venture out of your home in the winter.  Another important thing to consider is either getting a portable medical alert button or having a portable phone to carry with you at all times.  This is especially important if you have balance issues and difficulty getting up from the floor on your own.  For further safety tips check out the resource links listed below.

Resources:

http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/consumer/09913.html

http://www.aplaceformom.com/senior-care-resources/articles/home-safety-tips-for-seniors

http://nihseniorhealth.gov/falls/homesafety/01.html

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Well, it’s officially August. That means that “back to school” is just around the corner.  So what can you do to promote your child’s health as they return to school?

One of the most common recommendations for returning to school is to make sure that your child’s immunizations and vaccines are up to date.  Certain booster shots may be required depending on the vaccine.  I know that lately there has been a lot of controversy over vaccinations and their possible involvement in the increased number of autism cases.  A few things to keep in mind regarding vaccination are as follows: vaccinations are important for preventing conditions that can be debilitating or even deadly (ex. polio, hepatitis, whooping cough, chicken pox, etc.), research has not found any definitive link between vaccinations and autism, and increasing numbers of autism cases may be attributed to an increased awareness of the disorder and therefore increased diagnosis of the condition rather than a true increase in prevalence.  From a healthcare standpoint, vaccinations are highly recommended in order to save your children from conditions that are possibly life threatening.

A second very common recommendation is that your children get a full eye exam before returning to school.  Vision problems are estimated to be present in 1 in 4 children, and the sooner a problem is found, the better it can be managed.  Certain conditions including lazy eye or crossed eyes need to be treated early because once the child reaches 7 or 8 years old the opportunity for correcting the issue may have passed thus resulting in permanent vision problems.

Sleep patterns are extremely important for people of all ages, but especially children who need to use their brains for learning all day.  For children ages 6-9, it is recommended that they get 10-11 hours of sleep per night rather than the standard 8 hours that you often hear recommended.  Make sure your child gets into a good pattern with sleep prior to the start of school so that the transition back is not as difficult.

Childhood obesity is a very important issue and is not just a matter of social image.  Childhood obesity can lead to significant health risks in the future including heart disease, stroke, arthritis, diabetes, and cancer.  Getting your children on a healthy routine with physical activity instead of playing video games and watching TV all day is important.  A child’s diet is a huge component of obesity.  For example, drinking one soda a day increases a child’s risk of obesity by 60 percent.  Start feeding your children healthy snacks including milk and fruit versus sugary drinks and salty, high-calorie foods.  Take an active role in what your child eats at school by assisting with packing a lunch and knowing what will be offered at school.

Backpacks can be a large cause of back pain for children.  Backpack safety regarding proper fit and weight was discussed in a prior blog which can be found here.  Some experts recommend getting your children on a good core strengthening program to prevent back pain. The  physical therapists at Advanced Physical Therapy and Fitness can help you develop an appropriate core strengthening program specific to your child’s needs.

If your child does gets sick during the school year, remember to check for a fever.  If he/she has a fever, he/she should not go to school because of the increased risk for spreading the illness during the fever stage.  You should wait until the fever has been gone for 24 hours without medication before returning your child to school, according to Dr. Gutierrez of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.  To prevent the onset of an infection, hand washing is imperative.  Promote good hand washing routines with your child including washing hands after using the restroom or before eating a meal.  You may want to consider providing hand sanitizer to your child if he/she does not have the opportunity to wash up before eating. 

The most important thing to remember is that you as a parent need to take an active role in promoting your child’s health with return to school.  Some roles are easier than others including setting up appointments for vaccinations and eye exams, but others take more work including promoting a good diet and physical activity.  Another important role is to communicate with your children on a regular basis.  If you know how your child acts on a normal basis, then you will be more equipped to know when something is wrong either physically or emotionally.

Resources:

http://www.chla.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=ipINKTOAJsG&b=6089699&ct=8608851#.U4YfqfldVqV

http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/back-to-school-health-checklist

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/fall13/articles/fall13pg18-19.html

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Going to the park for a picnic or playing sports can be extremely fun for the whole family or a group of friends.  This time of year is the primetime to do so, but you may want to be aware of some hazards that can arise from the beautiful warm weather.

If you are staying relatively sedentary and just having a nice picnic, heat may not have as extreme of an effect on you, but you should be aware of certain dangers.  First and foremost, protect your skin!  Skin cancer is very real and can happen to anyone, not just those with fair skin.  You do not have to have a burn to have skin damage from the sun.  It is recommended to use sunscreen that is water resistant, contains SPF 15 or higher, and has broad spectrum protection (i.e. UVA and UVB protection).  Don’t be stingy with how much sunscreen you put on. Put enough on that it takes a full minute to rub in. If you are going to be outside for an extended period of time remember to reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hrs.  Also, don’t forget your lips.  They get just as much sun exposure, so use lip balm with at least SPF 15 in it and reapply with your regular sunscreen.  If you can avoid it, stay out of the midday sun.

If you are eating or cooking outside, the heat increases the chance for bacterial growth on food, so be cautious.  Remember to keep hot foods hot (at least 140-165 ºF) before serving and keep cold food cold (40 ºF or less).  In other words, keep the hotdogs and hamburgers on the grill until it’s time to eat and keep the cold food in the cooler opening it as infrequently as possible.  The total amount of time that food should be out at room temperature is 2 hours and if the temperature outside is 90 ºF or more then food should be discarded after only 1 hour.

If you chose to be active while outside in the heat, either playing Frisbee or football or just going for a run; there are a few things you should know.  Exercising in hot weather can increase your core body temperature and cause some negative effects.  When the core temperature increases during exercise, the body tries to cool itself by increasing blood circulation at the skin.  During this process, you heart rate rises while your body tries to pump more blood into the muscles that have been deprived of blood.  Humidity can further increase core temperature because sweat that is produced won’t evaporate in order to cool down the skin.  Conditions including heat cramps (no change in core temperature), heat exhaustion (core temperature increase up to 140 ºF), and heatstroke (core temperature increases greater than 140 ºF) can all occur due to exercising in hot weather.  Some possible symptoms to be aware of include:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

If any of these symptoms occur: stop exercising, get out of the heat, and hydrate with either water or a sports drink.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the key to avoiding heat-related illness is as follows:

  • Watch the temperature outside in order to avoid exercising on extremely hot days.
  • Get acclimated to exercising in the heat by easing into activity.
  • Know your fitness level and adjust your level of activity as tolerated.
  • Drink plenty of fluids so that your body can sweat and cool down. For more hydration information check out our previous dehydration blog here.
  • Dress appropriately with lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing.
  • Avoid midday sun so that you are exercising when the weather is cooler.
  • Wear sunscreen because sunburn decreases your body's ability to cool itself.
  • Have a backup plan like exercising inside or in a pool.
  • Understand your medical risks because certain medical conditions or medications can increase your risk of a heat-related illness.

Understand that if you have suffered from heatstroke in the past, you are more at risk to have a heat-related illness in the future.  Picnicking and exercising in the park can be fun, but please stay safe by following these guidelines and watching for warning signs of trouble.

Resources:

http://www.webmd.com/beauty/sun/how-your-skin-can-survive-summer

http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/about-our-products/food-safety/safe-picnicking-grilling

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048167

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Disclaimer:  The information in this medical library is intended for informational and educational purposes only and in no way should be taken to be the provision or practice of physical therapy, medical, or professional healthcare advice or services. The information should not be considered complete or exhaustive and should not be used for diagnostic or treatment purposes without first consulting with your physical therapist, physician or other healthcare provider. The owners of this website accept no responsibility for the misuse of information contained within this website.