With the arrival of the spring and summer months it means many people will start going outside to work in the garden and yard. However, it’s important to make sure your older loved ones do so safely.
The tools to dig up the dirt and cut the grass kept in the garage can also represent some dangers. Your older loved ones have not used these tools in several months and their ability to use them safely may no longer be what it was. Shaky hands and an altered sense of balance are part of the natural aging process that should be monitored on a regular basis. Make sure you both understand any new limitations on their level of activity before they start using the lawnmower or garden rake. Ask yourself some of these questions: Do your older loved ones still recognize the difference between weed killer and fertilizer? Can they safely use gardening shears or operate the lawnmower? Make sure you consider these issues now to avoid any serious injuries this summer.
To help you and your loved ones keep safe this summer, we gathered together several tips to keep in mind before you pull on the gloves and dig in the dirt.
- Help your loved ones admit and recognize they can no longer do everything they did in previous years. The majority of injuries and accidents can happen because of new issues with balance and movement. This is often the hardest step, but the most important. Understanding what you and your loved ones can do before you start limits risks in the long run. This may mean rethinking the size of your garden projects and the scale of the maintenance you can accomplish in the yard. Accepting new limitations can be difficult, but avoids frustrations later.
- Look around the yard and garden to search for any dangers. This includes looking for any roots that stick up, uneven ground, holes, or rocks that can cause a fall. Falls are a major reason older people end up in the hospital and the garden and yard present an entirely new and changing environment full of possible hazards. Once you find these issues, you can remove or fix them before your loved one takes unnecessary risks. If there is uneven ground you cannot fix, or slopes and banks in the yard, encourage your older loved one to use a cane or walking stick while going through that area, or avoid it altogether.
- Take the responsibility of climbing up on a ladder away from older loved ones. This is another fall risk, but important enough to point out individually. No garden or yard is ever completely flat and an older person generally does not have the balance and dexterity they did 20 years ago. Avoiding ladders also means avoiding a climb up onto chairs or upside-down barrels or cans. If your loved one needs to get at something up high, like a gutter, make sure you or someone else younger does it for them.
- Make working in the garden an easier-to-reach activity. Many older people live with arthritis, aching knees, or have other mobility issues. To make things easier for them, consider a raised planter bed that your loved one can work on while sitting in a chair. If you need to make it higher, you can stack bricks underneath it. Another option is to work with pots of herbs and flowers on a patio table. Also, consider buying tools that give you a longer reach. This means your loved one can still sit while digging up dirt.
- Be a good listener, or find one. If you can make it so your older loved one feels involved in the gardening without having to do the work, it keeps them safe. If they can share their knowledge with a younger gardener, they still feel like they have something to add and take part of the activity without putting stress on their body.
- Avoid staying in the sun for too long. It’s easier for an older person to get burned and/or dehydrated in the summer heat, so be sure to bring plenty of water with you during your outdoor endeavors and take frequent breaks. It is fine if the gardening takes a little longer because you took a breather in the shade while enjoying a cool refreshment.
- Take time to limber up before heading outside. Working in the garden is just that: work. The body is getting lots of physical exercise and if you and your loved one do some safe stretching ahead of time, it will keep you both from pulling something you shouldn’t.
- Take the responsibility for more dangerous tools and products out of your older loved one’s hands. If you worry that your loved one can’t safely use the bladed trimmer, offer to do that job and give them another responsibility. If they can’t read the instructions on the weed killer, offer to take it out of their hands. This makes your job as a caregiver a bit harder, but it keeps your loved one safe.
- Know when to quit for the day. Many gardening projects take time and there is not an unlimited timeframe to finish. But you should still know when you’ve done enough for one day. Try setting an end-time for your projects before you start and accept that you may not get all that you wanted done. This refers back to tip number 1. – recognize that this is what you can complete and that’s perfectly acceptable.
For more tips and recommendations, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website on gardening: http://www.cdc.gov/family/gardening/.