As we age, we may get less mobile and have more difficulty getting around. This doesn’t mean this has to slow us down or stop us from doing the things we love. It just means seniors need to take a little more care and caution to keep themselves safe. This is especially true when they live alone. Safety for an elder living by themselves is helpful to know for either yourself or for loved ones.
What are some safety tips for seniors living alone? Seniors can stay safe by making sure their home is well-suited and equipped for any challenges they may face or encounter, creating a plan for contacting someone in case of emergencies, and keeping specific behaviors and habits in mind for everyday safety.
This article will dive into multiple situations where seniors may put themselves at greater risk of injury when living alone and detail the steps they can take to avoid these situations. Keeping our loved ones safe is critical to maintaining their independence.
Personal Safety Tips For The Elderly
Taking personal safety seriously is important for seniors. They can be the victims of violent crimes (both by strangers and by elder abuse). They are more likely to run into health problems and accidents than younger people, especially when living independently. This means that there are some things they should keep in mind – both in their homes and when they are on their own to prevent accidents and emergencies.
In 2015, 51% of violent crime victimizations against people 65 and older involved victims who did not know their perpetrator;26% were committed by a well-known or casual acquaintance; and 18% were committed by a relative or intimate partner. – Office For Victims Of Crime
The Escondido Police Department in San Diego, CA says, “You can start by learning some basic crime prevention information. For example, it helps to know:
- Criminals look for the easiest opportunities to commit a crime.
- Look for and remove any opportunities before criminals spot them. You don’t necessarily need physical strength, agility, speed or expensive security devices. You do need to be alert, cautious and self-confident.”
The Escondido police have a great PDF on senior safety for both inside and outside the home (click here to read it or download it). Among other things, they recommend having a buddy system for when you go shopping (so you aren’t shopping alone) and point out that you should not shop at night, if possible. In addition, take someone with you if you are going into a risky area – even during the day.
Don’t leave your purse sitting in your shopping cart. If you do this, it can easily be grabbed by someone walking by. Instead, put the strap across your body or loop it around your arm while shopping
Also, it’s a great idea to have neighbors watch out for each other.
Other ways to stay personally safe are to:
- Never reveal to a phone caller that you live alone, if you do.
- Feel free to hang up on an unwanted or nuisance caller so you don’t become a victim (manners and courtesy do not apply here – remember, they called you and intruded on your peace).
- NEVER give personal or financial information over the phone – especially if you did not initiate the phone call. The same applies to an unsolicited email or text message. Financial institutions WILL NOT call you and ask for your social security or account number, NOR will they ask you to recite it to them in order to “verify it to be sure you are the account holder.” Read more about how scammers target seniors (both on the phone and online) in our article, How Swindlers Are Scamming The Elderly Online: A Senior’s Guide To Online Safety.
Home Safety Tips For The Elderly
The home can present a lot of dangers for any individual. They become increasingly dangerous for seniors because someone may not be there to help them when trying to get around. There are a couple of main areas that should be in the forefront of a senior’s mind in keeping themselves safe in their homes.
Safety Within The Home
- Sturdy appliances and furniture: Make sure that all railings, appliances, and anything that could fall are secure. Seniors should not rely on these to hold onto when moving around their apartment, and keeping these items secure is important in case of accidents. Throw rugs should be removed (ideally) or have non-slip mats under them to prevent the possibility of slipping.
- Minimize clutter: Keep your home free of clutter to avoid tripping and falling on items scattered around. This includes cords that should be kept out of walking areas.
- Bathroom safety: Make sure non-slip bathmats are present and grab rails are installed, if needed. Many accidents occur in the bathroom because of how slippery floors can be when wet. Take proper precautions to keep these areas dry and safe. Set hot water tanks at a temperature of 120 degrees to avoid getting scalded when bathing.
- Fire safety: Be mindful of open flames, such as candles, fireplaces, and stoves. Keeping these on can cause fires and should be monitored during use. Never leave an open flame unattended. This includes making sure you are aware of food you may be cooking and its potential for burning.
- Strangers: This is important for anyone, but you should not let people into your house that you do not know. Unfortunately, seniors can be targets of burglary and taking personal info. Use a peephole and ask for ID before letting in a service person you have requested. Also, an investment in an alarm system is a good idea and you don’t have to get an expensive system from a monitoring company. Products like Simply Safe or Ring can be purchased online and set up easily (we have both at my home, so I can vouch for how easy they are to use).
Securing The Physical Building
- Install deadbolt locks and always change the existing locks if you move to a new home.
- Don’t leave your windows open at night “to get fresh air.” Burglars look for easy opportunities to get into a home and open windows and doors might as well have a neon sign pointing to them that says, “Come On In!” An elderly neighbor of mine always slept with his windows and front door open to the breeze (his screen door was locked). His opinion was that burglars wouldn’t come in because they didn’t know if he had a gun. What?? The burglar likely has a gun, so why would they care about yours? Believe me, he changed his tune and locked his house up tighter than a bank vault – starting the morning he woke up to find a thief going through his bedroom drawers while he was sleeping in the same room. Don’t be stupid like he was – lock your doors and windows and get fresh air from using a ceiling fan or your air conditioner!
- If someone knocks on the door and asks to use your phone, do not let them in. Make the call for them – while staying inside behind your locked door. You can relay any information through a (closed) window.
- Keep your garage doors closed at all times and keep both your basement and garage doors locked at all times. You should do this even if you are working in the yard because you will likely be distracted and a thief could slip inside without you knowing about it.
- Consider getting a small dog who will bark if a stranger comes around. Alternatively, if getting a dog isn’t feasible, the Amazon Echo (Alexa) can be programmed to make barking sounds on command (read about the other things the Echo can do in our article, How Can Alexa Help Seniors? (Amazon Echo For Older Adults).
- Never leave a note on the door that says you are out (example: maybe you are expecting a friend to drop by, but you suddenly realize you have to dash out for a few minutes. Don’t put up a note that says something like, “Hi Sally, I had to run out, but I’ll be back by 11:45”).
Also, don’t leave a spare key under the doormat, in a flower pot, on the outdoor light, or in one of those fake “rock” key holders. Burglars know all the tricks in the book and these are the first places they look.
The Charlotte, NC TV station, THV11, did a news story on this fact:
Instead of using a rock or flower pot to hold a spare key, security expert Julius Ulanday of Security Consultants in the Charlotte area recommends installing a lock box like the ones realtors use. He says a lock box costs “about $20 and is difficult for a thief to break.”
Another alternative is a keyless entry lock that can be unlocked via a code that you insert or a smart phone app. You can get these at a big box store like Home Depot or Lowe’s. They can either be installed yourself or installed professionally if you don’t have the necessary tools.
Protect Your Valuables
In the PDF I mentioned in the Personal Safety section of this article (above), the Escondido Police Department recommends that, to protect your valuables, you should:
- Keep money and other valuable papers and securities in the bank or safety deposit box.
- Have your Social Security or retirement check deposited directly into your bank account.
- Mark your valuables (TV, VCR, and computer equipment) with your driver’s license number and the state’s abbreviation.
- Keep an inventory list of your valuables and note model and serial numbers on that list. Videotape your home and take 35-mm photos of your valuables. Keep a copy of the list, videotape and photos in your safety deposit box.
Keep these precautions in mind when living alone and make safety a priority.
Emergency Contact When Living Alone
One of the most important safeguards you can take as a senior is having emergency contact information easily available and ready so you aren’t frantically fumbling for them in the case of an emergency.
Keep these contacts in an easily accessible area and, if necessary, ensure that the font is large enough for easy viewing. For my dad, I wrote out a list of emergency numbers and hung them on the side of his refrigerator.
Be sure to write these contact numbers down somewhere, even if you have them stored in your cell phone. In an emergency, your cell phone may not be working or accessible, so it is best to have them written down. To illustrate, you may also not remember that your adult child is Speed Dial #3 if you are distressed or panicked.
You should have the phone numbers written down for:
- 911: The most important phone number to call if you are in danger or injured. Again, being upset or rattled by an emergency could make you forget these numbers, so please write them at the top of your list (the UK emergency phone number is 999).
- Family member or friend: You should list loved ones as emergency contacts in case you need them to come to help you quickly.
- Poison Control: Seniors could be at risk for poisoning from medications, gas leaks, etc. The number in the United States is 1-800-222-1222. For the UK, contact the non-emergency 111 number for information of specific poisons or 999 in an emergency.
- Healthcare team: Make sure there is easy access to your doctor and healthcare team if you run into any issues or have questions regarding your health. Emergency responders also need this information.
There are also devices and medical alert apps available on smartphones. These are helpful solutions when you find yourself far from a landline phone or need to alert a medical team immediately with a single button. Keeping your cell phone on you, especially with a history of medical concerns or falling, is a good idea in case of emergency.
Some of the best smartphone apps for seniors include:
- Lifeline Response
Other safety options include medical alert devices, such as Life Alert. You can read about some of these alternatives in our article, How Much Is Life Alert Systems For Seniors?
Walking Safety Tips For Seniors
Walking is one of the best forms of exercise for seniors and can actually lower your likelihood of falling. That said, “Over the past decade, there’s been an increase in pedestrian fatalities. Deaths increased 35% when comparing 2008 and 2017 fatalities,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The NHTSA recommends that, to be safer, pedestrians:
- Walk on a sidewalk or path when one is available. If no sidewalk or path is available, walk facing traffic and as far from cars as possible.
- Never assume drivers see you; they could be distracted or impaired. It’s best to make eye contact with drivers to make sure you are seen, and to generally be aware of your surroundings – particularly when crossing the street.
- Always cross streets at marked crosswalks or signalized intersections whenever possible; this is where drivers expect pedestrians.
- If a marked crosswalk or intersection is not available, locate a well-lit area, wait for a gap in traffic that allows you enough time to cross safely, and continue to watch for traffic as you cross.
- Make yourself visible by wearing bright colored clothing during the day, and wear reflective materials (especially on arms, legs, and feet) or use a flashlight at night.
Additionally, walking can become increasingly dangerous with age, especially if you rely on a physical support device, such as a cane, or have a history of falling. There are certain precautions you should take to avoid trouble when walking, as well as a couple of things you should keep in mind in case an injury occurs, or you need help:
- Keep your cell phone on you: Especially when walking longer distances or outside, it is helpful to have your phone on you, should you fall or have any type of emergency.
- Wear the proper shoes: Having the proper footwear can help avoid a lot of accidents. They provide support that prevents pain from appearing in other areas and allow you to walk longer distances.
- Use a mobility device, if needed: When going on a walk, use a cane or walker if you usually do in the home. There is no point in adding strain to your body if you don’t need to. Going for a walk with a mobility device is still exercise. At home, use canes or walkers rather than relying on walls or railings.
- Be alert to your surroundings and make eye contact with people.
- Don’t let your purse dangle from your arm. Either hold it against your body with your arm or use a fanny pack instead.
Beyond keeping yourself safe in case of injury or pain while walking, the activity in and of itself is actually one of the best forms of exercise for seniors. It is a low impact activity, which should prevent putting stress on bones and joints. Among other things, walking prevents weight gain, strengthens muscles, and decreases risks of many diseases related to being sedentary.
Walking also improves your balance and therefore decreases your likelihood of falling. The better you are at balancing yourself while walking, the fewer problems you should run into.
You can read more about how walking benefits seniors in our article, Why Is Walking Good For Older Adults?
Home Safety for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Patients
All of the items detailed in this article are applicable to seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s. These conditions are more likely to impair judgment, physical behaviors, senses, physical abilities, and sense of time and place compared to seniors without them. Because of this, there are also some additional considerations that should be made in the home for safety.
The best environments for the safety of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s include:
- Simplicity and consistency: Having a daily routine helps to keep seniors aware of their environment and figure out where to go. Changes can be confusing and cause issues. Furniture should be arranged in a simple matter to keep areas free of clutter.
- Good lighting: The area should be well lit for ease of use and maneuvering around the home. This should include nightlights, especially in hallways and bathrooms if they are needed to be accessed.
- No hazards: Keep hazardous materials and appliances out of the home as they can be particularly dangerous for this group of seniors. This includes harsh chemicals, old medications, and appliances that can cause fires if left on. Make cords shorter or secure them out of the way to avoid tripping. Use pre-set thermostats to control water temperatures and consider safer forms of heating, such as a column heater rather than radiators.
We have more detailed information in our article, How do You Keep Alzheimer’s Patients Safe At Home?
Keeping Seniors Safe – Conclusion
These are some important tips to keep in mind when seniors live alone. Taking the necessary precautions as a senior will help make your home experience safer if you do not have lots of visitors or enjoy spending a lot of time on your own. It is better to be cautious rather than risk injury, making these tips helpful to prepare yourself for any issues that may arise.