National Safety Month Week Four: Ergonomics

Julia Little  |  June 24, 2013

The National Safety Council has recognized June as National Safety Month for more than 15 years, and this year, the final week of the month is dedicated to highlighting the significant impact ergonomics can have on healthy senior living.

The National Safety Council has recognized June as National Safety Month for more than 15 years, and this year, the final week of the month is dedicated to highlighting the significant impact ergonomics can have on healthy senior living. Ergonomics relates to the practice of designing a home or work environment to make it easier to perform tasks, especially for those who have certain conditions, such as arthritis, Parkinson's disease or limited mobility, that can cause difficulty with even simple movement. There are a number of steps caregivers can take to ensure optimal ergonomics in seniors' homes. 

Why is it important?
The inclusion of ergonomics in a month dedicated to safety may seem unusual, but there are a variety of issues that can crop up if seniors are living in a place that is not as accommodating to their particular condition. For instance, if an older retirement community resident has to overexert his or herself for simple tasks like reaching for dishes or doing laundry, it could lead to falls, pulled muscles or torn ligaments. According to the NSC, overexertion is the third-leading cause of unintentional injuries in the U.S.

Caregivers should also consider whether there's a need for an ergonomic assessment of their elderly loved one's home. Pain, swelling and numbness are all indicative of potential ease-of-use problems. Additionally, the NSC points to symptoms including tingling, tenderness and loss of grip strength as signs that something should be done to adjust an older adult's home.

Small changes, big difference
To help improve senior living, caregivers only have to make slight changes around the house. For instance, rearranging the kitchen so that all important items are above knee height can remove any undue strain on the back. It's also important to make changes to help prevent falls, especially since one-third of adults 65 and older experience a fall each year, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This includes installing grab bars, removing tripping hazards such as loose rugs and improving lighting.

Ergonomics is also a crucial consideration at retirement communities and assisted living facilities. For instance, seniors with cognitive health issues may require ergonomic attention in the form of scheduling or memory care, while those with injuries or mobility problems may need a residence with larger doorways to accommodate walkers or wheelchairs.