Being Elderly: Staying Safe Living Alone
Growing older has never been particularly easy. Some would argue that it is getting easier with the new technologies that we have to enhance the quality of life in the latter years of life. They would say that with all of the new medicines that we have, people can feel good for more years.
Others would say that we only need the medicines and technology to feel better because there is so much in life that is dwindling in quality. Diabetes is rampant where it used to be non-existent, heart disease likewise. Technology is helpful for staying in contact with family and friends, but in times past, family and friends were right by your side. And, for the most part, our elderly population is wading into these late years of life nearly, if not completely, alone. Families tend not to be closely knit anymore.
Because of this, the elderly find themselves in a very lonely place, mentally, but also physically. There may be people around them, but most likely are not people that they feel connected to from their past, & may even be untrustworthy. So here are a few basic protection tips for those elderly who find themselves walking the paths later in life by themselves, or nearly so.
- Lock your doors/windows. In many older neighborhoods, especially in small towns, this has been historically unnecessary. In today’s climate, it is necessary. Perhaps not so much to protect belongings as to protect personal safety. Drug culture is rampant, even in small, rural communities. One of the most common ways for those on drugs to get what they feel they need is to steal it. If you happen to walk back into your house while a theft is in progress, it is a very dangerous situation. If your doors are locked, it makes it more difficult for the thief to enter. It also gives you an early warning if you notice that the door has been tampered with so that you can go somewhere else & ask for help instead of walking into a dangerous situation.
- Don’t always answer the phone. Most phones are equipped with caller ID now. If you have one of these phones, use it. Screen numbers that you know. If there is a call from an unknown number, they can leave a message. Contrary to old time opinion, it is not rude to do this. There are many people out there who would like to get at any available financial resource that you have, even if it’s a few dollars. Give them less to work with & they’ll give up more readily. If you have a message on an answering machine from someone who is asking for money, or who says that your bank account or credit card has been hacked or your identity stolen, speak with someone you trust who can listen to the message with you. Then call your financial institution yourself to confirm the call was from them. Do not call the number that was left in the message. Just call the regular number that you would call to contact your institution.
- Consider a pet. If you live completely on your own, a dog can be an early warning sign that something is not right. While they can be a pain to take care of, dogs often hear things that we cannot & warn us about it. They’re also great for starting to bark & scare away a prowler. You do not have to get a breed that is known for guarding in order for it to be effective, a simple breed that you enjoy will warn you just as well.
- If you are actively online, you may want to hire someone that can take care of privacy issues on your computer and install an antivirus software for you. Ask how often it will need to be looked at and updated & how much it will cost. Protecting your identity online can be challenging.
- Cell phone. If you do not have a cell phone, consider a very basic one from which you can access 911. Most cell phone companies have very basic, inexpensive plans if you do not plan to use the phone regularly. Having one can keep you safe in case of emergencies. If your vehicle breaks down & you need help, 911 services can generally locate your phone using GPS. If you fall & have your phone in your pocket or purse, you can use it to call for help. In order for this to be effective, however, you’ll need to be familiar with the phone & how it works.
- Network of people. We’ve been talking about staying safe for those who are alone, but the best way to stay safe is to have a network of close friends/family by your side. If your family members are untrustworthy, find friends who are. There are many circumstances in life in which safety is more easily accomplished by just having someone around. If you do not have a network like this, make an effort to start one. If you live in an apartment building, you need not invite someone into your home, but perhaps arrange to have coffee with a neighbor in a common room or lobby where you can get to know one another. Call a friend that you’ve been meaning to call to re-connect. Check in on a family member you haven’t heard from in a while. Having a network of people around you can keep you safe & mentally stronger in your later years.
Safety is a difficult subject for all of us to think about because we do not want to think about the bad things that could happen. Taking a few moments to consider what we can do to increase our safety without becoming paranoid, however, can increase our peace of mind & also prevent something bad from happening! If you are not elderly and are reading this article, consider talking to an elderly friend about how they can remain safe in their situation. Let’s help one another!
Summer Holiday Tips With Seniors
Spring is progressing steadily into summer. Memorial Day officially marks the beginning of lazier days for many people. Family & friends gather for BBQ's by lakes, fish in rivers, go for hikes & enjoy the company of one another. Sometimes, however, these types of activities can become more challenging as we, our family or friends age. We still want to continue on with the traditional holiday celebrations for Memorial Day, the 4th of July & Labor Day, but find certain aspects difficult.
Accommodate for bugs. As we age, our skin thins & we can become extra sensitive to bug bites. Scratching at bites can cause tears in the skin that can take months to heal. You do not want your loved one to spend months recovering from a visit to your home. Plan ahead to either hold your gathering in a screened area or to provide bug spray or bug machines that will deter the pests from landing and biting. If you plan for a hike, walk or even a boating trip, be sure to bring along light-weight clothing or blankets that can be used to keep insects at bay.
Many older people enjoy being on the water, but find that the process to board & exit a boat becomes increasingly difficult because of sight & balance issues. Provide support as the walk down the dock. The waves of the water can make anyone's eyes play tricks on them. Consider a pontoon instead of a boat ride, as the entrance is straight across from the dock instead of a large step downward. Be sure that if you are going out during the bright sunlight that you provide a large brimmed hat, sunscreen or long-sleeved shirt to prevent sunburns. Also provide an ample supply of water to drink as dehydration becomes more of an issue with age & can have lasting effects. Also, remember that if your guest has hearing issues, the noise of the waves & the water can be irritating over a long period of time. Allow for breaks away from the water where they'll be able to hear well without difficulty.
Think about their digestion. Meals heavy in meat can be detrimental to the precarious balances going on in aging digestive systems! Provide meat, but also provide plenty of vegetables, & even consider some yogurt or other probiotic rich foods that will help digestion stay normal & healthy during their stay.
Try to place chairs on even ground. If you must place them in uneven places in the lawn, be sure that there is a cane nearby to make it easier to rise from the chair & also to walk around the grounds. Provide well padded seats for them to sit on & try to be sure that the seats are not too near the ground so that they will not have difficulty in taking their seat or getting up from it. Place a table & possibly an umbrella near them to keep them comfortable & make drinks & food available without having to balance them on their laps.
Be considerate of the amount of time that they may feel up to socializing. If they love to talk & tell stories, this may not be an issue, but if they've become accustomed to turning in earlier, take note so that they will not be too worn down the following day. You want them to have happy memories of gatherings, not to dread another one. Allow them to choose when they'd like to turn in or return home.
These tips may seem basic to those who are around an aging population on a regular basis, but are good reminders for all of us to try to see things from their perspective. If we'd like them to be active & involved in our holiday celebrations, there are small things that we can do to make it a more enjoyable time for everyone. If we're prepared in advance, we won't spend precious time with our guests by running for things to accommodate them better & can instead spend the time enjoying their company.
Emergency Preparedness Especially For Seniors (Part 2)
In the first part of this article, we covered three top priorities for the elderly in case of a large emergency. Those three were: water (a minimum of a 3 day supply), non-perishable food, and sanitation. We'll continue this article with other considerations that must be taken when caring for seniors or the elderly to help prepare them in case there is a widespread emergency.
Perhaps listed within the topmost priorities when dealing with a senior citizen would be to have a good supply of any life-saving medicines that they are on. If they have heart issues, or asthma, for instance, be sure that their supply of medicines do not run so low that they would not be able to be sustained for a couple of weeks. If there is a widespread disaster of some kind, perhaps utilities would be in running order within a few days, but often accessibility to a pharmacy or drugstore could be impaired. They will need time to come up with a game plan for how they can refill prescriptions, so be sure that their supply of medicine currently on hand allows them that time so that it does not add extra stress to an already stressful situation.
Temperature control should also be a consideration. If you live in extreme weather areas (the far north or the far south), be sure that they have the means they need in order to keep their core temperature where it needs to be. In the far north, where temperatures can go as low as -50, they need to have a propane, fuel oil or wood heat source in case the power goes out. Also be sure that they have an adequate supply of blankets & even a hot water bottle so that they can climb in under covers & heat the bed directly around them to get truly warm. In the far south, be sure that they have access to water for wetting down towels to place on their neck & also a battery operated fan. Sometimes extreme temperatures can be just as devastating medically for them as dehydration. The bodies of aged individuals have a harder time coping.
Contact with the outside world will become increasingly important. Often landlines go down during emergencies, so a cell phone may be in order. If they have a cell phone, a non-electric way to charge it will be necessary. Various companies make transistor radios with hand-crank charging options for phones. They often have attached flashlights, as well. The radio itself will become invaluable during an emergency. Be sure that if you are going to have these available for them to use, that they are aware of how to use them. Using them several times a week is a good idea so that they do not forget important aspects.
Extra amenities that will be helpful are listed below. These are simple suggestions that can make life a little more bearable when the pressure is on. They are not necessary for physical survival, but can be of great help to make the emergency tolerable mentally.
-Chocolate or another favorite snack
-Crosswords or other puzzles to help pass the time
-Hobby items that do not require power
-Photo albums to look through
-Books to read
Add other things that you think might be helpful for keeping your loved one calm under pressure. Put all of these things in an easy to reach location, along with other emergency supplies. None of these things should take over your life. Your time or theirs should not be consumed with worry about a disaster. These are just measures to take to help in various rough patches that can occur during an emergency. Once you have a decent supply in place, check in about every 6 months to see what has been used, or what might need to be updated or replaced. No one is every fully prepared for a large emergency, but hopefully these two articles will give you something to think about as you consider the seniors in your life & their safety.
Safety Concerns for Loved Ones with Alzheimer's
Do you love someone who is fighting Alzheimer's right now? Do you provide care (either part time or full time) to someone who is fighting this battle? If the answer is yes, then you know that there are often safety concerns related specifically to this disease that are important to address, not only for the person suffering the disease, but also for the care giver & family.
In the beginning stages of this disease, many of the suggestions listed will seem too complicated to put into place, more of a hassle than they're worth, but as it progresses you'll find many of these to be helpful.
Locking doors. The first thing that comes to mind would be the entrance & exit doors. If someone has advanced to the stage of the disease where they are wandering a bit & often are not aware of their exact location, it is definitely time to implement this step. Lock the doors. Make sure that the lock is not one that they can overcome, but that the caregivers can use easily in case of emergency. Some of the most tragic circumstances with Alzheimer's patients can be avoided by following this simple step. It may feel like a heartless step, especially at first, when their freedoms are limited in this way, but their safety has to be your primary concern. You can help them when they're outside & make it a priority to help them enjoy life inside & outside, but only if they're safe. Also, locking doors of cabinets & drawers that contain things that could hurt them. Start with the knife drawers, chemical cabinets & progress as needed. This can be frustrating, especially for spouse caregivers, but is an important step to ensure that they do not harm themselves or others.
Remove locks. On other inside doors, you'll need to remove the locks that might cause issues. If a patient can lock themselves into a room that the caregiver cannot access, make sure that you modify the door handles in order to grant access.
Reduce the temperature of hot water. This is easily managed by turning down the high temp on the water heater. This can help to prevent accidental burns.
Proper footwear. Look for shoes & slippers that make it easier to walk without slipping. While you're at it, address slippery surfaces, tripping hazards etc. that can make it more difficult to walk inside & in walking areas around your yard. Look at everything from a new perspective & address the areas that might be a problem.
Appliance & tool check. If you have appliances that are hazardous for the patient to use on their own (the stove, for instance) you may have to modify them in order to be used by particular individuals. Remove knobs & store away. Put a lock on the oven door. It is even more challenging to do these things when the patient has been used to using the appliances their entire lives. They will not understand what is happening & will most likely find it unjust.
Two problem areas. The bathroom & the kitchen are probably going to be your biggest focus areas, because they both contain more dangerous items & are prone to becoming wet & slippery. Installing handicap bars, rubber mats & faucet covers in bathtubs can be a big help to reduce falls & make it easier for people to have independence for as long as possible.
Other general areas. While the kitchen & bathroom are the most common problem areas, think outside of the box for other areas of the house. Do you have a television that could fall on someone if they were seeing things that were not there & pulling it toward themselves? Consider anchoring it to a wall for safety. Do the same with bookshelves.
When these things are necessary, the patient will most likely not be alone & that is a comfort. There will be someone with them helping them through this time in their lives, but even a wonderful caregiver cannot be there at every second. Some of these things can help ensure autonomy & dignity, as well as safety, while you navigate this road together.
Medical Alert Systems, What, Why & When?
The 21st century is perhaps one of the best times in which a person can grow older. The health care is better than it has ever been. Patients have more rights now that they was normal even a few decades ago. Technology has improved quality & length of life for most elderly people. That technology has also made it possible for the aging to live on their own or with minimal assistance for longer if they so choose. One of the most common ways in which it does this is through the use of medical alert systems.
Medical alert systems can help an older adult live on their own, but still feel somewhat secure in case of emergency. They have a way of contacting someone for help at all times, just in case they need it. Family members feel more secure knowing that their loved one will not have fallen in inclement weather without them being alerted.
There are a variety of brands of medical alert systems available on the market. Some of them are quite well-known, while others are less so. Almost all of them involve the patient wearing a necklace or a pendant of some kind that has a button on it that they can use to call for help if they need it. In years past, these were linked directly to the fire department or ambulance so that if the wearer pushed it, emergency services were paged out immediately.
More recent additions to this technology include the ability to locate the person using GPS, in case they fell in a difficult to find place-such as a basement or a back garden. They also include automatic fall detection. If the person falls & is unresponsive, many systems will notify those on their list.
If they are reluctant to pay for expensive emergency services for every fall, they also have systems available that will contact people from their list first, such as a neighbor or relative, before paging out emergency personnel. This can shorten the time that the person is in a dangerous situation, & also make it less likely that they'll have to spend time in hospital.
Medical alert systems are a wonderful idea for anyone reaching old age, but who is still wanting to live with less assistance, if possible. It can give everyone involved the peace of mind that they need in order to live life to the fullest!
Security Issues for Seniors
This day and age, the news is ripe with all types of frightening scenarios. Assaults, breaking and entering, & identity theft are among the top concerns of people living throughout our nation today. As we age, it can become even more frightening. Generally speaking, we have less ability to fight back physically & may have less of an understanding of all the rapidly changing technology. Below, I’ll give you a few things to begin thinking about with regards to security in & away from home & online.
Inside your home. Prioritize this area of security first since it is closest to your person. Begin with household security. Check locks on doors & windows. Consider installing an extra chain or deadbolt on doors. Be sure that you check your basement & attic windows to be sure that their secure. Install lights around the perimeter of your yard & outbuildings. Well-lit areas deter people with ill intent. Inside of your house, be sure you have emergency numbers on speed dial on both your landline and your cell phone. If you are able to install a security system, it may give you peace of mind, but oftentimes in smaller towns, a friendly relationship with your neighbors is a much simpler & better solution to security. You watch out for them, & they’ll watch out for you. If you plan to leave for a while, alert a trusted neighbor so they can keep an eye on your place. Also invest in a couple of light timers. Put them on different lamps in your home or on a radio in a room you use often so that they’ll go on in the evening & deter thieves.
Away from home. If you are travelling to heavily populated areas, there are a few things that you can do to keep yourself safe. First off, remember to keep your car doors locked unless you feel secure in your surroundings. Survey the area before you get out of the vehicle & only then should you get out. When you come back to your vehicle survey the area again. You needn’t be afraid, just use your good sense. If something doesn’t seem right, be aware. Women traveling with purses be cautious in larger crowds. Keep your purse close to your person, & try wrapping the strap around your wrist. Inside of your purse, you may consider taking pepper spray with you, although if you are robbed, chances are that you’ll never have a chance to use it. In the event of a mugging, it’s a much safer option to just hand over you purse or wallet and get to a phone to call 911 as quickly as you can.
Online security begins with setting up your accounts. Any new account that you set up should begin with a strong password. It should include symbols, numbers & letters. Do not use the same password for every account. You can keep a notebook to track passwords online. You should also change the password periodically. Next, look into the settings for the account that you’re setting up. You can often choose who can see the things that you post on your account, who cannot see it, & what you’d like to be notified of. If you have all of those areas covered you should have very little trouble with your online accounts. If you do banking & bill paying online, the settings & notifications are very important. The bank will notify you based upon the options that you choose. If there is anything fishy, they will call the number that you put into the account for emergencies & questions.
The purpose of this article is not to scare or coerce, but simply to point out a few areas that require little effort that could have a big impact on your security. The most important skill to hone is simply awareness. If you are aware of what is going on around you, you can often prevent anything harmful.
Aging has a number of benefits. Hindsight, wisdom, peace, quiet, and a slower pace of life. Along with the benefits come a series of challenges, though. Mobility, vision, dexterity & finances can often be compromised as we age. There are a number of reasons why transportation on a daily basis becomes difficult, but all of them cause the same issue. Getting from one place to another with ease is harder than it used to be. Often, we just put up with the inconvenience, instead of addressing the problem & trying to fix it. If you’re ready to tackle it, however, here are a few ways that people solve their transportation problems.
- Walkers or canes. If you live in an area where many things that you need are within walking distance (very uncommon in the greater U.S.) & you can still walk with ease, this may be the only aid that you need. Some people are resistant to this because they feel that doing so will be admitting that they are getting frail. The reality is quite to the contrary, though. If you are out walking on a daily basis, your bone density is improving. Bringing a cane or a walker for support should not bring shame. Hikers nationwide use support poles, too!
- Three wheeled bicycles. These bikes provide great mobility without having to walk! They are often made with the aging body in mind. They’re easy to mount, and have smoothly operating pedals & ample cushioning on the seats. They also contain basket space for belongings.
- Motorized chairs. If you would love to walk or bike longer distances, but your legs or back will no longer allow it, consider a motorized chair. This will allow you a great deal of freedom, does not require a license, & still allows you to be out of doors on a regular basis. Another benefit is that it does have a basket where you can carry your belongings or stow the items you’ve purchased on your shopping excursions.
- If you live in or near a small town, many offer shuttle services from your home to various shoppes around town at very little charge. You just need to arrange pick up times with the driver & you’re on your way! A great benefit is that you do not need to keep up with maintenance on your own vehicle or the licensure & tabs. If there are many people using the service, you may find times when the timing is inconvenient, but the trade-offs may be worth it!
- Bus systems. If you live in a much larger city, you will probably have access to a public bus system. If you’ve driven your own automobile for your entire life, this may seem daunting, but do not let it scare you. Bus lines often provide senior discounts & seating near the front for those who need it. If you’re still a bit timid about going alone, consider asking a friend who has used the system to go with you a few times until you get the hang of it. Before you know it, you’ll be traveling all around & quite possibly making new acquaintances along the way.
- Phone family or a friend. I know, I know. Most people will bend over backwards before they do this last suggestion because they hate to inconvenience anyone. But, really, if you need a ride somewhere, there is no reason not to call and see if someone is going your way. Those whom you care about want to help you in any way that they can and, if they are able, will do so. Perhaps you can offer to cover gasoline expense or to buy them lunch for their trouble, but it is not strictly necessary. Often people are really wanting to help, but do not want to imply that you might need help so they refrain. In asking them, you give them the chance to see that you’re aware of when you need others & are not too proud to ask. It will also give you time to catch up with one another’s lives & keep you closer!
You may have noticed that none of these suggestions include driving yourself. That’s because in this article I wanted to address transportation needs that would be helpful even after you’ve deemed that it’s no longer safe to drive yourself. We’ve all heard of those people who are unwilling to admit that they can no longer see the signs on the road, or that their anxiety while driving in traffic is incredibly great. We’ve also seen those who are unaware that they are driving sporadically or weaving all over the road endangering the very people that they are afraid to inconvenience by asking for a ride. Our bodies fail us. We all age. Let’s age with grace & dignity!
Emergency Preparedness for Seniors
Aging is something that affects every single aspect of life. But, have you ever thought about how it impacts your preparedness for an emergency or even a natural disaster? Think about how things get more difficult on a monthly basis as we age. Now think about that from the perspective of someone who is living on their own during even their more advanced years. From basic, life saving medical aids to a state-wide or even national emergency, it is best to be prepared before the incident occurs rather than wishing that you had been prepared once it has occurred. And, what's more, if you're prepared & your loved ones are prepared, perhaps you'll be able to be the ones to help someone who isn't when the time comes!
- Life saving medical aids. Aging people who are beginning to notice difficulty with walking or stairs should take some time to investigate medical alert devices. It doesn't necessarily mean that you'll have to wear a necklace with a button (although that is certainly an option) they have watches available, too. This way, at a very basic level, you are able to contact Emergency Services to come to your aid. Many people do not think about needing them until there is a serious problem where they've found themselves unable to get up when they've fallen outside. Think about Northern climates & whether or not you'd be able to survive for long if the temperatures drop to -20F. Or, in the South, if you're in an area that gets very hot, if you'd survive without water for long. Take 30 minutes to research the options you have available & make a decision about whether you should be getting one & wearing one for peace of mind.
- Household hazards. My grandmother lived for years with tripping hazards all around her house. She loved her old rag rugs. As she advanced in years, however, they became more of a nuisance. She lived on her own, but because of extreme arthritis, the effort of lifting her feet to avoid turning up the corners of the rugs became too much. She finally got rid of the rugs in most places or had them replaced with options that were heavier & stayed down on the edges better. Door knobs that are easier to open/close & lock are other safety issues. Rolling chairs should be replaced with sturdy options. Unusually high or low bedsides should be replaced with easily maneuvered beds at the right height. Spend some time thinking about the things that might allow your loved one to enjoy their aging years in comfort & make it available to them. Showers & bathrooms should have tubs with doors, handles near the commode and in the shower, etc.
- Preparedness kits. Spend some time thinking about the things that could occur in your area first. In all areas of the country, power outages can occur easily. If those outages last for a number of days, what will that mean for a senior citizen or even a group of seniors who rely on others for help? Water is the first concern. There should be adequate water for at least 3 days time somewhere in the house. In Northern climates, that water must also be accompanied by a way to have heat should it go out, because water will do no good if it frozen solidly. Shelter, warmth & food are also other considerations for these times. How will you eat & stay warm (or cool depending on circumstances)? You can read some great tips from the Red Cross on this PDF:
- Forming a plan that family/neighbors/friends know about. In all of the preparations that you make or that you help a loved one to make, please keep in mind that they are the most effective if they are shared with others. Many older people look out for one another. If that is the case, share where you have the necessary emergency numbers, keys or papers with those you trust. Share your plans with one another in case a disaster occurs. Perhaps you can help one another by reminding one another of things that might be helpful or items that you should buy in case of emergency. Be sure to form a chain of people to call so that everyone knows when things are safe & that you're okay. Lack of communication can be the scariest part of an emergency, so find a way to combat that, if you can.
These are only a few suggestions to help start you on your preparedness journey. There are countless websites & books that can help you to prepare for specific emergencies in a more comprehensive way. This article is only intended to take aging into consideration in the process. Most people do not think about the new limitations that aging presents in these situations. Begin thinking and preparing today for these types of emergencies & rest easy knowing that you're as ready as you can be.
How often have you heard someone who is older comment about their difficulty in communicating with a younger friend or relative? It is becoming increasingly more common as technology progresses, & there is an increasing amount of push back from younger generations that are not able to understand why it might be difficult for those of us who are aging to be able to make the transition between two seemingly different worlds. So how do we bridge this gap that only seems to be widening?
First, it's important to remain calm when speaking about any difficulty you are having with anyone, and especially with someone coming from a very different worldview. Even if you have a good point to make, it comes across much better if you are calm when stating your opinion than if you are already angry. So, when you need to approach the person, try to remember to stay calm as you say, “I've tried to call you a number of times, but I haven't heard from you in weeks.”
Second, it's important to remember that your younger counterpart is most likely not trying to make you upset. The speed of life has reached an all time high. It is not only common, but also expected that they will move right along at that pace & be able to juggle more than they ever have before. It can be incredibly stressful to live under that pressure. When you speak with them, try inquiring about how they are dealing with that, how stressful it must be and let them know that they always have a place where they can speak to you in person in a much calmer environment. That alone may be enough for them to look forward to visiting or calling more often.
Third, recognize that they may not be used to communicating in some of the ways you are accustomed to communicating. Along with everything else in our world, means of communications have been changing at an alarming rate. These days people are far more used to communicating via text message, email or Facebook than through letters or even calls on the telephone. Whatever our opinion is of this change in society, it is the reality, at least for now. So, if you're really wanting to stay in touch with someone, be sure to ask them about the best time to contact them, & the best way to reach them.
Finally, if you have a younger friend who visits or calls regularly, be sure to let them know that you appreciate them & their time. Encourage them to take times to disconnect from the hectic communication forms that are prevalent in today's world & learn how to engage more fully with the people they are with. Everyone can learn from previous generations & while we need to learn more about the technology of today's world & the communication that goes with it, there are also a few things that we can teach others about the closeness that comes from real communication. Communicating is not, nor has it ever been, easy. It is, however, worth it for those that pursue genuine relationships.