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Parkinson's Safety Begins at Home
By Ivan Suzman
Originally published in the Summer 2005 issue of PDF News & Review
Home safety - especially in the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom - is a prime concern for someone who is living with Parkinson's. Fortunately, there are several easy ways to ensure a safe and comfortable home.
General Home Safety Tips
First, arrange the furniture to allow plenty of space for comfortable standing, sitting and turning (for those who use wheelchairs, the standard is to allow at least five feet). If you use the stairs, add handrails to both sides of the staircase, and mark the first and last step with white, non-slip paint for easy recognition.
Linoleum, vinyl and wood floors are safer if we either secure, or remove, loose rugs. If you are considering remodeling, Mary Ann Ryan, from Orion, Michigan, suggests staying away from carpet and instead opting for vinyl or tile floors. These surfaces will be easier to navigate when using Hoyer lifts, walkers, canes and wheelchairs and do not show as much wear. The downside of these materials, Mary Ann points out, is that they can be dangerous; vinyl can be slippery and tile is a hard surface if a person does fall. If you choose instead to lay down a carpet, make sure it is low-pile so that your feet do not get caught in it.
Note that you can widen the area around your doorways slightly to provide extra space by purchasing door-widening hinges that expand doorways by about two inches. ElderWeb sells boxes of 2 DMI Offset Door Hinges for $15.00 on www.elderweb.com, or you can call (309) 451-3319 for more information.
Keeping Up in the Kitchen
The kitchen is one of the most potentially-dangerous areas in the home for people with Parkinson's. Between our unpredictable "off" periods and our dyskinesias, routine kitchen activities such as chopping, sautéing and mixing can be more than a bit challenging. Set up ingredients and kitchen tools in a place where you can sit to prepare food, and use plastic mixing bowls and measuring cups to avoid any breaks. Be sure to keep plenty of extra towels on hand to clean up any spills.
There are gadgets to ease some of the difficult kitchen tasks while protecting oneself from burns and cuts. The Hot Hand® Protector and Jar Opener protects hands from burns and helps open jars. Devine Medical Supplies offers this for $15.25 through their website, http://store.devinemedical.us/ or by telephone, (800) 609-3409. You can also pick up a rubber gripper at the grocery store for under a dollar to help with opening jars. To mitigate the dangers of cutting and chopping, consider purchasing an ULU knife, which has a rounded blade with a wooden handle that lines the top of the knife. These are available in most kitchenware stores.
Another way to reduce kitchen problems is to replace manual utensils - for example, can openers, vegetable peelers and scissors - with electric or battery-operated versions. There are several options on www.Dynamic-living.com; call (888) 940-0605 to request a free catalogue. Remember to keep plenty of fresh batteries available!
Bed and Bath
Make your bedroom safer by placing it on the first floor if possible (to avoid the stairs) and by attaching rails to the side of the bed to help with getting in and out. For help in rising, securely tie a nylon repeller's rope to the foot of the bed or to a bolt in the wall. You may wish to try the Norco Bed Pull-up, available for $13.95; visit www.activeforever.com or call (800) 377-8033 for more information. Satin sheets or pajamas can also be helpful when you need to turn over and slide into various positions.
When heading to the bathroom, avoid the usual bedroom slippers, which can be slippery and flimsy. George Docken of Minneapolis, Minnesota, recommends using anti-skid slipper socks when walking on slick floors. These are issued by many hospitals and are available at medical supply stores.
If your shower set-up requires you to climb over the side of a tub, consider adding a transfer bench, which allows you to sit down and swing or pull your legs over the side. To keep steady while in the shower, add a shower chair (perhaps a plastic garden chair) and install grip bars on the walls. These can be found in most medical supply stores. I prefer plastic grip bars to those made of steel, because they do not take on either extreme of the water's temperature. I find the "w" shaped bars to be the most useful. Joyce Cialkowski, of South Holland, Illinois, recommends purchasing rubberized mesh from a fabric store to line the shower floor. She finds that it provides a secure, non-slip surface that is machine-washable and dries easily.
For more tips, consider asking an occupational therapist to do a Home Safety Evaluation for you. Keep in mind that this is a for-charge service and that implementing the therapist's recommendations can be expensive and extensive.
Ivan Suzman has lived with young-onset Parkinson's disease for over 20 years. For several years, he wrote a regular column, The Parkinson's Mailbag, for PDF's newsletter, News & Review.