The things to know and the solutions that help
Senior safety is serious business. Whether it’s protection from those that could take advantage of them, or shielding them from accidents that could happen when they’re alone, there are many things families, friends and other caregivers need to think about. Luckily, there are also many solutions available to help seniors, no matter the area of concern.
Dangers at home
Safety issues most common in the home are falls due to clutter, unsafe area rugs, and wearing socks without shoes, says Tina LaPelosa, a corporate administrator with AristaCare Health Services in South Plainfield, which has several locations in New Jersey, including one in Cherry Hill. Areas of the home that are the most dangerous are the hallways (due to lack of light) and the bathroom (because of slippery floors, plus possible dangers lurking in the medicine cabinet). “Seniors often place smaller furniture items to lean on when navigating their home, but these same aides can be a hindrance and falls occur,” LaPelosa says.
“Knowing that 70 percent of home accidents occur in the bathroom and that every 2.3 seconds an adult age 65 or older suffers a fall, I would say that failure to be proactive is the greatest risk to safety in the home,” explains Jim Rumsey, of TubEZ in Woodbury. “There are a multitude of ‘accident prevention’ improvements that a homeowner can make in order to reduce the risk of falling unnecessarily. Someone at the age of 65 still has an average of 13 years ahead of them. Why take the risk of falling? Make some modest home improvements, such as the installation of a few grab bars or even a walk-in tub, and feel more confident when using your bathroom.”
According to estimates by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), every year, nearly one million people older than age 65 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with the products they live with and use every day, adds Carla S. Fleming, director of Spring Hills Home Care Services in Cherry Hill. “The death rate from accidental injuries in the home is approximately three times greater for older people than for the younger population. Specifically, there are 60 deaths per 100,000 persons 65 and older, while there are 20 deaths per 100,000 persons under 65.”
Correct medicine use is also a huge safety concern, says LaPelosa. Often, seniors are on multiple medications prescribed by different doctors. They can confuse what medications to take when, any negative interaction between meds, and if two or more drugs may actually treat the same symptoms, thereby using two medications for the same illness. “Seniors need to take all of their medicines they are currently taking with them to the doctor’s office [for every appointment] and must throw out any medications they are not taking—and not ‘save’ them for potential use in the future.” She suggests bringing the actual bottles to avoid any errors.
Another issue is driving. Often, seniors who drive have slower reaction times, making them unable to stop or maneuver the car as quickly as needed, says LePelosa. Also, peripheral vision is diminished, reducing their ability to see cars on the left or right, not to mention other obstacles. Whether or not they should be allowed to drive is something that can be discussed with their doctor and other caregivers.
Trouble on the prowl
Another big problem is the way seniors are taken advantage of through phone scams, explains LaPelosa. “They get callers daily that offer incredible deals and the seniors routinely give their personal and credit card information over the phone. They also get people who knock on their doors and extort them in this same way,” she says. “Family members also take advantage of them with their social security checks, etc. They want the seniors to stay with them and then the family member keeps or takes their check to spend for themselves. The family members often cannot meet their bills, so their elder’s social security check helps them pay their bills.”
LePelosa says seniors routinely get donation requests in the mail and they should not respond because most need the money they have saved for the rest of their lives. “The seniors will say, ‘Well they sent me labels with my name on it or a T-shirt so I need to donate to pay for it.’ This is not true.”
Depending on the protection needed, there is Adult Protective Services, the state ombudsman’s office, and the police, says LePelosa. “APS would assist with extortion, family theft, if a senior was not taken care of properly and lives with their family, etc.” But the best protection is education, she says. “If the seniors are aware prior to receiving a call to give, buy or donate, hopefully they will not and will never give their personal information over the telephone.”
Remember, says LePelosa, look out for any deal that is too good to be true, any telephone call looking for personal information, donation requests that come in the mail, and friends, family or neighbors looking for money to “help” them.
For Rumsey, a serious area of concern is the unscrupulous contractor. “I suggest you take your time and do your due diligence to find the right company with the right products for you and your individual needs. Also, make sure they are not only licensed, but insured [and have] a strong reputation.”
Other areas of worry, adds Fleming, include: health care/Medicare/health insurance fraud; counterfeit prescription drugs; funeral and cemetery scams; fraudulent anti-aging products; telemarketing scams; Internet fraud; investment schemes; homeowner/reverse mortgage scams; sweepstakes and lottery scams.
Fleming offers examples of other ways to offer help, including: checking up on them—especially if it’s suddenly more difficult to get in touch with Mom or Dad; paying closer attention when they speak—are they able to take care of themselves, do they know what’s going on, etc.?; and have them get a medical checkup—they can check for any physical issues and to see if any behavioral problems might have a medical component.
Loved ones should really do their research, adds Rumsey. “Each state has different agencies that are there as a resource to the aging-in-place population. Find the ones that are in your county and begin to understand the many options that exist for the elderly through these resources.” Rumsey says there are also many safety products available, regardless of the need. “You just need to know where to find the right fit.”
If you need help, try these resources:
* The National Center on Elder Abuse, confidential, toll-free hotline at (800) 677-1116 and comprehensive list of resources at NCEA.AOA.gov
* The Eldercare Locator, (800) 677-1116, directs callers to senior information and referral telephone lines in their communities.
* INFOLINK, (800) 394-2255, directs callers to the closest, most appropriate services for crime victims.
AristaCare Health Services
Several New Jersey locations
Spring Hills Home Care Services
Published (and copyrighted) in the Art of Living Well pull-out section of Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 2 (April, 2013).
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