“I’ve lived here for 20 years. There’s nowhere else I could go that would feel like home.”
The ability to continue to live at home as we grow older – sometimes referred to as ‘aging in place’ – is an emotional topic for many.
While families want to see their aging parents’ wishes fulfilled by helping them to continue to live in their own home, many are understandably concerned about the implications it could have on both their physical and mental health.
Falls, burns, and poisonings are among the most common accidents involving older people, and with a growing number of them now living independently, it’s vital that we all work together to make sure they’re staying safe at home.
If you care for an older adult who is living on their own, we’ve compiled our top tips and practical changes you can make today to improve their safety at home.
The safety tools they need, where they need them
In times of acute stress or fear, it can be easy to forget where vital equipment or information is stored, and this is especially true for older people.
Place a list of emergency numbers by each phone in the house, and ensure the numbers are printed or written in a large, legible font.
Next, grab a new SURVIVAL Home First Aid KIT, or check that the home’s existing one is fully stocked and that the products are in date.
If anything is missing, use SURVIVAL’s Restock option to get it ready for action. Make sure that the First Aid KIT is signposted, stored within reach, and easy to access under pressure.
You might also take a survey of the safety devices on offer in today’s market. A few simple tools might give you all some much-needed peace of mind, whether it’s a new personal alarm, sturdy canes and walker.
Don’t be tripped up
On your next home visit, take a walk around the house and try to imagine that you were unsteady on your feet.
Your eagle eyes may spot some loose carpet, easily moved mats and rugs, or shoes stored on the floor… all trip hazards just waiting to cause a fall. Pick them up, move or secure them right away.
Now, check each room of the house with a fine-tooth comb and try to think what else might give you the slip.
Would a better, non-slip floor mat make the shower safer? Is the toilet too low for comfort? Are the grab bars and towel racks properly secured, so that they could hold a full body’s weight if required?
Being able to safely use the shower and bathroom is fundamental to an older person’s self-esteem, but the area can also be a real safety worry - so make any changes here a priority.
Keep them out of hot water
Sadly, burns and scalds are all too common amongst our older population.
According to the Burns Registry of Australia and New Zealand, older people are far more likely to experience a burn in their house (81 per cent) compared to their younger counterparts.
The majority of these incidents are usually scald injuries, and of course, our vulnerable older people spend twice as long recovering in hospital from burns than other age groups.
Thankfully, there is a simple measure you can put in place to help protect them right now.
All you’ll need to do is make an appointment with a plumber, who can install hot water system tempering valves that mix cold and hot water together, ensuring a consistent flow of water at no greater than 50°C.
Shine a light on any problems
Getting older usually means a reduction in the quality of our eyesight, and the lighting in a home is a really important contributor to the safety and wellbeing of its occupants.
Consistent, ambient lighting can help older people to move safely around the house, but you should also ensure an extra-bright ‘task light’ is available for important activities such as reading instructions on medicine containers.
Using ‘cooler’ lighting – including daylight, halogen bulbs and cooler fluorescent bulbs – throughout the house can also help add to the ability of older eyes to distinguish colours.
While you’re at it, you might want to add a nightlight to the bedroom and hallway to assist with any midnight runs to the bathroom.
Where there’s smoke…
Change the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors regularly – it’s usually easiest to remember to do as Daylight Savings begins and ends.
Replace any real candles with the cheap-and-cheerful battery-operated kind, so that your loved one can have all of the ambience and none of the risk.
Then, during the winter months, consider adding some cheery signage to the bedroom or loungeroom to remind them to turn off any heaters or electric blankets they may have been using before bed.
Whenever the opportunity presents itself, remind your loved one to embrace a safe pace during the day. There’s no need to hurry to answer ringing phones or knocks at the door.
You should also reassure them that, if you’re on the other end, you’ll happily wait for as long as needed for them to reach the door, or that you’ll can easily call back if they miss the phone.
Likewise, be consistent in reinforcing the ‘stranger danger’ message. Our beloved older community members are generally pretty trusting and always up for a chat, but we know that not everyone has the best intentions.
To that end, you might like to install a peephole in their front door, and consider adding a gentle, written reminder alongside it: ‘Do you know this person? If not – please don’t open the door.’
If they complain of feeling unkind, you could even leave your loved one with slips of paper featuring your phone number to share with callers, so that you can vet their intentions first.
Another modern way we need to keep older people safe is by protecting them from scammers.
Keep a watch on the Australian Government’s SCAMWATCH website and chat to them about any new reports and untrustworthy people who may come calling.
A prescription for good medication management
As we age, we tend to be prescribed more medication, and keeping track of all these tablets can be tricky.
That’s why it’s important to make sure all medications are labelled and stored in their original containers.
A medicine list is also handy to have. It should include information about what each medication is for, what the dosage is, and when and how often to take it.
This list can help older people to take their medications correctly and provide useful information for medical professionals or caregivers in the event of an emergency.
Go and say g’day
If you live near an older person who seems to be on their own, as soon as you’re able, pay them a visit and check on their safety setup.
It won’t take more than an hour, and who knows… you might just save a life.