Take Charge of Your Health to Reduce Complications:
How to Prevent Situations That Could Land You or a Loved One in the Hospital
By Lisa M. Petsche
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As we age, our chances of being hospitalized increase due to the increased likelihood of multiple chronic health conditions.
The good news is that numerous risk factors are within our control and can help us prevent or manage health problems, reducing our chances of complications and hospitalization.
Follow these tips to help preserve your well-being and independence or that of a loved one for whom you are providing care.
- Get regular medical checkups. If you miss an appointment or a test, call to reschedule right away.
- Have your vision and hearing tested on a regular basis.
- Ensure vaccinations are up to date. Get vaccinated against influenza annually and early in the season.
- Stay away from people with colds, flus or other contagious illnesses. Keep hand sanitizer by your front entrance and use it coming and going. Also keep a travel size bottle in your vehicle or handbag, or a miniature-sized one in your pocket.
- Take medications as prescribed and at regularly scheduled times each day. Fill all prescriptions at one pharmacy. Ask the pharmacist about available aids for organizing and remembering to take medications.
- Practice healthy lifestyle habits: eat nutritious meals, get adequate rest and exercise regularly.
- Limit your sun exposure and always use sunscreen outdoors. A wide-brimmed hat is also advisable, as are sunglasses that block out 100 percent of ultraviolet rays. Do as much for yourself as possible, to maintain your abilities.
- Investigate available resources in your community, which might include grocery delivery services, meals on wheels, volunteer driver programs, accessible transportation, home health services and seniors’ housing. Such information can be obtained from the local office on aging.
- Do things that center you and bring inner peace, such as practicing yoga, keeping a journal or spending time in nature.
- Set aside daily time for relaxation – for example, reading or listening to music.
- Keep in regular contact with friends. If your social network has diminished, make new connections through taking a class, volunteering or joining a club.
In addition to health- and age-related changes, hazardous conditions in the home environment are a major cause of falls resulting in hospitalization. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to reduce these hazards for yourself or a loved one.
- In Stairwells: Ensure steps are in good repair and have a non-skid surface. Keep them free of clutter. Have solid handrails installed on both sides of stairways and ensure adequate lighting.
- In the Kitchen: Keep regularly used pots, dishes, staple foods and other supplies within easy reach. Ensure the heaviest items are stored in the lower cupboards. If you must reach high places, get a step stool that has a high handrail and rubber tips. Never use a chair.
- In the Bathroom: Have grab bars professionally installed by the toilet and in the bathtub or shower area. Use a rubber mat (the kind with suction cups) in the tub or shower, and a non-skid bath mat on the floor. Consider getting a raised toilet seat, a bathtub seat or shower chair and a hand-held shower attachment.
- Wear slippers or shoes that fit snugly, offer good support and have a non-skid sole.
- Ensure throw rugs and scatter mats have a non-skid backing. Better yet, remove them.
- Keep walkways clear of electrical and telephone cords.
- Avoid clutter in rooms and hallways.
- Use night-lights in the bedroom, hallways and bathroom. Get the kind that have a built-in sensor that automatically turns the light on in dim conditions. Also get plug-in, rechargeable flashlights that automatically come on when the power goes out.
- Sign on with a personal emergency response service, whereby you wear a lightweight, waterproof pendant or bracelet that has a button to press if you run into a crisis and need help.
- Visit a medical supply store and check out the many products that can make daily activities easier and safer.
- Consider a cane or walker if balance is an ongoing problem. Make sure you are fitted with the appropriate type of aid and receive instruction on how to properly use it.
Lisa M. Petsche is a medical social worker and a freelance writer specializing in health and elder care issues.