Almost everyone wants to live independently at home for as long as possible. Some people, however, have lost the very independence they were trying to keep because they failed to follow some basic safety tips and practices. While this article cannot contain an exhaustive list of safety tips and practices, it describes a number of basic steps that individuals can take to help insure their safety at home.
Home Safety Tips
Eliminate throw rugs and other loose floor coverings – A fall causing an injury such as a fractured hip can very quickly end one’s mobility and independence, so the goal here is to eliminate known risks for falls. If a throw rug is very beautiful or has great sentimental value, try using it as a wall hanging or on the back of a sofa or chair.
- Install handrails for stairs and grab bars in the bathroom – Again, the purpose is to prevent falls. Ideally there should be handrails on both sides of stairwells. Both handrails and grab bars should be securely fastened so they can support your body’s weight.
- Keep the hot water heater temperature set under 120o F -This is a good way to prevent accidental scalding.
- Have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors -Detectors can give you enough warning to get safely out of a building before you are overcome by smoke or carbon monoxide. Replace the battery in battery operated detectors when you reset your clocks in the Spring and the Fall, and anytime it fails during a monthly test. There are detectors designed for hearing impaired individuals.
- Have good lighting available, especially in stairwells and hallways – Because vision often decreases with aging, it is important to keep your home well-lit to help your eyes see items which could cause you to trip or stumble.
- Do not overload electrical outlets or put extension cords under carpets – In older homes there are often only a few electrical circuits for the entire house. If too many appliances are being used on one outlet, or even several outlets on the same circuit, there is a risk of overloading the electrical wiring and causing a fire. Extension cords should be placed close to walls where they will not be a tripping hazard. They should not be covered since this can hide a damaged cord, which can produce sparks, causing a fire.
- Use ground fault receptacles in wet areas like bathrooms, kitchens, and outdoors – Improperly grounded electrical appliances and other electrical devices can cause a severe shock, and even electrocution, when current flows from the device through a person’s body to the ground. Wet surfaces can help the current flow to the ground. Ground fault receptacles detect this current flow and stop the electrical current before a severe shock or electrocution occurs.
- Clearly identify your home – In emergencies, seconds count. Having your street number clearly visible on the outside of your home, curb and/or mailbox can help emergency personnel get to you more quickly.
Home Safety Practices
- Keep doors and windows locked – For emergency access, leave a key with a trusted neighbor, family member, or friend, or have a keyless lock box installed.
- Use a peep hole or home security monitor to check the person at the door before opening it – If the person is not someone you have requested to visit you, do not open the door. If he or she looks like a utility company person, ask for photo ID or call the utility company to confirm they have sent the individual, before letting the person into your home. A chain lock on your door will allow you to open the door to examine ID without allowing the person inside.
- Keep emergency numbers near your phone or have them on speed dial in your cell phone – It is good to have a card with emergency numbers plus a current list of your medications and any allergies you have to give to the ambulance crew in the event of a medical emergency. The card should include both numbers you would call in an emergency and the numbers of contact people you would want to be notified in the event of an emergency, such as your Healthcare POA.
- Be aware of phone and internet scams – “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is” is still wise advice. It is better to miss a good deal than to be caught in a scam. If you are asked for bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers, treat it as a red flag and hang up the phone or disconnect from the internet site (unless you made the call or contact to a trusted business or a secure website).
- Keep a flashlight within reach of your bed – Electrical failure can occur at any time, so it is wise to be prepared.
- Use night lights – Night lights can help prevent stumbling over something in the dark, and consequently, may prevent a fall.
- Use an emergency telephone alert device, especially if you live alone – These devices enable you to call for help, even when you cannot get to a phone. Because there is no need to wear it when you leave home, consider exchanging it for your keys when you return home.