A senior’s decision to live alone can be difficult for a family to accept due to the increased risks associated with aging. It’s natural to have concerns about a solo loved one’s health, safety, and ability to navigate their home without injury. But it’s also natural for an individual to think about aging in place, preferring the comfort of their home over senior living alternatives.
According to AARP, 87% of adults age 65 or older want to stay in their home as they age. However, this desire doesn’t come without its challenges. That’s why it is essential for family members and senior caretakers to be aware of and prepare for the dangers of solo living to avoid potential accidents and emergencies.
Aging in Place as a Solo Senior
If your parent or loved one has expressed interest in living independently, use these home safety tips to ensure that they remain as safe as possible, whether you’re near or far.
While falling is not an inevitable result of growing old, it remains one of the greatest dangers. An unexpected fall can compromise independence and safety, and can result in economic burden should it cause injury. More than one in four seniors fall each year, less than half of whom inform their doctor. One fall doubles your chances of a repeat incident, and one in five results in a serious injury, such as broken bones or head trauma. At least 300,000 seniors are hospitalized for hip fractures each year, 95% of which are caused by, you guessed it… a fall.
These statistics only support the importance of fall prevention. So, how can you fall-proof your loved one’s home?
- Declutter: A lot can be collected over 65+ years; old magazines and books, trinkets, clothes and footwear that haven’t been worn in decades, and traces of your own childhood. These items only make it more challenging to move around without accidentally tripping or bumping into something. Donate what you can and throw away the non-essentials.
- Get rid of throw rugs: Our parents’ generation loves their rugs, but they are an enormous tripping hazard. All it takes is a small misstep to trip on the corner of that small throw rug, and you’re looking at a potentially serious accident. Rug-free rooms or wall-to-wall carpets are ideal.
- Install slip-resistant flooring: Materials such as rubber, cork, bamboo, and non-slip vinyl are highly slip-resistant options, particularly useful in the bathroom and shower where floors can get slippery.
- Add grab bars and handrails: Our agility naturally fades with age, making it difficult to climb or descend stairs, or stand up and sit down. Grab bars and handrails are useful for that extra support if your senior’s home is multi-story. They are also helpful when placed next to the toilet and by frequently used seating.
It is advised that your senior has a medical alert on-hand so that if they do fall, they can send for help as quickly as possible.
Keep Emergency Numbers On-hand
While most adults own a mobile device, many seniors find touch screens and advanced software to be excessive, confusing, and difficult to use. Make life easier for mom and dad by filling out an address book or posting a large note with emergency numbers on the refrigerator and the back of their phone. Include your number (and any other close family members’), 911, their healthcare provider, and their caregiving service, if applicable.
Be Aware and Alert
While your senior is clearly an adult and has had their share of life experiences, it is not uncommon to lose your edge with age; mom and dad may need to be reminded of what was once common sense. Unfortunately, seniors are often taken advantage of at varying degrees, usually financially. Elder financial abuse or exploitation is a rapidly growing problem, often experienced by seniors with disabilities.
The National Adult Protective Services Association reports that one in twenty seniors have experienced some form of financial mistreatment. This may be in the form of lottery and sweepstake scams, home repair/traveling con men, the grandparent scam, charity scams, and more. Seniors should remain aware and alert of these types of deception, never agreeing to telephone offers or claims that a family member is in trouble, and hanging up when financial information is requested over the phone. Seniors should also keep doors and windows locked, check to see who is at the front door when the bell rings, and install a peephole and a mail slot.
Improve Lighting Inside and Outside
Visibility naturally worsens as we grow older. Improved lighting both inside and outside can help your loved one move around without missing a thing. Outdoor motion sensors are ideal to carefully light the path from their vehicle to their front door. Voice-activated lighting indoors (think Google and Amazon) and night lights throughout the home can also make it easier to light a room without tripping over items on their way to the switch.
Know Thy Neighbors
Whether mom is downsizing or staying put, she (and you!) must remain connected to her neighbors. Neighbors are often a great source of help for seniors. They are among the first to notice when mom’s not keeping up with her gardening or other outdoor activities. Get in touch with someone who can keep an eye on her house and her presence; a neighborhood watch of sorts, but for your loved one.
Protect Against Fires
Elderly individuals are 2.7 times more likely to die in a fire than the rest of the population, making fire safety a top priority. Make sure that your loved one knows to exit the home immediately should they experience a fire, rather than trying to put it out themselves. You should also employ simple in-home fire safety measures:
- Ensure up-to-date fire detectors, and check and replace their batteries regularly.
- Keep a working fire extinguisher at all times.
- Keep space heaters three feet away from furniture, curtains, and bedding.
- Don’t wear loose clothing when cooking.
- Check electrical cords for damage, and limit the number of cables plugged into any given socket or power strip.
- Don’t leave burning candles in an unoccupied room. Or, remove candles from the home altogether.
If your senior is aging in place, don’t forget to check in on them frequently. We become less sharp as we age, and come to count on our loved ones for continued support! Securing your senior’s home will encourage them to maintain their independence for as long as they are safely able. It will also help alleviate any reservations you may feel about their solo living!