Tips for Ensuring Senior Safety When Aging in Place
A proactive plan and smart
technology can improve home security for seniors
If your aging parents have made it clear they plan to live out their golden years in their current home, you’re far from alone. AARP reports that nearly 90 percent of adults over the age of 65 want to age in place instead of moving to an assisted living or nursing facility. But that decision, while understandable, can put a lot of stress on adult children, raising concerns about falls, senior safety in the home, transportation issues if seniors can no longer drive, and more.
Even more challenging, adult children often live hours or even days away from their parents and/or work long hours, making regular visits and check-ins difficult to accomplish. Communicating by phone can make it hard to assess when loved ones reach the point that they are no longer safe in their homes alone.
Proactive preparation and planning are key to helping elderly parents age in place, ensuring that their home is safe and accessible, and a good support network is in place. Ultimately, understanding what often interferes with an aging parent’s ability to remain at home and finding ways to anticipate, prevent, or work around these challenges are the secrets to success.
Here are some strategies to keep aging loved ones remain healthy and safe at home, even as time brings changes to their lives, health, and abilities.
Step 1: Start the
conversation about senior safety and aging in place
It’s never too early to begin the potentially challenging conversation about planning for care as family members age. Building a plan together is essential to getting everyone on board and creating the right “circle of care” network, which may ultimately grow beyond family members to include paid caregivers, health care providers, friends, and neighbors. Spouses and grandchildren may also be impacted by caregiving, so be sure to include them in the conversation.
Talk to your parents about what is important to them and listen carefully to their answers. Seniors need to know their wishes have value to avoid resentment and resistance down the line. They may worry about privacy, feel overwhelmed by cooking meals or maintaining the outside of a house, or hate eating alone if a spouse has passed away.
Understanding their concerns and desires will help you create a plan that addresses their safety and care without sacrificing dignity and grace. It’s also important for you and other potential caregivers to talk frankly about what future tasks you are (and aren’t) willing or able to take on to avoid scrambling for options at the last minute.
Planning ahead can be difficult because it’s hard to anticipate how needs might change. Consider chronic health problems your aging parents battle like diabetes or arthritis and talk to a doctor about how they could impact mobility or the ability to care for themselves in the future. AARP recommends that adult children concerned about elderly parents living alone complete an assessment of overall living conditions, finances, and general health to determine what care is needed, either on their own or with the assistance of a trained medical professional.
It’s also wise to spend time with your loved one and take note of daily routines, focusing on important activities like eating, dressing, bathing, and movement around the house. That way, you can understand what household tasks might be too difficult to handle and what time of day your loved one could benefit from extra support. For instance, grocery deliveries or hiring a caregiver can assist with meal preparation, a housekeeper or cleaning service can take care of the house, and simple changes to the home can make bathing or mobility easier.
Information on support services that can help seniors age in place in your area should be available through the local Area Agency on Aging, local and state offices on aging or social services, or local senior centers.
Step 2: Address safety
concerns to increase home security for seniors
The most common accidents older people suffer involve falls, burns, and poisonings. Addressing these basic safety concerns are critical for enabling parents to successfully age in place.
Avoiding falls at home is key to senior safety
One in four Americans aged 65 and older falls every year, making falls the leading cause of fatal injuries and the most common source of non-fatal, trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
Take a tour of your loved one’s home, focusing on ways to avoid falls. Assistance from professionals like occupational therapists can help identify hidden hazards and ways to make homes easier to navigate. Make sure hallways, stairs, and paths are well lit and clear of objects like books or shoes. Move scatter rugs away from the tops or bottoms of stairs and tape area rugs to the floor so they won’t move when walked upon.
A senior’s less-steady gait, weaker bones and muscles, and medications that can cause lightheadedness combine with hard, slippery surfaces in the bathroom to make it one of the most dangerous rooms in the house. About a third of adults aged 65 and older injured in bathrooms suffer fractures; 38% of those aged 85 and older are hospitalized as a result of their injuries.
Simple renovations can go a long way toward improving senior safety in the bathroom. These include:
Handrails in the shower/tub
Raised toilet seats or frames
Non-skid bath mats
Review fire safety for aging adults
People aged 65 and older are twice as likely to be killed or injured in a home fire as the population at large, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. It’s easy to understand why: poor eyesight, hearing loss, arthritis, dementia, and side effects from medications can make it more difficult to react to a blaze.
The Fire Administration offers “Fire Safety for Older Adults” to help adult children and aging parents review basic fire safety. For instance, smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths among people 65 and older and the third-leading cause of fire injuries. Adult children should remind loved ones to never smoke in bed, where medical oxygen is used, or while drinking alcohol or taking medications that may make them sleepy.
Cooking fires rank as the leading cause of home fires; many seniors also suffer burn-related injuries while fixing meals. Once again, adult children can remind aging parents not to cook if they feel sleepy, to remain in the kitchen while cooking, to avoid loose-fitting clothing while preparing meals that gas flames or electric burners may ignite, and to double-check that the oven, burners, and other appliances are off when they are finished.
Make sure seniors always have an easy method of calling for help in case of fire emergencies. Working smoke detectors or smoke and heat sensors are also essential to keeping seniors safe at home.
Protect elderly parents from poisoning
One in 10 older adults has experienced a poisoning at home, most often from taking the wrong medication, according to the Texas Poison Center Network (TPCN). These accidental exposures account for 45% of all poisonings and 41% of all poison-related deaths in the U.S. Incidentally, about 20% of poisonings in children also involve a grandparent’s easy-to-access medications.
Seniors often forget to inform doctors about other medications they are taking that could interact badly with new prescriptions. They are also more likely to have vision problems that affect their ability to read labels or forget whether they already consumed their prescribed dose for the day.
Adult children should keep an up-to-date list of medications that aging parents are taking, including over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements. Provide this list to doctors prescribing new medications to check for adverse interactions. It’s also wise to keep a copy available at your home in case of emergencies.
To decrease the chances of accidental overdoses, try requesting aging parents’ medications in blister packs or separating them into automatic pill dispensers. Attaching larger labels or different-colored stickers can also help seniors tell medication containers apart.
Step 3: Installing smart
home security systems provides safety and peace of mind when elderly parents
Besides the obvious benefit of protecting an aging parent’s home from intruders, smart home security systems offer connected smoke and heat sensors and carbon monoxide sensors with 24/7 monitoring that make sure help is quickly on the way—even if seniors can’t call for it for themselves. The sensors will also deliver email, text, or push notifications to you and your parents on mobile devices, making sure everyone knows the alarm is sounding.
For seniors who have difficulty moving, early warning is critical to escaping home fires or dangerous levels of carbon monoxide gas. Traditional, unconnected sensors are useless if hearing loss prevents loved ones from noticing the alarm or, worse, they are overcome by smoke or poisonous gas before they can seek help.
Home security cameras connected to a smart security system also make it easy for adult children to check on their parents from anywhere in the world. Images can be viewed in real-time on a smartphone or other device, enabling you to:
Check in if no one answers the phone
Assess whether alerts triggered by smart security devices demand further attention
Observe how your loved ones are being treated by hired caregivers
You can also point cameras at areas in the home where falls are most likely to occur, such as stairs.
If you need to respond to a situation you see or there is an emergency like a slip and fall, you can speak to your loved ones through two-way audio features on Frontpoint Security’s Indoor and Premium Indoor cameras. The premium cameras can even be added to your account but placed in an elderly loved one’s home, so you can check on them even if they don’t have a home security system.
Activity-based sensors installed throughout a home provide more discrete reassurance that elderly parents are successfully performing daily routines. For instance, sensors applied to exterior doors will notify you when loved ones leave and return home. They can monitor when doors on medicine cabinets and the refrigerator open and close, offering peace of mind that elderly parents take their medication at appropriate times and eat regularly.
When combined with Frontpoint’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Engine, sensors can also report unexpected activity in the house—or a concerning lack of activity. AI learns behavior patterns for people in the home. When a change in routine is detected—such as your loved one fails to leave the bedroom at the usual time—the AI registers the discrepancy and can alert interested parties.
When Motion Sensors are installed, AI can even notify adult children about lapses in normal movement that may signal prolonged immobility following a fall or serious health event. If a fall occurs, Panic Pendants connected to a smart security system can make calling for help as simple as pushing a button, reducing fears that elderly parents living along lie helplessly on the floor for hours.
Smart security systems also allow devices to work together to increase safety and convenience for seniors living alone. For instance, smart lights can illuminate the house when Smart Door Locks detect that seniors arrive home so they don’t stumble in the dark, or make nighttime trips to the bathroom safer when motion sensors detect someone out of bed. Smart lights can even be programmed to help reduce confusion over medication, flashing a reminder when it’s time to take the next dose.
Frontpoint even enables smart devices to be incorporated into customized “scenes” that can be set to a timer or controlled manually through an app by you or your parents. A “nighttime” scene can turn off all the lights, turn on the alarm, and raise the thermostat at 10 p.m. every night without forcing seniors to travel room by room. Frontpoint’s security system can also be controlled by voice commands to a virtual assistant like Amazon Echo or Google Home.
Of course, the most important rule to remember when loved ones age in place is that situations can change quickly. Reevaluate how elderly parents are managing every six months or so to ensure you don’t miss a new issue or need.
Finally, don’t get so wrapped up in the practical details that you forget about activities that bring your loved one joy. Whether it’s a weekly meal with grandchildren or a weekly card game with friends, finding ways to continue those events should be a priority in your plan.
Helping parents age in place can be challenging and stressful for adult children. But by creating a proactive plan—and taking advantage of smart technologies—families can help loved ones enjoy their golden years in their current homes with dignity and safety.
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