What’s the connection between safety and health?
Safety may not seem like a health concern. When we talk about managing your health, a lot of suggestions, like exercise, diet, and supplements, focus on making your body stronger and more resilient. But the other health prevention you need to focus on is safety. By safety here, I mean taking precautions against predictable risks.
The world is full of risk, and that’s normal. Plenty of everyday activities, like riding in cars, walking up the stairs, or cooking on the stove, could cause serious injury or even death if done the wrong way. But the benefits they bring to your life, like visiting grandkids or eating a hot dinner, are too important to avoid them all together.
But as your body changes and your control, strength, and perception adjust to the full, long life you’ve led, you may need to consider changes to how you navigate the world to lessen danger to yourself and others.
Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury to seniors. The danger of falls is not only that they directly cause bone breaks, but that these injuries lead to inactivity that can lead to rapid health decline, but also fear of falls on the uneven surfaces of the outside world may lead to social isolation, and social isolation is a dangerous health problem, as dangerous as smoking.
Exercise for balance is a gift you can give yourself to keep your balance, strength, and endurance near their peak for as long as possible. But once you reach the point of being unsteady on your feet, please, please, please make use of canes, walkers, or scooters to keep yourself out in the world among family and friends.
In your own home, take a look around for tripping and bumping hazards. Are there loose cords in the path that you walk? Does the container you use to hold or sort mail overflow on to the floor? Do you have unsecured area rugs? Do your pets have a bad habit of walking in your feet or do they leave toys lying around? Does your shower have enough traction for you to stand safely in it? Do you have enough light for a safe midnight bathroom run, or could you use some night lights? Are you still changing light bulbs by standing on furniture? If so, it’s time to get a good, safe step stool or ladder to reach your light fixtures and top shelves.
Aging in place is truly the best solution for most people, but you need to make sure your housing is updated to accommodate the body you have now, not how you were living twenty years ago.
Between 30 and 40 thousand people die in the United States from vehicle collisions, and hundreds of thousands more are injured. Whether you’re walking or driving, your goal is to prevent a dangerous interaction between you and a car.
If you go walking in your neighborhood for exercise, keep to sidewalks as much as possible. If your neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks, walk facing traffic and as far from it as possible (hopefully on a nice, smooth lawn.) Cross at intersections, and be aware that the timing of the pedestrian lights at a crosswalk may be shorter than you expect. Don’t race the flashing pedestrian light if you have any doubts about safely making it all the way across. Consider buying high visibility gear, like a vest, jacket, or even just wristbands, if you walk near dawn, near dusk, or later in the evening.
As a driver, make sure your car is in good condition. If you’re using a phone or GPS device to give you directions, make sure you position it with an attachment to your dash so you as the driver can clearly see and hear the device without worrying about light glare or the competing sounds of the radio. Don’t drive and use your phone. Even hands free phone calls can leave you dangerously distracted. Distracted driving is as potentially deadly as drunk driving, which you would never do.
If your reflexes and vision are starting to concern you or your loved ones, it’s time to start planning your driving retirement. Please reach out to members of your community to make sure you’re not trapped in your house, but keep the community safe by turning in your keys when you’re no longer fully able to control your vehicle.
Mixing up your medication at home can lead to fatal errors. If you have a lot of different medications and difficulty remembering if you’ve taken them, you should definitely invest in some pill sorters. Pill sorters let you organize your pills by the month, day, or hour. Some advanced pill sorters even have electronic reminders, either as a display on the box or using an associated app on your phone.
Before you get home, you want to talk to your medical team to make sure that you’re taking the right medications, given your diet, supplements, and other prescriptions.
Safe food handling is something to think about every day. As a growing number of alerts about the dangers of raw vegetables and mixed up beef proves, buying truly local produce and preparing your own food, so you can control the ingredients and the food handling, are really important. You can avoid food poisoning with a few reasonable precautions: washing thoroughly, keeping foods at safe temperatures, and preventing cross-contamination during preparation.
Safety is an important issue for health. Taking a prevention first attitude towards the dangers in our daily lives shouldn’t make you feel defensive or paranoid. Instead, let it make you feel empowered to move through the world, knowing that you’ve done your best to prevent injury and accident to yourself and others.