More and more older adults want to continue to live independently and age at home for as long as possible. Vision or hearing loss, bone density decline, health conditions and mobility or cognitive changes can create significant challenges for seniors in their homes. But with some home adjustments and increased awareness—along with support from home care professionals—aging-in-place can be a realistic option for healthy older adults. Here are some tips to help you (or a loved one) stay safe and independent at home.
Falls are the leading source of injury-related hospitalizations for Canadian seniors. And beyond the initial injury, falls can also cause chronic pain, decreased quality of life and a loss of independence. Falls do not need to be a regular part of aging and in many cases can be prevented. To reduce your falls risk at home:
- Ensure that your home is properly lit, especially around stairs and doorways. Where feasible, install plug-in nightlights and ensure you have easily accessible lamps beside your bed.
- Keep furniture, wires, cords and loose objects away from high-traffic areas and remove throw rugs.
- Install rails on staircases and grab bars in bathrooms and consider assistive devices like personal alarms, reaching sticks, raised toilet seats and shower benches. Wear glasses, hearing aids and non-slip shoes, and use your walker or cane as directed.
- Keep outdoor walkways and steps free of snow, ice, leaves or tools.
- Stay physically active to improve your flexibility, balance and strength.
- Eat regular, healthy meals to keep your body strong and prevent dizziness and weakness.
If you do fall and feel any pain or injury, call 911 immediately. If you experience nausea, dizziness, headaches, vision problems or pain a short time after a fall, you should be assessed by a doctor. Keep emergency numbers programmed in your cellphone or next to your home phone
Older adults often take prescription medication for chronic health conditions and to improve their quality of life. Keeping track of the timing, dosage and side effects of each medication can be challenging and errors are unfortunately common. These mistakes can make your prescriptions less effective, and in some cases, can cause dangerous complications. To help you take your medication safely and effectively, you should:
- Always fill prescriptions at the same pharmacy so the pharmacist can help identify possible risks or harmful interactions.
- Never put different medications into the same bottle. If you use a pill organizer, make sure you are focused on the task or ask a loved one to help you.
- Familiarize yourself with each medication. Some prescriptions include warnings to avoid sunlight or activities like driving and others should not be consumed with alcohol, over-the-counter medications or certain foods.
- Regularly check for expired or leftover prescriptions and properly dispose of them at your local pharmacy.
If you have made a medication error (or suspect that you may have), contact a doctor immediately.
Reduced mobility, poor eyesight and hearing impairment can make seniors less likely to respond to a fire and some prescription drugs or dementia symptoms can lead to dangerous behaviour. Here are a few ways to reduce your fire risk and stay safe in the event of a fire:
- Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of your home and in each bedroom. Inspect alarms once a month and replace batteries at seasonal time changes.
- Avoid space heaters, but if this isn’t possible, make sure that they are at least three feet away from curtains, bedding or furniture and turned off when you are not in the room.
- If you smoke and are unable to go outside, never smoke in bed or if you are feeling tired. Use deep, sturdy ashtrays and douse cigarette butts with water before discarding.
- Never wear loose clothing around a stove, turn off burners for interruptions like phone calls and set timers to remind you when your food will be ready.
- Replace appliances and lamps with damaged electrical cords and limit the number of cords plugged into outlets or power strips.
- Make sure that you are able to open all doors and windows from the inside and identify two separate escape routes.
- In case of fire, do not grab your belongings, just leave immediately. Use the back of your hand to check doorknobs and if they are hot, exit another way, stay low to reduce smoke inhalation and “stop, drop and roll” if your clothes ignite.
Fraud and Theft
Unfortunately, seniors may be targeted by criminals because they often live alone, can be uncomfortable with technology, are generally more trusting and are sometimes expected to have disposable income. To help prevent you from falling victim to a scam or theft, be sure to:
- Keep doors and windows locked at all times and close blinds and curtains in the evening.
- Install a peephole and never let a stranger into your home without first seeing identification.
- Avoid keeping large amounts of cash or valuables at home.
- Never share personal information including your Social Insurance Number (SIN), credit card, bank details or account passwords over the phone, unless you initiated the call.
- Avoid leaving written copies of passwords or important numbers in your purse or around your home.
- Review bank and credit card statements regularly and report any discrepancies.
- Shred all personal and financial information before putting it in the garbage.
- Request information by mail or a customer service number to verify donations, sales offers or prizes that you are interested in.
With the right preventative measures, you can feel secure, independent and comfortable in your own home. If you are worried about fall safety, a VHA Occupational Therapist (OT) may be able to help. An OT can review your home for hazards and suggest practical changes to make everyday activities safer. Contact your doctor or the Local Health Integration Network for a referral.