Here’s the short answer: PERSONAL SAFETY = STAYING AT HOME!
We all like living in our homes. Whether we live in a one room studio apartment or a house, home is where we feel safe and where we create our own space. This post is the first in a series on how we can stay safe in our homes and daily lives in order to stay in our homes as we age.
The top goal expressed by almost every client, friend, and elder I talk to about long-term care is to stay in their homes until they die and remain as independent as possible in their daily lives.
In light of that goal, I frequently get to think through the question of how people can stay safe and independent in their homes for as long as possible and I have some ideas to share.
Being realistic is the key. If we, or those we care for, are committed to the goal of remaining at home and living as independently of others as possible during the aging process, then the first thing we have to do is agree to be realistic about what it takes to be safe living alone or spending long periods of time alone during a given day. And the answers to that question, of how to remain safe at home, are likely to change over time with aging or medical status changes. This is not a one-time question to ask or answer, it has to be asked every few months or when there is a significant change in medical status.
Technology may be required. Being safe at home, alone, when we are getting older, especially if we or someone we love is homebound or suffering a chronic illness, is likely to mean adding technology to our daily lives and in our homes.
I don’t know about you, dear readers, but this is the trifecta of my own personal demons!
To add technology to our daily lives and homes means we have to:
1) research new technology or, heaven help us, learn about techno gadgets;
2) make a decision on what to download for free, or to buy, then spend money to buy and/or take the time to install that technology; and
3) then take the time to learn how to use the technology effectively. Yes, this means reading the directions on how to use the technology or gadgets we just installed or bought.
Let’s not panic. This post is the first of several on this topic that will suggest safety assessments and technology that may be as simple as clearing walking paths through rooms to avoid falls, or adding a free application to your IPhone or Ipad, or minimal cost items that add safety and independence.
If it’s any comfort, I’m in the same boat here. I’m over 50, live alone, and have serious health issues that can leave me dependent on others for days or even weeks at a time. Yes, I have actually had to take my own advice and all of the steps and technologies I’m suggesting in this post are in place in my own home and daily lifestyle.
STEP 1: ASSESS YOUR HOME FOR SAFETY
Falling at home and house fires are the top reasons for injury for people over the age of 65, and most of those falls and fires could have been avoided with simple, routine assessments of the home for safety and by making simple changes.
There are some fabulous FREE checklists readily available on the internet to help you assess the safety of your home for potential hazards that can cause falls or fires, and assist you with safety planning. I simply entered the search phrase Home Safety Checklist for Seniors into the Google search box and, like magic, free checklists geared toward seniors appeared before my eyes.
I am impressed with the Consumer Product Safety Commission publication titled “Safety for Older Consumers- Home Safety Checklist,” available at www.cpsc.gov. I also like the “Home Safety Checklist” available from the State of California at www.socoaaa.org. Both of these documents download in pdf format, or can be sent to your home printer, they are in large print, and are easy to follow. The Consumer Product Safety Commission checklist is followed by simple instructions on how to increase safety in the home through use of fire alarms, CO2 monitors, and having plans for exiting the home in case of fire. Frankly, you don’t have to wait to be older to use this guide for home safety.
When you walk through your house with these checklists you will have to think about issues like:
- are there things on the floor I could trip over (like that pile of books or magazines, or throw rug or area rug with fringe on it that are not taped or tacked down);
- are there things piled up on top of high cabinets that could fall down on me (like magazines on top of that hutch, or books piled up high on a bookshelf);
- how many bruises do I get each month from bumping into that square glass top coffee table, or the end table that sticks out a bit too far into the room;
- are there heavy plates in the kitchen cabinets that are a bit too high for me to reach and take down safely, and should I use lighter weight plates and glasses;
- are there railings on the stairwells, grab bars in the shower, a space for a shower seat if necessary; and
- are the closets well organized so I can find what I’m looking for without falling into the closet?
By using checklists that are offered for free and taking an objective walk through your home to assess safety, you can identify hazards that are usually simple to resolve.
Since tripping and falling and breaking bones, or falls that result in brain or spinal injuries, are some of the primary reasons we can no longer live in our homes at all, or no longer live there independently, we get to ask ourselves some basic questions. For example, is there too much furniture in your home? Cluttered rooms with too much furniture in small spaces can lead to falls and serious injuries. If your goal is to remain in your home, then, please, clear the floors of all clutter and, maybe, consider reducing the amount of furniture in your home.
Then there are the other issues that may require some thought and redesign, and yes, technology. Like where’s the laundry for the house or apartment? Is it in the basement or several blocks away? Do you have to carry heavy laundry up and down one or more flights of stairs? Can the laundry be moved near the bedroom you sleep in where most of the clothes, towels and bed linens are kept?
And now for the least favorite question: is it time to have someone else come in to assist you with the laundry?
With new technology, washers and dryers or steam washer/dryer combinations can fit almost anywhere in a home or apartment. New appliances, like steam washer/dryer combinations, can be set up in a closet, or stored in a closet and rolled out for use and put away when done, and some do not need to be vented to the outside.
We are fortunate to live at a time when advances in home appliances can eliminate or reduce potentials for falls, like eliminating the need to carry heavy laundry baskets up and down narrow stairs, or defer the need to have assistance with basic housekeeping activities, like doing the laundry.
Step 2: WHERE ARE THE PHONES?
With so many people dropping their landlines and using only cell phones, we may have eliminated phones being placed strategically around the house or apartment. For example, until recently I didn’t have a phone anywhere on the second floor of my home, where the bedrooms are. I talked with several colleagues and realized very few of us had phones in our bedrooms. What if there was a fire and I needed to call for help, what if I couldn’t get out of bed, or fell on the second floor of the house and needed help? Like most women, my cell phone is either plugged into the charger on the kitchen counter or in my purse if I’m out of the house. When I did my own home safety assessment, I realized this was a safety issue I needed to address.
In my case, there were two options to resolve this safety issue. I could call the electrician in to wire a landline from the first floor to the second floor and install one phone upstairs, or use technology and upgrade to a wireless phone system since the house has Wi-Fi for the computer. I went with a wireless phone system that costs all of $17 per month, that way I could have as many phones around the house as I wanted. I bought 2 wireless phones in addition to the one from the phone company that had the modem, and I installed one in the bedroom upstairs. All that was required was an outlet to plug the extra phone into. I can add phones to the system as needed, which gives me flexibility over time.
Please, stop for a moment, think about where your phones are located and make it a priority to address this issue of safety in your home, especially if you don’t have a phone in your bedroom. If you have spotty internet service, then a wireless phone system may not work for your situation. I encourage you to check out your options and then move forward on a plan to get phones where you need them in your home, barn, basement, workshop, art studio, or wherever you may need to call from for help.
3. STAYING IN TOUCH MEANS STAYING SAFE
Whether you are taking yourself to a medical appointment 100 miles from your home, or driving 30 miles round trip to get groceries and leaving your spouse at home alone, or leaving the office for that hour long commute home, or going out deer hunting or hiking in the woods, someone needs to know exactly where you are in case you need help.
My dear young friend, Maven Carrie Powell of Los Angeles, taught me how to use Glympse, a free application (app), on my Droid last fall and I cannot thank her enough for introducing me to this wonderful tool. You can learn more about this app at www.glympse.com. This app is very easy to use in everyday life.
Using an email or text, you can send a message through Glympse, which uses GPS tracking and Google Maps, to show your friends/loved ones in real time the route you are taking while traveling long or short distances. This app is amazing and could be critical in helping elders and those who are caring for them to remain safe. Actually, it’s great for everyone. Please take the time to check this app out, and then download it and use it.
For example, if you are single, have a serious illness and are traveling to see a medical provider, you can send a text or email using the Glympse app to a friend so they can see when you have left your home and when you arrive at your destination. Then you can send them a text when you are leaving your appointment and heading back home so that someone knows where you are during this trip.
Texting can work for everyone. You can reduce the stress of your homebound spouse or partner by sending a simple text message when you are traveling to or from the office, or every few hours if you are out hunting or hiking in the woods, or if you are working on the farm and away from the house for long hours at a time.
If you are homebound, staying in touch with a spouse/partner or friends/children via regular text messaging is a great way to be independent in your home, to reduce the worry of your loved ones, and to reduce your anxiety about being alone.
Yes, this means having the text feature on your phone and paying a monthly fee for that service.
If the goal is to stay at home and remain independent, then you may need to put money into the technology and services that support that goal.
These are just a few thoughts about how we stay safe and, therefore, STAY in our homes until we die.
In the next post on this same topic, I’ll deal with some of the harder issues around aging at home, like when is it time to use Lifeline, or using assistive devices to help us walk safely to avoid falls, and when should we stop driving a car.