Safety Concerns

Safety risks for older persons – and what to do about them.

“Just in Case” Conversations

Posted by on Jun 26, 2012 in Planning, Safety Concerns, Sensitive Conversations |

If your summer travel plans include a long-distance visit with aging parents, why not use the opportunity to do some “just in case” planning?  The relaxed pace of summer may offer a friendly environment in which to reflect and plan ahead. Also, being face-to-face may allow you to accomplish more than planning from a distance. Here are five tips for getting started, whether you are travelling across town or across the country!   1. Take note of warning signs that your parents may not be coping as well as before. Check for changes in these 4H’s: health, hygiene, housekeeping, and hazards around the house, as well as other areas where they are getting or needing more help. Share your observations about changes, but resist the immediate impulse to offer your solutions.  Listen and reflect before responding.   2. Start or continue conversations about sensitive subjects: framing these discussions as being of help to you may make them seem less intrusive to your parents. Also, give advance notice that you wish to talk about these topics. Allow everyone some opportunity to reflect and prepare when discussing important matters.   What are the “must-discuss” topics? Top of the list is whether your parents’ powers of attorney for finances and health careare in place or have been updated. Where are the other important documents that might be needed “if something happens”?   Finances may also be on your radar – a gentle conversation-opener can be asking whether there is anything you need to know about your parents’ finances as you do your own financial retirement planning.   Your parents’ living arrangements may be fine for now – but what happens if their health takes a sudden turn for the worse? A “health emergency plan”is a good tool for all families to have, but especially where families live hours apart.   Next, find out if your parents are familiar with seniors’ services in their community. Larger centres have dedicated seniors’ resource offices; in smaller communities, you may have to start with the local public health unit.   3. As a family, research and visit some nearby assisted living and long-term care homes. Everyone’s health may be good now, but things can change quickly. If a health crisis happens, and your parent cannot safely return to live at home, knowing which care homes they prefer can be a boon at times of illness and stress. Remember, these properties are for those who need medical oversight and personal care. You can explore other “downsizing” options, such as condos and retirement residences, too.   4. Get acquainted with your parents’ neighbors and the group of close friends who looks out for each other. Having a local contact can help ease your worries or check on parents’ well-being if you cannot contact them.   5. During this time, keep things in perspective. Manage your emotions and expectations. This type of forward planning is not an “all-business” project; rather, it’s a process that involves reflection, patience and building trust.   You can expect resistance to change, even denial, along the way. Emotions may consume more energy than performing the tasks at hand. You may have to deal with old relationship dynamics and alter some established behaviour patterns before you can move forward.     Taken all together, this tip list may seem daunting. But it’s still best to get started now, before a crisis happens. Take one step at a time, commit to the next step, and steadily build towards a solid plan for that “just in case” someday.   Get started or re-started this summer!   © ElderWise...

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Avoiding Danger @ Home

Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Safety Concerns |

Safety, including safety in and around our homes, becomes more top-of-mind as we age. Why be concerned? As we grow older, we gradually lose some of our physical strength and mobility. Reflexes may slow, affecting the speed with which we can react to dangerous situations. While some of our cognitive functions actually improve as we get older, others start to slow or decline. This may start happening as early as in our mid-50’s – even for otherwise healthy people! Our home is a good place to start when evaluating our overall safety. Performing a home “safety audit” is a first step to identifying potential hazards and reducing risks for the elderly, including injuries, as well as fraud and other crimes.  Home modifications may allow seniors to stay at home longer, but also reduce the risk of falls and other injuries. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) offers a wealth of information on home renovations, as well as grants available to qualified seniors: http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/maho/adse/masein/index.cfm Outdoor home improvements can do double duty, increasing your safety at the same time as providing improved security against break-ins and robberies. Consult the CMHC link above and/or your local police service for information for all homeowners, whether at home or while travelling. Uninvited visitors are in a position to prey on a homeowner’s loneliness, politeness and/or desire to help someone. Basic protection includes installing a peephole and chain on doors. Utilities service personnel typically do not need access to your home, especially without advance notice. Don’t let any one in unless you have initiated a service call. Even then, ask for identification. Never allow uninvited visitors in. If they need to make a phone call offer to make it for them. If they have an emergency, offer to call police or an ambulance for them. Door-to-door marketing can involve a homeowner in a high pressure situation. Do not give out personal information; you can request the visitor leave information in your mailbox for you to review. You are NOT obligated to open your door to any uninvited visitor. For more information on fraud prevention, go to http://www.competitionbureau.gc.ca/eic/site/cb-bc.nsf/eng/h_00122.html A safe place to call home includes feeling safe in our neighborhood. For safety outside the home, basic guidelines apply, whatever our age. Be aware of your surroundings and know that a frail-looking older person can appear an easier target for purse-snatching or mugging. Choose well-travelled, well-lit areas and shopping or take outings with companions to reduce safety risks. Keep money and ID cards well protected (e.g., in an inside jacket pocket rather than in a dangling purse). Change your banking and shopping routines from time to time.  When out and about, know when vanity may be affecting your safety. In addition to “sensible shoe” choices, you can use mobility aids such as a well-fitted cane or walker to help you avoid serious injury. For additional reading, consult these recent ElderWise articles: Tips for Staying At Home…Safely Beware of “Helping’ Strangers – Especially Visitors in Pairs: A true story from an ElderWise subscriber Choosing – and using – Walking Canes and Walkers (2 separate articles)   © ElderWise Inc. 2012 You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Inc. We provide clear, concise and practical direction to Canadians with aging parents. Visit us at http://elderwise.memwebs.com/ and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter.  ...

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Tips for Staying At Home…SAFELY

Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Safety Concerns |

This tipsheet focuses on safety measures you can take to: 1) Be prepared in case of a medical emergency at home. 2) Avoid or minimize the chances of a fall  For older persons living alone, a regular “check-in” system is our first line of defense.  Friends and neighbours who see or call each other daily are often the first to know if something is amiss. If you don’t answer the phone according to a normal schedule, who can look in on you (or your parent)? Make arrangements with a neighbor or close-by friend. Alternately, have a professional caregiver or paid companion check in. This friend, neighbor, or companion should also have contact details for one or more family members. Will there be set of keys left with someone (or at least at a known location) in case of serious concern? Many frail elderly persons use an emergency response system, connected to a live phone answering system, and usually worn around the wrist or as a pendant. Assuming the user is capable of triggering a call, this can be an extra safety precaution. Falls are one of the greatest risks for an older person; in fact, more than 40% of nursing home admissions can be traced back to a fall or complications from a fall. Even if the fall produces no serious physical consequences, the person who falls often becomes increasingly fearful and loses some confidence that they can move about safely. That can lead to a downward spiral of less activity, loss of strength, and increased vulnerability to further falls.  That’s why a “safety audit” of all rooms in the house is a prudent idea. Following are some safety aids to evaluate: Bathroom:  Use grab bars, rubber mats, “telephone” shower heads, shower chairs/benches, raised seats to minimize slips and falls in the bathroom. Kitchen: Increase use of small appliances rather than stovetop and oven Buy small appliances with automatic shut-off features Place items within easy reach, avoid lifting/carrying heavy dishes All rooms: Reduce clutter, minimize objects on floor Increase lighting, including night lights Tidy up loose cords and wires Re-assess furniture, e.g. chairs too low, sharp edges, wobbly items Remove throw rugs, secure carpet edges. Can you easily see flooring transitions (e.g, tile to carpet)? Outdoors: Repair cracked sidewalks Install handrails on stairs and steps, or install a ramp Trim shrubbery and trees along pathways Ensure adequate lighting by doorways and along walkways Stairs: Plan how to reduce/minimize stair use Install hand rails on both sides of staircases at elbow height Always have one hand free to grasp handrails Secure or remove carpet on treads of stairs Increase lighting in stairways Remove any rugs at the top/bottom of stairs General Safety: Wear properly fitting shoes/slippers with non-slip sole Remove reading glasses when walking, especially up/down stairs Install a telephone extension in the bedroom, kitchen, and in or near the bathroom Never rush to answer the door or phone Understand side-effects of alcohol and medications, such as dizziness For more ideas, visit this webpage and review items in the right-hand column: http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/maho/adse/masein/index.cfm...

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Beware of “Helping” Strangers – Especially in Pairs

Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Safety Concerns |

Following is a true story one of our ElderWise subscribers shared with us recently. It’s a cautionary tale – not only about letting uninvited persons into your home, but also the potential of your personal information being used by criminals.  “My mother was robbed in her home in the Toronto area last week by two women posing as social workers and I want to warn others about this kind of robbery and fraud. My sister had died of cancer about 10 days earlier. My 83 yr old mother, who lives alone in her big house, had a visit from two “social workers” from the hospital where her daughter died “just to see how she was doing since the loss of her daughter”. It seemed like an appropriate and helpful thing that they were doing. They had called in advance for the appointment and showed a business card. They had a clip board with a “form” to ensure the house was safe for an elderly woman who uses a walker. But they were frauds and thieves. They were very rude and invasive during the visit. My mother was reluctant to allow them upstairs since but they insisted that they were “responsible for her safety” and that her “family was worried about her” and wanted to go upstairs to see if her bedroom and bathroom were safe. It turned out that while one “social worker” distracted my grieving 83 yr old mother by asking to see her safety bars in the bathroom, the other one hung back in the bedroom and stole her credit cards out of her purse. My mother did not realize it till the next day when one credit card called my mother to verify $1,500 charge on her credit card at Home Depot, since this was not her pattern of spending. She refused it and only then did she realize she was missing the card. She initially thought she had just lost the credit card, but then checked her wallet in the bedroom and saw that her other credit card was missing too. Then it all unfolded and we realized what had happened – and that no one had been sent from the hospital at all.  When they booked the “appointment” they also gave a contact number. We called it after all this happened, and found that it had nothing to do with the hospital or any office. All the information that the fraudsters used could have been gathered from my sister’s newspaper obituary. We learned that over $2,500 had been charged to her cards in the past 12 hours. The police came and are investigating. It is very upsetting to my mother since they entered her home, an old lady with a walker and her daughter being buried just a few days ago.” Published with permission. Name withheld by request....

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Choosing and Using A Walking Cane

Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Safety Concerns |

Have you resisted using a cane because you think it makes you look “old”? Have you opted for feeling unsteady or tense, instead of using a tool that provides balance and support, greater safety and confidence? It’s no secret that older persons are at greater risk for falls; what’s truly frightening is that more than 40% of nursing home admissions can be traced back to a fall.   Canes don’t have to signal decrepitude. True, some canes are designed completely for function, but others do acknowledge fashion. Just search “walking canes” on the Internet, to see a sample. Whatever type of cane you choose, you want to ensure that it is comfortable and appealing enough that you will use it. First, choose a stable handle that feels comfortable in your hand. Then, adjust for length. A wooden cane can be cut to fit while some aluminum canes have adjustable pegs. To determine correct fit: 1. Hold the cane upside down, crook resting on the floor. Drop the hand that will be holding the cane so it’s perpendicular to the floor. 2. Bend the wrist into a position designed to hold the cane. 3. Make a mark on the cane (using chalk or masking tape) at the bend in the wrist. 4. Remove the rubber tip, cut the cane ½ inch shorter than where you marked it, and reattach the tip. For an aluminum cane, follow the same steps, but use a tape measure or ruler to determine what the final length should be. Then deduct ½ inch. Now adjust the length to the identified length using the pegs. Once your cane is fitted, use these tips for getting around: On a Flat Surface • Always hold the cane on your strongest or best side. • Move the cane forward at the same time as the opposite leg. • With both the cane and weaker leg stable in the forward position, move the stronger leg forward. Up Stairs • Position and stabilize yourself below the first step, with the cane tip on the floor. • Take the first step using the best leg. • Now, move the cane and the weaker leg up to the same step as the first leg. Down Stairs • Position yourself in a stable manner on the top landing. • Take the first step with your cane and your weaker leg. • Stabilize yourself, and move the stronger leg to the same step. You can also get instructions about choosing and using a cane from an expert, such as a physiotherapist or staff in a home care agency who are familiar with the use of assistive devices....

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Choosing and Using A Walker

Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Safety Concerns |

A “walker” is a device with wheels that is designed to provide support and balance to an individual who cannot walk without assistance. For some, a walker is a temporary aid during rehabilitation or recovery from injury or surgery. For others, a walker provides essential support for ambulation and must be used at all times. Individual needs fall somewhere along this continuum and may change over time. For example: J. was 58 when he required hip surgery. For a brief time after the surgery, he used a walker for support. M. was 85 when she had a stroke. She required the support of a walker. Initially she used what she called a “heavy duty” model because she needed to rely on the walker supporting some of her weight. Later she graduated to a “lighter” model that she used to provide stability. Walkers come in many models, each designed for a specific purpose. Walkers must be fitted both for size and for purpose. Some things to consider: • What will be the main use of the walker? *To provide support while walking long distances, such as an apartment hallway or a shopping mall. *To provide support whenever mobile, even in tight spaces such as the home environment (e.g., bathroom) Weight: is the walker easy to push for the specific person? Can the walker be easily folded to be placed in a vehicle? Where/who will service the walker if necessary? Where to find a walker? You will find walkers on sale in a variety of stores but for reliable advice you should consider specialty stores that sell medical equipment. Is the walker’s cost covered by Canadian health care? The short answer is “possibly”. Each province has specific programs and criteria for providing medical supplies and equipment. If you want to know more, contact the health authority in your region....

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