As a caregiver for a hospice patient, you want to make sure your home is safe and comfortable for your loved one. Hospice benefits come with a team of compassionate experts, from nurses to social workers, but you carry the weight of daily care and responsibility.
Many times, you assist with feeding, hygiene, mobility, and transferring the patient to/from their bed. Some patients are completely bed bound, while others are mobile. They may be expressive about their needs or nonverbal and unable to communicate easily.
To assist families with safety at home, Heart to Heart Hospice helps you prepare in order to prevent accidents or injuries. You may be surprised that many rooms of the house need consideration. Follow these basic safety protocols to make your home ready for hospice.
What areas do you need to focus on for home safety?
- Easy communication methods
- Physical safety
- Medications and medical equipment
- Comfort measures
Your hospice patient may not have the agility or cognitive ability to manage a phone or cell phone. Make sure communication is easy and readily available, such as a two-way baby monitor, a bell, intercom, or medical or home alert system. They may feel frustrated or fearful if it’s difficult to communicate with their caregiver.
Ensure emergency information is easily accessible for you, other caregivers, and the patient. Post a list of important numbers including your hospice nurse, the 24/7 hospice line, family members/close friends, and primary doctor. Have the patient’s medications and conditions listed as well. Talk to your hospice team about emergency planning, such as power outages, inclement weather, or fires.
Preventing Falls and Injuries
Depending on the mobility of your loved one, you need to evaluate each room from the bedroom, living room, bathroom, hallways, kitchen, and other areas they frequent. They may be able to walk with assistance or use a wheelchair; make sure the area is cleared from obstacles. Here are a few important steps as you prioritize safety:
- Remove rugs or other trip hazards, like shoes, clutter, ottomans, and other low objects.
- Keep mobility aids at their bedside at all times.
- Have a bed alarm if they are a fall hazard and tend to get up by themselves.
- Assist them from room to room with caution at door thresholds or floor surface transitions.
- Ensure they are physically able to move, from eyesight health, hearing, and potential medication side effects like dizziness.
- Avoid loose-fitting clothes and make sure non-skid shoes or socks fit well.
- Utilize bed rails and other equipment (see below for more).
- Ensure pets are not underfoot and out of the way when moving around the house.
- Encourage your loved one to rise slowly from their bed or chair.
If your loved one is able to take trips to the bathroom assisted (or unassisted), keep in mind these tips:
- Use nightlights for visibility in hallways and the bathroom.
- Have grab bars for the toilet and bathtub/shower.
- Remove all electrical hazards and sharp objects from easy reach and away from water (like blow dryers and razors).
- Have non-skid mats in the bathtub and floor.
- Install anti-scald devices on faucets or lower your water heater temperature.
- Encourage frequent toilet visits so they are not rushed.
Your loved one may still enjoy gathering in the kitchen or have some level of independence. If they are assisting you or warming up food:
- Avoid fire hazards like loose clothing or potholders near burners.
- Keep pan handles turned away from the edge of the stove.
- Make sure microwaves and other appliances are working.
- Have a respectful conversation and understanding of what they can do independently, such as using knives or heating things up alone.
- Keep hazardous materials put away.
Medications and Medical Equipment
Hospice patients need a variety of medical aids, medications, and equipment, which often progresses as the illness does. Remember these safety tips:
- Store medications in their original container and in a safe place. Create a schedule for administering medications; use a daily or hourly pill box, but make sure to track and monitor intake.
- For oxygen tanks, practice safety measures including no smoking, gas stoves, candles, or fire nearby. Properly store them.
- Talk to your hospice nurse to help coordinate needed medical equipment, such as: canes, walkers, wheelchairs, hospital beds, bed rails, over-the-commode chairs, bathtub rails, and more.
Comfort, support, and dignity are key for Heart to Heart Hospice families. Beyond pain management, keeping patients comfortable at home is a core value.
- Keep frequently used items bedside, like glasses, water, remote control, phone, tissues, etc.
- Make sure the room is a comfortable temperature with fans, blankets, or an adjusted thermostat as needed.
- Remember your loved one may have varying levels of tolerance for noise, lights, scents, or touch.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Even with diligent safety protocols, not all falls or accidents can be prevented. If it happens, call your 24/7 hospice line. Find even more safety tips in Heart to Heart Hospice’s Patient and Family Handbook. As always, you can ask your hospice team for any additional safety devices, measures, or ideas unique to your loved one and your home.