When many of us think of poison prevention, it’s easy to think first of all the messaging that tries to keep kids in Anaheim and elsewhere away from dangerous chemicals under the sink or in the garage.
But there are actually other possible health hazards all around the house, something that seniors and people providing in-home care for them need to be aware of.
The team at Accredited Home Care makes sure our staff always knows what to watch out for and how to educate our clients and their families about possible poisoning risks. Since we can’t be there all the time, it’s vital to look at someone’s home environment and even regularly assess their mental and physical state.
In some cases, an accidental poisoning may be caused by something as simple as not reading a prescription bottle correctly or taking an incorrect dose. Or advancing dementia may cause someone to pick up and put something toxic in their mouth without realizing it. Part of the aging process also may make it difficult to detect certain smells and tastes anymore, such as if food is good or spoiled.
Part of being an LVN or another role in the home health care field can involve getting to know a client and ensuring their safety, whether it’s helping them with their primary health condition or lowering their risks of accidental poisoning or other accidental self-harm.
According to the National Capital Poison Center, there were 2.1 million poisonings reported in 2018. Half were children and teens. For the other half, the numbers started going up again for people in their 50s and 60s. In fact, seniors in their 70s or older have a significantly higher risk of poisoning than people in their 50s and 60s.
Of all of the total poisonings, 76.7 percent were accidental. Not all were fatal either; poison centers around the country are required to keep track of all reported calls, whatever the prognosis.
But part of the risk some seniors face is that they may not be aware they’re poisoned in time to get it treated. Some may live alone, some may not expect to be poisoned, some may not want to bother anyone if they’re just feeling a little ill.
It’s different than in situations with children when a parent, sibling or sitter may respond quickly and get help if it appears that a poisoning has taken place.
One of the more frequent types of poisonings for all ages, but especially seniors, is due to medication errors.
These include incorrect medication, incorrect dosages, incorrect amounts, negative reactions to standard dosages, or misuse of properly prescribed medications.
Medication mix-ups that lead to poison are surprisingly easy to make and can be caused by:
- Forgetting when you last took your medicine. This could lead to someone taking more than they are supposed to, creating a possible overdose. Or forgetting to take them at all may cause other reactions such as withdrawal or increased problems (such as anti-anxiety or blood pressure medicine). Taking too many might cause other challenges, especially a controlled substance where there may only be a certain amount authorized each month.
- Difficulty reading labels. Poor vision, out-of-date glasses prescriptions, or a dim environment may cause challenges. This could cause someone to take the wrong medicine, the wrong amount, or even something that’s expired.
To combat these challenges, clients, any caregivers or LVNs can come up with a variety of strategies.
Using a pill dispenser, calendar or even mobile phone app can let you know when your medication has been properly taken throughout the day. But the only challenge is to remember to make this notation and keep the medication dispenser loaded.
Improving the light in the home can make a difference, as can having your vision checked regularly and new glasses prescribed.
A brighter environment or better vision can also reduce the risk of another common source of poisoning: spoiled food. A dim kitchen may make it harder to notice when food is no longer safe to eat. This can include missing signs like mold but also not be able to read expiration labels.
Changing light bulbs or bringing in lights to the house both can be smart steps. A home health professional may also consider helping a client go through their refrigerator or pantry occasionally.
This month is an excellent opportunity for caregivers and clients to learn more about poison. The third week of March has been designated National Poison Prevention Week, which since 1961 has been an opportunity to alert the public about risks of poisoning and how to decrease them. The National Poison Prevention Week Council organizes the annual effort that brings together providers, pharmacies, public health officials, poison centers, schools, and senior resource centers.
If you’re in the health care field and want to learn more about poison control efforts, the site is a good starting place.