For many seniors, living alone is ideal. Whether their home has sentimental value or they just enjoy being alone, it is not uncommon to want to stay home for as long as possible. Living alone has risks, however. Seniors face health dangers such as falling or experiencing a medical emergency. And many seniors (even those without dementia) have difficulty remembering their complex medication schedules.
But if you’re a senior who enjoys living alone, and don’t feel quite ready to find a senior living setting, there are steps you can take to make living alone more suitably safe.
1. Remove Tripping Hazards
Everyone is susceptible to tripping, but a fall can have a significant impact on the health of a senior. To avoid a visit to the hospital, clear away anything that could be a tripping hazard — area rugs (especially those that bunch), stacks of books on the floor, cords, etc. Ask for help from a friend or family member to move large or heavy objects.
2. Use a Medical Alert System
If you do fall or have a medical emergency, a medical alert system will bring help. Knowing that you have access to help if you need it will also give family members peace of mind that you’ll be ok if an emergency occurs. Many of these systems exist on the market today, so you have plenty from which to choose. The equipment is generally inexpensive, and monitoring costs run between $20 - $40 per month.
3. Keep a list of Emergency Contacts Handy
It’s difficult for anyone to process information in an emergency. Your body is flooded with adrenaline, and your mind is focused on a fight-or-flight response. Having a list of emergency contacts posted in a prominent location means you won’t need to rely on memory. These contacts may include police, fire department, medical offices, family members, and friends. Of course, you can always dial 911.
4. Test Smoke Alarms Regularly
This is another tip that applies to everyone, regardless of age. Smoke alarms sometimes malfunction, and batteries die. Be sure to schedule a smoke alarm test into your calendar every six months to ensure your alarms are working properly. According to FEMA data, older adults have a 2.5 times greater risk of dying in a fire than the population as a whole. Testing smoke alarms regularly can help lower your risk dramatically.
5. Keep Items in Easy-to-Reach Places
As we age, our balance becomes less reliable. Even middle-aged people find that their balance isn’t as stable as it once was. Remember when you didn’t give a second thought to standing on a chair to reach an item on the top shelf of a closet or cabinet? Safety is important for everyone, but seniors need to be especially careful. Keep items within easy reach so you don’t have to risk a fall when you need something.
6. Install Bars in the Bathroom
Warm water makes bathrooms humid. Combined with soaps, shampoos, and conditioners, it can cause bathrooms to be slippery. Bathrooms are one of the most dangerous locations in a home for this reason. In fact, 80% of falls happen in bathrooms. Installing shower bars and grab bars will give you something secure to hold onto in slippery situations.
7. Develop a Close Circle of Friends
Nothing can replace a close circle of friends. Friends look out for one another. If you don’t already have a group of friends you trust and rely upon, make it a goal to build these relationships. You can find friends in community groups, your neighborhood, a faith community, and hobby groups. It may require getting out of your comfort zone, but the effort will be worth it once you build the relationships.
8. Ask Friends for a Daily Check-in
One of the reasons that it’s helpful to have a close group of friends is because you can check in on each other. If you struggle with balance or other safety issues, ask your friends to call or stop in on a daily rotation to make sure you’re ok.
9. Put a Lock Box on Your Door
If in an emergency you’re ever unable to answer the door, a lockbox (like the kind realtors use) will allow friends, family, and emergency responders to enter the house. You might also consider a coded doorhandle and offer the code to family or perhaps a trusted neighbor.
10. Install a Peephole in Your Door
It can be dangerous to answer the door if you don’t know who's on the other side. People who have ill intent often prey on seniors living alone. A peephole will allow you to see who is at the door before you open it. Peepholes are available at any home improvement store, and they’re fairly easy to install; just ask a friend or family member to help you.
11. Install Outdoor Lighting
It is best to stay in at night, but should you be out in the dark, good lighting with sensors or on timers can provide important visibility. Also, lighting can be a crime deterrent.
Have a friend or family member check the house at night to see where lighting could be improved.
12. Take Precautions with Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity will help protect your financial health, and because stress affects physical health, it can in turn help protect you physically. Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your devices. Use strong passwords. Verify that emails with clickable links are legitimate (and know that no legitimate organization will ask for personal information in an email). Be sure to log out of your accounts after you finish using them. Navigating technology can be complicated so don’t be afraid to ask your children or grandchildren for assistance. Here’s a resource we’ve found helpful!
Living Safe and Secure
While some seniors can safely live alone by taking the proper precautions, others find they enjoy the security that an assisted living community can provide. With staff available 24 hours a day, round-the-clock monitoring, and in-home call systems, these communities are designed with security in mind. Residents also have access to staff who can help them keep track of medication schedules and nutrition. And assisted living communities come with easy access to a group of like-minded people who can provide invaluable friendship.