elderly woman looking out window **

Home Alone and Home Safety

Most of us hold onto independence as long as possible, sometimes coveting freedom even when it's unsafe. Many elderly persons or those with health risks have no other option but to live alone, somewhat cut off from other people. But what if we always have a hot button within reach—a way to call for help if we find ourselves in trouble? Having a connection to someone outside the home is key to living alone safely. Knowing one has a connection actually ups the quality of life, as peace of mind helps all concerned. Fortunately, if we use one of today's new communication systems, we can stay connected, especially when it really counts.


Get a Lifeline!
There are a lot of devices and home protection tips that can help keep us safe. Use of a cell phone, other types of adaptive phones, or a personal emergency response system (PERS) gives individuals the freedom, privacy, and independence to live alone, without compromising safety. This page describes available technology to keep you or a loved one connected as well as other safety tips.

Caring.com has a list of the best medical alert systems here.


Communication Devices as Lifelines

cell phone

Cell phones
The invention of the cell phone probably benefited the disability community most of all, because one can call for a ride or for help from a wheelchair any time via a cell phone. Your cell phone can remain with you at all times so there's no need to track down a pay phone or dig for coins (let alone grip and insert coins into pay phone slots placed way out of reach.) If there's a medical emergency or a problem with your wheelchair, your cell phone/lifeline is always right there with you! Also, a cell phone can be worn using your choice of attachments. As with any new technology, cost drops after a couple of years, so now it seems everyone has one, not just busy executives. You may as well have one for safety!


Users (or a helper) can program 911 into a contacts list, plus telephone numbers of three neighbors or friends who can come over within moments. Those emergency helpers can be listed in your phone under ICE (In Case of Emergency.) There's no need to scroll through looking for someone's name that way. (Cell-phone dealers can assist customers with programming). TTY devices should also be programmed with emergency contacts.


Flip-phones are not for butterfingers!
Flip-top cell phones are often too difficult to manage by individuals with limited dexterity, so a one-piece cell phone will be a better option.


Accessories Help Keep Us In-Touch
Make a commitment to protecting yourself or someone you care about with a handy cell phone attachment! Buy a neck cord or pouch for your cell phone. Attachments of all kinds abound at cell phone dealers; everything from wristbands to belt clips or waistband attachments, to pocket pouches, and purses, or accessories that attach to a wheelchair. Fasteners also come in a variety: snaps, clips, or Velcro strips. New handbags and carry-on luggage now come with cell phone compartments. Decide which one(s) are most convenient; then keep your cell phone charged and on-board at all times!


Don't forget to charge!
In the beginning, new users may wish to write a reminder note or set an alarm clock for when it's time to charge the cell phone!


Explore Phone Options with Special Features
Jitterbug: This brand of phone is designed with the senior in mind.  It has a special emergency button, a reminder service for medications, big buttons that are backlit, a large color display, a large speaker, a very long battery life, a simple camera and no contract necessary. 

Amplified phones, big button phones, phones with photos for quick dial, extra loud phones, and phones with emergency alerts can all be found at Phones for Seniors.


Cordless Phones
If a cellular telephone (along with the monthly service) isn't affordable, a cordless telephone can be kept in the basket of a mobility device until bedtime (a walker basket, hanging pouch for crutches, scooter, or wheelchair basket) or kept on the floor in case of a fall. Return the cordless phone to its charging station each night and keep that on a night stand near to your bed so you'll have access to a phone even in bed.


Walkie-Talkie Telephone
For an instant, one-button connection (though more costly), your lifeline can be a walkie-talkie-type cell phone that corresponds with another person (a relative, friend, or other emergency contact). Users transmit simply with a "push-to-talk" button and connect with another person instantly. Some cell phones now offer push-to-talk over cellular that enables the use of a phone as a walkie-talkie. 


Online Safety and Privacy

Senior Citizen's Guide to Privacy Online
This guide targets seniors, but actually has good information for anyone using online communication.  It includes 10 tips for staying safe online, email safety, online banking security, social media safety, recognizing online scams, and healthcare security. 



Caring for an Elder

The US Department of State has resources addressing eldercare issues including communication, housing, paying for long-term care, and long-distance caregiving. 

Mayo Clinic has information about dealing with resistance when caring for the elderly. 

Tips on Caring for Elders with Alzheimer's or Dementia can be found here.  This site includes dealing with family conflict, long-term care options, memory-sharing activities, hospitalization, wanderers and GPS tools, end of life planning, and more.

For additional resources, see our section on Eldercare under Parenting.


Protection Within the Home

Medical Alert Systems or Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS)
These systems have 3 parts: a small radio transmitter, a console connected to a telephone and and emergency response center that monitors calls. The transmitter may be a pendant, wristband, keychain like device, belt or pocket clips with a Help button that connects the wearer to an emergency dispatch person when pressed. These are great in case of a fall or any other situation when you need help. Some more sophisticated systems automatically detect when the wearer falls and call the dispatcher. Devices now use wireless or cellular technology so they work everywhere, not just within the home. Some are even waterprooft or offer smoke, extreme temperatures and carbon monoxide monitoring for additional fees. Here are 3 top picks

You can purchase, rent or lease a PERS. Coverage by Medicare, Medicaid or insurance companies in not common. Expect to pay for installation and a monthly monitoring charge. Read the contract carefully and note extra fees such as cancellation fees. 


Falls—Unable To Get Up
Falling and getting stuck is not always a medical emergency, but not being able to call for help can result in serious consequences. Helplessness runs the gamut from inconvenience to injury, even fatality if one lacks access to food, water, medication, and the bathroom—a traumatic ordeal at best. Safe-proof your home with the precautions described below.


Eliminate Throw Rugs
It's easy to secure area rugs with rubber anti-slip rug liners underneath each rug. But small bathroom rugs are dangerous, and in fact a leading cause of slips and falls. Another leading cause is tubs and showers without bathmats or anti-slip appliqué; make sure you have anti-slip protection in your tub!


Make sure there is adequate lighting in each room. Make sure floors are clear of objects one can trip over, especially for persons living with blindness or a visual impairment.


Fall Prevention Checklist
Use this handy checklist from the CDC to identify hazards around your home. Ways to fix the hazards are included. Here is a second checklist from Easy Living and another article, "Home Design for Fall Prevention for Seniors" that addresses hazards in each section of the house and provides solutions. 

25 Tips to Make a Home Safe
This guide describes things to do to make a home safe and does it room by room. It includes simple things to consider for fall prevention as well as home security. 


Fall Prevention Facts and Tips for Preventing Falls
The CDC reports that deaths from falls has risen yearly since 2007, with an increase of more than 79% for people 85 and older. Here you will find the statistics, risk factors, identification of the fear of falling, prevention and what to do in case of a fall.  


Personalize Your Safety Needs
Every family must personalize safety needs by addressing the potential risks facing their unique situation. Whether these are medical concerns, such as Alzheimer's disease, seizure disorder, or other health issues, it's necessary to consult with the patient's physician. Many organizations provide websites that address specific illnesses or conditions, offering information about prevention, care and treatment.


Seizure Response Dogs
It sounds too simple, but worth some consideration! A seizure-response dog (for epileptics) or other service animal may provide just enough help and confidence to allow an older adult to continue living alone. Their companionship can actually improve quality of life.


In a changing neighborhood, it might be a good idea to beef up security with an electronic surveillance system and/or extra window locks. One needn't live in constant fear, but implementing a few practical safety precautions always pays off. There are always ways to minimize potential problems. The National Fire Protection Association offers safety tip sheets covering cooking, candles, smoke alarms, escape planning, clothes dryers, generators, and more.  Here is a link to their publication, Home Safety for People with Disabilities.

See also this article from the Jefferson City, MO Police, How to Lock Out Crime: Apartment Security and Safety


Emergency Wheels
In the event of a fall, having an unconventional set of wheels around could save your life. A type of dolly or palette on wheels, such as the type auto-mechanics use to slide under a car, can move one out of the path of a fire, or to a telephone. Palettes are available at auto supply stores and home repair centers, such as Sears or Home Depot.


Bed Safety
Another important consideration for home safety is making sure one is secure in one's bed. Adapted beds protect sleepers from rolling off or becoming trapped. Adapted beds offer features such as protective bars. There are many adaptive bed manufactures, including SleepSafeBeds.  For pediatric furniture, hospital cribs and youth/age appropriate beds, visit Hard Manufacturing.

If you need to be alerted to someone getting out of bed, the Silent Call Bed Mat Transmitter will send a signal to a Slent Call 318MHz reciever to let a care giver or parent know someone has gotten out of bed. This may be useful to deaf parents or caregivers. 


Stash Medicine
Persons with medical conditions sometimes become dizzy or run the risk of fainting when medications aren't taken on time. Planting extra doses of medicine in each room could prevent a fall or serious injury, as long as the medication doesn't require refrigeration, e.g. nitroglycerin tablets for cardiac conditions, an inhaler for asthma, or hard candy for certain types of diabetes—whatever is needed for your specific chronic illness. If a medication requires refrigeration, it may not be a bad idea to keep a mini-fridge in the room farthest from the kitchen as to cover two territories. If one's condition is extremely volatile, packing a cooler each day to place nearby would not be extraneous; it could even save a life!


Distribute House Keys
All the technology in the world won't help if no one can open your door, so make sure to distribute keys to at least three other people who can come over within minutes. It may feel disquieting at first to give out keys, but if there's any possibility you may need to be rescued, the people you've chosen as emergency contacts will need access to you. So choose your most trust-worthy friends and neighbors, along with relatives, just in case anything happens. You will actually be safer.


Knox Boxes
A product known as the Knox-box can be installed outside the front door, only open-able by your local fire department or first responsers. (It's the same idea realtors use for showing properties.) Designed for persons at risk, make sure to call and verify that your local fire department supports it. 


Reposition Locks
We never think about this until it's too late—how to get the door unlocked when someone is trapped inside. If chronic falling, seizures, vertigo or dizziness, or mobility limitations impact your life or someone close to you, hire a locksmith to install an additional lock to be placed low to the ground. When you or a person at risk is home alone, he or she should only use the lower lock. When away, only use the top lock or the one that's easiest to reach. Wheelchair and scooter users should have only one lock placed a little lower than the wheelchair seat, in case of falling. Another option, though costly, is an automatic door opener that operates with a remote control device


Fire Safety, etc.
Make sure you have one of each: smoke alarm, carbon-monoxide detector, and a fire-extinguisher. Keep batteries charged and fire extinguishers current. Mark expiration dates for each on the calendar. If you are deaf or hard-of-hearing, purchase a special signaler or alerting device for persons with hearing loss.

Know your fire safety basics – specifically that heat, fuel, and oxygen are the three elements fires need to exist.

Heat: home heaters, electrical outlets, and cigarettes generate heat, but so do candles and ovens. Did you know that cooking is the leading cause of household fires? Unattended ovens, overheated grease, and mishandled electric stoves start the majority of house fires in the U.S. Among the leading causes of deaths by fire are also smoking and heating equipment. Placing candles and home heaters without thinking through fire precaution is a recipe for disaster, especially when small children and pets are around.

Fuel: anything that's combustible is considered fuel in this case – wood, clothing, paper, furniture, chemicals, and gases. Now think of all the Christmas décor in and around your house – is it appropriately positioned away from heat sources? By the way, cooking while wearing loose or long-sleeved clothes made of synthetic fabric is a bad idea.

Oxygen: fire can suck the oxygen from a room even before flames reach it. And when that happens, oxygen is replaced with poisonous smoke that kills faster than fire. So, would you know how to act fast if a fire started in your home? Would your kids know where to run?

Preventing fire is a lot simpler than putting it out if it starts. Take your time to review the following fire safety facts and prevention tips, and follow the safety best practices.

fire safety info graphic

 Image reproduced with permission. Source: https://www.alarms.org/infographic-fire-safety-tips/


Keeping Children Safe
This Child Safety Resource Guide includes general safety resources, staying home alone, a child safe kit, childproofing ideas, child fire safety, water safety, food, drug and car safety resources, as well as how to keep your child safe in public. 

The use of technology and social media is commonplace with our children.  Read this Internet Safety Guidelines for Parents to learn some basic steps to keep your children safe when going online.


Plan to Get Out Alive
There is very little time (usually only one to two minutes) to escape a burning building during a fire, especially because of smoke inhalation. Everyone needs to have a plan to get out alive—that is a preplanned escape route customized to your home. A plan minimizes time thinking about what to do during the real thing.The National Fire Protection Association has published an Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities.


Be Realistic
Think carefully about which precautions will actually help you or a loved one. Everyone's situation is different, so be realistic—will this actually help or hinder? Should someone learn to tolerate a new practice that could save his/her life? Always keep a real person in mind, whether it's yourself or someone else. Then get set up while things are quiet—most safety steps are easy to put into place!


**Creative Commons photo, Borls Bartels, license allows sharing and redistributing.

Note: Infinitec Inc. does not endorse or recommend these products and has no liability for the results of their use. Infinitec Inc. has received no consideration of any type for featuring any product on this Web site. The information offered herein is a summary; it is not comprehensive and should be carefully evaluated by consumers with the assistance of qualified professionals. The intention of Infinitec Inc. is to offer consumers a brief overview of various assistive technology devices and their applications.