Whether out of choice or because of circumstances, many seniors already live alone. According to the Institute on Aging, nearly 12 million, or one-third of the over-65 population live alone. Half of the women over 75 live by themselves and 87% of Americans over 65 wish to age in place. If this describes you or one of your loved ones, you need to be aware of some of the challenges faced by older adults:
- Physical limitations that coincide with age can limit mobility or impact daily life.
- Memory problems make it difficult for seniors to keep on top of household cleaning, maintenance, personal hygiene, and prescriptions.
- Chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, or heart conditions can make ordinary household tasks more difficult.
- Isolation and depression can seriously affect an older adult’s quality of life.
- Financial concerns can also affect a senior’s mood and outlook.
One determining factor in whether a senior can age in place is the quality of care provided by family and friends. Only 7% of seniors with a readily available support network are in institutional settings. When a caregiver isn’t available, however, that number rises sharply—to 50%. For this reason, 65% of seniors rely on loved ones, either family or friends, to provide assistance. If you’re in this situation—or if you’re a senior who wants to preserve your own independence for as long as possible—it’s never too late to implement some simple safety strategies.
The kitchen can pose a variety of safety issues, from sharp objects to hot liquids. Fortunately, you can make a few non-intrusive changes to lower any potential risks:
- Clearly label on/off positions on appliances, garbage disposals, lights, etc., to avoid confusion.
- Provide easily accessible, bright lighting in work and walk areas.
- To avoid fire hazards, use appliances that have an automatic shut-off.
- Keep a fire extinguisher close by and ensure everyone in the household knows how to operate it.
- Check food supplies often and throw away any expired or spoiled items.
- Encourage the use of the microwave when possible over the use of the stove to prevent burning food and reduce fire risk.
You can also take steps that will reduce the amount of time necessary for you or your loved one to prepare meals. Meal delivery services and shared meals can reduce the need to use kitchen appliances. Sharing meals also reduces the feelings of isolation and loneliness that accompany solitary meals.
The bathroom poses a unique set of safety hazards for seniors. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 200,000 in the United States are treated annually in emergency rooms due falls in the bathroom. While falls are a leading cause of death among all age groups, they are particularly dangerous among the aging population. To make the bathroom safer:
- Install sturdy grab bars near the shower and toilet.
- Use a slip-resistant shower chair with a handheld showerhead.
- Use a bath-transfer bench to aid in getting in and out of the bathtub.
- Use non-slip mats on the floor and in the shower to prevent slipping on wet, slick surfaces.
- Use a raised toilet seat with handlebars to safely get up and down from the toilet.
- Make sure that the bathroom is well lit,
Taking a few proactive steps in the bathroom can pay long-term dividends. Once a senior has fallen, he or she is twice as likely to suffer a second fall, perhaps with disastrous consequences. By avoiding falls in the first place, you can help your loved one avoid future falls.
General Safety Tips
Seniors who live alone are especially at risk in times of emergency. Unexpected falls or medical events can leave them without the ability to actively seek help. Set up a system to check in daily and consider using a medical alert system. If you or your senior plans to rely on a cell phone to call for help, make sure everyone in the household knows how to use it for this purpose. Keep landline phones well within reach on end tables and nightstands rather than high on the wall.
Seniors are also at risk for various forms of crime. Insist that they keep the doors and windows locked at all time and that they do not open the door to strangers. In addition, some criminals target the elderly to take advantage of their confusion. such as phone calls that demand money for relatives who are in trouble or callers who pose as representatives from agencies like the IRS. Encourage seniors to contact you or the police immediately if they suspect anything untoward.
For seniors who live alone, taking medication on time and according to instructions is important for their long-term health and well-being. Make sure all medications are labeled correctly and easy to read. Dispose of any expired or unneeded medications to prevent confusion.
Lastly, always be honest with your loved one and with yourself about their capabilities. As people age, conditions such as dementia, reduced mobility, or muscle weakness may make living alone more difficult. If necessary, engage outside help to assist with tasks such as lawn care, housekeeping, or daily living activities. Part-time nursing or home maintenance assistance may enable your loved one to remain at home longer, be safer, and feel less lonely.
Jill Greywolfe has a passion for helping seniors and their loved ones make informed decisions about aging in place. She has written on topics ranging from finding the correct Medicare plan, selecting the best home health care provider to the benefits of volunteering as a senior. Jill is committed to providing unbiased, informative and engaging content to help seniors live the fullest lives possible.