How to Keep the Balance-Impaired Independent ... and Safe?
March 10, 2014 7:42 AM   Subscribe

My parents, who are in their early 80's, both have spinal stenosis, which means both have mobility issues. It's a bum leg that affects balance in one case; in the other, periodic bouts of numbness in one or both legs. Both parents have done stints in physical therapy, both are lax about exercising regularly and, as of the day before yesterday, both have now fallen on the brick floor of the indoor sun porch. To date, there's been no real injury, and I want to keep it that way. At the very least, I want to ensure that the risk of harm is minimized and no heads are cracked. Difficulty level: a floor that floods (and mold), a large house, and exhaustingly stubborn parents.

The sun porch in question has a roof, glass windows, siding and is fully furnished, but there's no heat or proper indoor flooring. The space was originally an outdoor bricked-in patio, and when it was enclosed the brick floor was not replaced. In snowy or rainy weather, the sand between the bricks gets soaked, so fighting mold on the bricks is an on-going chore. My parents won't consider replacing the floor, so assume it's permanent. Also assume that aesthetics are of primary concern to my artistic parents, so any soft non-slip floor covering need be not only mold-proof and/or easily cleaned, but also pretty darned attractive.

The space is probably 10x8, but we would only really need to cover the main pathways and the area beside their chairs. Do you know of any modestly priced floor coverings that might fit the bill?

On a couple of related notes: The house is enormous, and hearing is sometimes a problem. For emergencies like falls, the parents aren't likely to hear each other if they're not nearby. Does anybody have any suggestions for cheap one-button intercoms or baby monitors that could be *easily* set up in several rooms, including the sun porch?

Finally, on two occasions a parent has had to sleep downstairs. Does anybody have any suggestions for modestly priced light, but comfortable, cots or rollaway beds?

Got any other suggestions or thoughts for addressing parental safety concerns? If so, please fire away. I can use all the help I can get.

TLDR: Need cute, inexpensive large nonslip waterproof floor coverings (to help break falls), a rollaway bed, and an intercom system. Can you suggest anything?

It may be worth noting that the parents use the sun porch frequently throughout the day, and that won't change, which is why safety issues there must be addressed ASAP. Also, yes, both parents have access to walkers and canes, but they don't tend to use them indoors, and I obviously can't control whether they do.
posted by Violet Blue to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You need to be super, super, super sure the floor covering doesn't create a trip hazard. An attractive, crate-and-barrel indoor/outdoor rug will have a lip, and if they're shuffling their feet they can kick up the edge, and down they go. Even if you velcrow down all the edges, there is still a lip. Maybe you could get some floor edging materials from a home-repair store, and screw the plates down over the rug into the brick. Generally speaking, rugs are not good in this situation. Some OSHA-approved type non-skid wet-dry floor mats would be what you need, beveled edges, non-slip, actually decent padding. But they are pretty darn ugly.

You should really call in a pro—get an occupational therapist to come to evaluate the house, recommended products, modifications and accommodations. If they're using objects indoors as replacement canes/walkers, they might pull over a bookcase, heavy object onto themselves. Do they have adequate hand-rails up the stairs? Around the bathrooms? Etc.
posted by fontophilic at 8:01 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I wonder if the floor mats or tiles made for garage floors would work? Costco has a bunch of them here. They'd be mold resistant and easy to clean.

What about a futon? We had one with a nicer, thicker mattress and it was pretty darn comfy.

Motion-sensitive lights might be helpful in some parts of their house, so they can clearly see where they're going and not be fumbling around in the dark. My parents like to roam around at night. You can even get battery powered LED motion sensitive lights like this.

You could search for a wireless home monitoring system ... most of those involve cameras, but then you could likely check in on them from afar.
posted by Ostara at 8:12 AM on March 10, 2014

I was thinking of these rubber kitchen mats for cushioning and drainage on the damp brick floors, but I don't know if they'd catch on the tips of canes, walkers, or other mobility aids. Do they use those? I have two relatives with spinal stenosis - one doesn't need an aid yet, but one goes between a cane and forearm crutches, and will eventually need a walker or rollator. If you have a restaurant supply place in town, you can go take a look at some in person and test how easy they are to walk on. They tend to come in a lot of colors, so you might find something that blends in with the brick or goes with the furniture.

Might a set of $20-30 walkie-talkies work for in-house communication? They make some pretty small ones in that price group with a 10-15 mile range. The advantage would be that they wouldn't have to stay close to something like a baby monitor to be heard.

It may be time to start gently suggesting one of those Life Alert buttons. My Mom was wary at first, but she quickly developed a sense of security and confidence having it around.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:19 AM on March 10, 2014

I'm also wondering of a futon or a second couch might be preferable to a rollaway bed. Are they up to setting up and putting away a bed when they need it?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:22 AM on March 10, 2014

Response by poster: Underpants Monster: There is no space downstairs for anything permanent, like a futon or second couch. I tried to talk them into a massive reorganization to make space about a year ago, but even I got daunted at the prospect. They have a lot of stuff arranged just so, and they like it that way, which is why something small and light/easy to wheel around/set up/unfold would probably be the best solution right now.

Fontophilic, any idea how one goes about finding an occupational therapist to do an in-house evaluation? Also thanks for your emphatic comments about trip hazards, I hadn't thought of that as lucidly as you did!

The comments, in general, are just great. Keep 'em coming, please!
posted by Violet Blue at 8:29 AM on March 10, 2014

Would handrails in the wall be an option in the back room? My mother has them all over her bathroom, not just for getting in and out the shower, but also for slip and fall reasons as the tiles in there are bad. Could you seal the bricks using a clear non slip paver sealer, if you ad grit or sand to the sealer it adds extra traction too. You can also get anti slip coatings for concrete that they use in industrial areas to keep factory etc floors safe.

I have not used this particular product, so it is not a recommendation but is the sort of thing I am talking about. You can also find them for outside for pavers etc.
posted by wwax at 8:40 AM on March 10, 2014

This might seem tangential but half of the "grip" between floor and shoes comes from the shoes. I don't know what type of shoes they are wearing but maybe look at that? [Bum leg person here and it makes quite a difference.] Best of luck.
posted by vapidave at 9:20 AM on March 10, 2014

My exhaustingly stubborn father has Parkinson's. One thing that he could be persuaded to actually use was trekking poles, I am guessing because they are "sportier" than canes or walkers.

I would also like to mention something that is true of Parkinson's and could (?) apply to spinal stenosis: us healthy people tend to think of falling in terms of stumbling or slipping but with neurological disorders, the falls may be caused by freezing or difficulty initiating movement, in which case a non-slip surface would actually make things worse. Perhaps something to clarify with their doctor.

Good luck.
posted by rada at 9:53 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Fall Prevention" is a thing. A busy area, in fact. You should find a pro. Your parents' doctors, their local elder-care or aging agencies, and the library can help you find resources in their area. Resources who have long experience with the stubbornness aspect of their condition.

Good luck. This is a tough one. But as you know it won't get better.

You can also try asking that they do one or two things as a favor to you. Pick a couple of things that can be a way to indulge you silly kids rather than OMG you're old and frail and helpless.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:39 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

There are a couple of places to ask for recommendations.

First, the Physical Therapy clinic they were seen at. Some PTs do double duty as OT, but they will almost certainly keep a list.

Next, I'd call the nurse line of their doctors office, either a neurologist/orthopedist. Whatever specialist they're seeing for the stenosis.

The nursing station at any ward they were hospitalized in. Possibly OT information was included in their discharge papers.

Last resort, medical equipment rental places, stroke recovery centers, yellow pages.

You might need to make a claim to have insurance cover this if the OT doesn't bill. Lots of private-duty health care practitioners don't.
posted by fontophilic at 10:57 AM on March 10, 2014

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