Elderly Safety

My Mum has been very unsteady on her feet since she contracted Guillain Barre Syndrome two years ago. She’s had several falls and although she let the occupational therapists put some grab rails in the shower, she’s resisted all other offers of safety equipment……..until now.

Out of the blue a few weeks ago she told me she’d like a walker for inside the apartment. I was gobsmacked because she hates to admit she needs help, but delighted as my heart is in my mouth watching her shuffle along without support.

I know we could have contacted OT and got some stuff for free, but it takes ages and the equipment is very basic. So as my parents have plenty of money we decided to just buy our own, that way we could get exactly what she wanted.

The central corridor and all of the doorways in the apartment are narrow, so I chose an ultra narrow walker with two front wheels and 2 back ski-sliders. The non-wheeled Zimmer frames are a pain to use, as you have to physically lift the walker then walk a couple of steps, lift then walk, lift then walk, which I thought would be taxing for my Mum’s very poor breathing. The wheeled walkers are much better, as you just push them along a bit like you would a grocery trolley. We went with this one which is available from Amazon, although we bought direct from NRS to get the VAT removed. Mum is delighted with it

She had a new bed last year, and it has a really deep mattress which has increased the height of the bed. This has made it hard for her to get in and out, so she decided she’d like a step and some grab rails. She sleeps in her own room which is very small, so we needed something which wouldn’t take up much room.

Not my Mum!

I ordered her a simple white grab rail for the side of the bed she gets in and out of, which I’ve fixed to the side of her white built-in wardrobe right next to the bed head. It’s barely noticeable and she has found it really helpful. In terms of the 2nd grab rail, she had been sitting on the bed, reaching over to the other side of the mattress, grabbing hold of that and using it as leverage to get her legs up onto the bed, so I went for a bed grab rail. It slides under the mattress, then is tied tightly to the divan base with straps. I was dubious that it would be secure and steady enough, but it’s actually just what she needed and isn’t anywhere near as big as it looks in this photo!

She wanted some nicely covered wide steps to help her get onto the bed, but they simply don’t exist. I don’t know why mobility equipment has to be so naff, plastic and lacking in any kind of colour or design, and if I ever win millions on the lotto I’m setting up my own disability equipment company which makes modern gear! She already had a white plastic step to help her get into the shower, so we’ve ended up with another one of those for the bed. We bought two and stacked them together to give us the required height.

By far the best thing I’ve bought, however, has been a call alarm. As I said above, she’s had several falls and although my Dad also lives in the house he is hard of hearing and we were all worried he wouldn’t hear her if she fell in the night, as he sleeps in a different room.

There are loads of types of call alarms on the market, but we didn’t want one which rang through to a call centre as my Dad is there. We wanted one which rang him, or me. Again, there were various cheap options that would ring us directly but they just didn’t feel right or safe to me. I also didn’t want a pendant she wore round her neck, as I knew she would take it off to get dressed or undressed and forget to put it back on again!

After a bit of investigation I came across Acticheck, which is a waterproof wrist band designed to be worn 24/7 and has won various awards. It comes with a little box which plugs into the back of your broadband router and works via wifi. Luckily my parents have broadband, even though they don’t use the internet – it came with their telephone package and means they can use Catch Up on their telly.

The box is paired with the wrist band, which has an automatic fall detector inside. If Mum falls, it buzzes on her wrist to ask if she’d like an alert sent. If she doesn’t respond, it will activate the alert – ringing first my Dad, and if he doesn’t pick up ringing me, then if I don’t pick up ringing my brother. If, however, Mum has just knocked her wrist by mistake, when it starts to buzz she can just press it to cancel the alert.

She can also send an alert herself, by pressing both sides of the wrist band. It’s great that she doesn’t have to speak to anyone, as she’d struggle to do this if her breathing was bad. The Acticheck will work both indoors and outdoors in the garden, so long as you are in range of your wifi router.

You register your parent via the online Acticheck portal and the wrist band sends information constantly to the portal on movement and temperature. So this morning, I could log on from my laptop and see when my Mum had gone to bed from the movement graph. I also knew she’d got up for a wee at 4am, but successfully got back into bed and gone to sleep, and I could see she’d gotten up at 8am. I could also see the room temperature, which alerts you if it drops too low.

For those who live alone you can include a daily “are you OK?” check which causes the wrist band to vibrate. If the person is OK they press the side in once and it tells the person monitoring them that they are fine. If they don’t respond it sends an SOS alert. For an annual fee, you can include the SOS to a call centre rather than friends or family.

It was very easy to set up, and for a change the instruction book was written in plain English and BIG WRITING. These days I can barely see instructions as they are so small, so I feel like the designers of the wrist band have thought of everything. Importantly, the wrist band just looks like a Fit Bit so Mum wouldn’t feel stupid wearing it out and about.

At £200 it’s not cheap and there is an £80 fee to replace the sealed waterproof battery and puck inside every 12 months, but it’s comparable to the call systems which charge a fee every month. I think it’s simply brilliant and has given me such peace of mind. Mum likes it because it’s only accessible by her family and not by some stranger in a call centre.

She should have had all of this stuff ages ago, but older people don’t want to admit how frail they’ve become and I think for many it takes a long time to accept they won’t be seeing improvement in their situation and need to make drastic changes. All we can do in the meantime is be patient. There are times it’s really tempting to tell them what they need and what they should be doing, but they are grown adults capable of making their own decisions. I’d hate for anyone to tell me how I should be living in my own home. so I constantly put myself in their shoes and wonder how I would feel in their situation. It helps me to be compassionate, empathetic and not to get too frustrated with them when they aren’t dong what I think is best.

I had no idea that being a Carer would be this much work, stress and worry. It sneaks up on you. My parents started off by needing a little bit of care and support, and this gradually increased until one day I woke up and realized that they were totally dependent upon me. It’s a heavy responsibility, especially when I am so sick myself, and although one of my brothers picks up a little of the slack everyone knows I am the one they rely on. Just like being a parent, being a Carer has no instruction book and you will inevitably make mistakes. I’m not a Saint and am going through my own stuff, health and other-wise, which means that I get exhausted, resentful and overwhelmed at times. All you can be is kind and loving, and all you can do is your best and hope that it’s good enough.

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