Tips for seniors living alone

Ensure your personal, physical safety


Elizabeth M. Young, Contributing writer

The term "senior" is a joke that goes around: you are a "senior" when you get your first senior discount! Senior discounts start as early as age 55, but most of them start at age 62, so the term "senior" covers a wide range of ages, from middle aged to very elderly.

As we age, we should accept and develop ideas of making our lives safer. After the children move on in life and the big house is occupied by only one or two of us, we need to start looking at such things as personal and physical safety.

The first hazard at home is always in the high moisture areas of the bathrooms and kitchens. There has been a big fad of having tile or stone floors that are sure to cause more damage to bones and the body than more resilient wood or low VOR synthetics that have some cushioning for a fall. Kitchen and bathroom rugs present tripping hazards and should be positioned so that feet that do not pick up as lively as they used to do not catch and cause a trip and fall.

Hand rails are a great solution to getting in and out of the tub with something to grab onto in case of a slip. Proper lighting will show if there is water on the floor that might cause a slide. And electrical outlets should be in good repair, with circuit breakers to upgrade any older bathroom outlets in case of a shock. Of course, operating electrical appliances in the bathroom should be avoided or eliminated.

In kitchens, fire is the main hazard. The kitchen stove should have a light to indicate if any part of the stove is on. It helps to use the microwave timer or a stand alone timer to remind us to check when we are cooking something that takes time. Food spoilage is another hazard, and keeping the refrigerator free of ancient and moldy food is a must. For the elderly, this is a major problem, as declining eyesight and memory often result in food that is way past its prime winding up on the table.

Any external and internal stairs should be in good repair, of course, but the older seniors might look into setting up a bedroom on the main floor to prevent falls.

For older seniors, such personal contact services and devices as "Life Alert" are a must have, especially with the elderly who live alone, even in assisted living or senior communities. Many a life has been saved by pressing the button on a necklace or wrist unit.

Away from the home, seniors should be aware of methods for protecting themselves. Taking a little extra time to find parking that is close in to stores and at shopping centers, getting a handicapped placard if qualified, and never going alone to isolated or less savory areas are ways to prevent finding oneself in the back acres of parking lots where vulnerability is high.

And all seniors should know their local law enforcement, hospital, ambulance and fire services, especially when on the move from community to community when the retirement years kick in. 911 or emergency numbers in other countries are just for calling for help. It is good to know how the help operates and where the nearest hospitals and other emergency services are located.

Finally, medications. A simple little pill box that gets re-filled weekly will help to tell if the ever increasing complexity of daily medications were taken and will prevent skipped doses or overdoses. These are available at drugstores and cost very little.

As we expect to live longer, it does not mean that we will continue to have good hearing, eyesight, physical abilities or even memory, so it will be a safer world for the senior who plans ahead by looking at the safety issues in the home or apartment and in the future home or apartment before accident, fire or injury occur.

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