Senior safety experts

Jacki Attridge

Head of Home and Community Care Operations
Uniting

Colleen Johnston

Care Services Coordinator
Star Community Services

Emilia Graham

Acting General Manager Residential Care
The Whiddon Group

Bob Ziegler

Active Ageing Ambassador
Living Longer Living Stronger

Caroline Egan

Karl Grimm

Director
Konnekt

Lauren Swann

National Marketing Communications Manager
Home Instead Senior Care

We asked them:

What are some simple changes older people can make at home to stay safe?

Jacki Attridge

A simple measure to ensure your safety is to make sure you are keeping in contact with others. Social isolation is a major problem for people in the senior age category.

Social isolation is a major problem for people in the senior age category.

Keeping active is another tip and it will help you to stay in your own home for longer. Speak to your GP or visit myagedcare.gov.au to see if there are local help services to assist you in your neighbourhood.

The main advice we offer at Uniting is if you are struggling, you need to speak up. Don’t suffer alone and struggle on, there is plenty of help and support out there for when you need it, be it physical support or just advice. Make sure you speak to your family, supportive people around you, your GP or contact Uniting to see how we could help.

Colleen Johnston

Downsizing, or moving to a safe environment retirement village can be a great way to stay safe at home. There are some home installations that can make your life easier such as:

  • Security screens
  • A vital calls system or some sort of tracking falling device that is linked to a center or family
  • Environment changes ramps
  • Rails
  • Services to help where needed - domestic showering, medications, meals, regular maintenance of gardening, electrical equipment tested regular
  • Good lighting for vision impaired and all aged people
  • Hearing loops or devices to assist hearing

Emilia Graham

Older Australians are increasingly choosing to stay living at home for as long as possible. Personalised care that’s tailored to suit each person’s health needs, wellbeing goals and lifestyle helps make this possible. There are a range of simple and proactive steps that can be taken to help older people to live comfortably, safely and independently at home.

Prevent falls

Not only can falls bring physical injury and the need for rehabilitation, they can result in loss of confidence for older people who may be concerned about falls, holding them back from doing the things they love.
Saying goodbye to trip hazards around the home such as uneven surfaces, poor lighting, damaged rugs and clutter, and keeping things within easy reach such as phones and commonly used items, can help older people stay on their feet. Visiting a GP regularly to discuss any health concerns, not being shy to use mobility aids, wearing clothes and non-slip shoes that fit well, and ensuring correct amounts of medication are taken, can all help to reduce the risk of falls.

Be emergency ready

Having an emergency plan, emergency contact information readily accessible, knowing the easiest way to leave your home and installing an emergency alert system can help with managing any accidents or emergency situations.
Smoke alarms should be kept in working order, tested regularly and batteries changed at least twice a year. Electrical equipment should be checked by an appropriately qualified person, overloading electrical sockets should be avoided and any appliances that are damaged or have fraying cords, should immediately be replaced.
Taking these steps can provide reassurance for older people living alone, and for their loved ones, knowing that help and support is in place.

Ask for help

There are many options available to help older people to live at home safely, from assistance through a Home Care Package or help from friends and family, to daily care calls that provide helpful reminders to take medications or lock the back door. Home Care Packages can help with daily living tasks such as showering, shopping, meal preparation, transport to appointments, keeping the home neat and tidy, or even to help older people get back on their feet after a stay in hospital.

Having a support network is very important so that older people can voice their concerns such as if their stove is not working properly, there is a water leak or a modification is needed to the home, so they can seek the help they need to stay safe.

Having a support network is very important so that older people can voice their concerns such as if their stove is not working properly, there is a water leak or a modification is needed to the home, so they can seek the help they need to stay safe.

Be security savvy

It’s important for older people to stay aware of their surroundings and take steps to ensure personal safety. Not giving personal information to strangers, having locks on doors, securing windows and being aware of online safety and privacy can help keep older people safe.
Caution should be taken when answering the door to strangers and when speaking to people they don’t know on the phone. Strangers should not be let into the home when someone is home alone and older people should not accept any offer or sign any contracts before speaking about it with someone they trust.

Medication safety

Taking the correct medication at the right time is incredibly important. Having a list handy of all medications taken, not taking them in the dark where labels can’t be seen properly, not skipping any doses and talking to a health provider right away if there are any concerns, are steps that can be taken to stay safe with medications. It’s really important to discuss any over counter medication you plan to take with your health provider first, as these may be interfere with your prescription medication.

Stay connected

Not only does keeping connected to others help enable older people to reach out for support and assistance, it can also help to reduce feelings of social isolation and loneliness for those living alone.
Assisted transport services are available to help transport older people to important events such as a loved one’s wedding or a community meeting, to visit friends and family, or to continue to do the things they love such as going to the movies or to their favourite beach or park.

Karl Grimm

Australian Aged Care providers have access to an enormous array of equipment, technology, and services to help make your home safer. From a technology perspective, the trick is to find solutions that are bullet-proof, reliable and simple to use. Emergency pendants, video calling systems with automatic answer, simplified mobile phones, and more, are all easily available in Australia, and can be funded by your government Home Care Package, or the NDIS. Plan ahead for when your eyes and ears are not so good, and find products that are simple to use. And it's not just about safety, it's about keeping in touch and avoiding loneliness, which has been linked to depression and other serious health issues. If your sons/daughters live far away, you can still SEE them every day, with government funded options. Modern technology really can help.

Plan ahead for when your eyes and ears are not so good, and find products that are simple to use.

Caroline Egan

There are lots of things you can do to contribute to your safety at home:

  • Add non-slip flooring to entry to home, bathrooms, and outside to prevent falls.
  • Instal rails on both sides of staircases.
  • Add grab bars beside bath and toilet; make sure they are strong enough to hold the weight of a person. Put a seat in the shower.
  • Instal extra lighting to improve visibility, especially at entrances.
  • Replace steps with ramps, or add ramps.
  • Remove all trip hazards.
  • In the kitchen, make storage accessible, with open shelving and drawers. Make sure basins and sinks are at an easily accessed height.
  • Make sure power switches are accessible.

Bob Ziegler

Staying fit and healthy can make living at home safer. You can focus on:

  • Increasing muscle mass through resistance exercise.
  • Improving your balance – to lessen the possibility of falling.
  • Improving your circulation, this can help with reducing your blood pressure and providing more nutrition to all the glands in the body, including the brain.

Lauren Swann

Kitchen

  • Replace cupboard and drawer handles with D-shaped handles. They are easier to use, particularly if you have limited strength or suffer from arthritis.
  • If your cupboards are too high, too low or too deep – adjustable shelving that swings up, swings down or rolls out can be installed.

Bedroom

  • The bed is too low if your knees are above the hips when sitting on the bed. Bed raisers under bed legs can raise the height and make it easier to get in and out of every day.
  • Ensure you have easy access to a phone, especially at night. Invest in a cordless phone or keep your mobile phone on charge next to the bed.
  • A personal emergency alert system is also a good investment, especially if you live alone.

Bathroom

  • Grab rails provide extra support and assist you to maintain your balance as you move in and around the bathroom.
  • Install lever or flick mix tap fittings with soft turn washers in place of standard screw on/off taps – they are easier to grasp and use.
  • A slide-bar shower head caters for various height adjustments, can be used sitting or standing and is more practical for cleaning.
  • Remove the threshold from your shower, allowing a step free, walk-in shower access.
  • If modifying your shower, consider incorporating a built-in shower seat allowing you safety, comfort and convenience to shower in a seated position if needed.

Living

  • There are various additional lighting solutions available such as night lights, rope lighting, battery powered, touch, sound or motion activated lighting - all of which enhance comfort, convenience and safety in your home. Lighted switch plates make it easy to find the light switch in the dark and also serve as a night light. Multi-way light switching enables you to turn on lights as you enter the room and turn them off as you exit from multiple points.
  • Install lever handle latches on doors – they are easier to grasp, handle and allow for easier entry and exit.
  • Swing away door hinges widen doorways for easier access, swinging the door completely clear of the opening so that it sits flush against the wall. This is especially helpful if you are using a wheely walker or are in a wheelchair.
  • Retractable weather shields on doors sit flush under the door, won’t catch along the floor on opening and closing the door and prevent drafts during the colder months.

Laundry

  • A front loading washer and dryer is easier to use, reach in and out of and can be raised to individual standing height.

Outdoors

  • Each major entry point should have at least one sturdy rail for support. Install grab rails to support you getting in and out of the house.
  • Install a sensor light at your home’s major entry points. It will light your path into the house and is a good security measure to have in place.

How much planning should one do ahead of time for future emergencies at home?

Jacki Attridge

To plan ahead, start thinking about who you would call in an emergency and make sure you always have their number ready. Do you know your neighbours? Who lives locally that could pop in and check you are OK. Ensure you have a great relationship with your GP so you can regularly check in and address how you are coping and any changes or help you may need.

Ensure you have a great relationship with your GP so you can regularly check in and address how you are coping and any changes or help you may need.

Colleen Johnston

Medical and emergency planning should be planned for as soon as possible the more in place the safer the environment. If you downsize then you should make all the plans then ramps, rails aged friendly.

Emilia Graham

Emergencies can happen at any time. It is important for everyone to have a plan in place should an emergency situation occur at home. Older people can be more vulnerable during these situations due to physical and health limitations, so it’s important that prior planning has taken place to help prepare for, and manage, any emergencies.

For older people living at home, emergency preparedness should involve discussions with family, friends, neighbours or care providers. When making a plan, it is important to know what disasters could impact the area such as flooding or bushfire, and what management plans are in place in the local community, including evacuation processes and routes, meeting places and warning systems.

Often when an emergency occurs it can be difficult to think straight, that’s why creating an emergency plan is so important. Practical steps can be taken as part of the emergency plan, such as having up-to-date emergency contact information that’s easily accessible and easy to read, staying hydrated, knowing exit points and how to stay informed of the latest emergency warnings and instructions.

Other considerations include informing neighbours in advance that assistance is required for their older neighbour in the case of an emergency, and what their challenges are, such as limited physical mobility. This, along with sharing the emergency plan with friends and family, will help ensure that a support network is in place. It’s also a good idea to give a spare key to a trusted person so they can checkin during an emergency situation.

An emergency essentials kit should be updated with medications, important items such as insurance documents, medical equipment, food and water, at the first sign of an emergency situation, and be easy to carry, and in a place that’s easy to reach.

If an older person has pets, planning ahead for alternative care arrangements should take place as not all shelters accept pets, or if they have a car, the vehicle should be well maintained, have windscreen fluid and ample fuel.

Once a plan has been completed, it’s a great idea to practice the plan, including with those who have agreed to be part of the support network. It can be reassuring for older people and their loved ones to know that a plan is in place and ready to use in the case of an emergency.

Karl Grimm

Plan if you Can, but don’t panic if you’ve left it “too late”. It’s never too late. While you are mobile, functional, and still able to deal with a bunch of contractors in your home, of course you should plan ahead and get your home setup for the future. But until you are actually in need, and assessed as such by an ACAT, you won’t have any government funding. The good news is that if you are already in need, and unable to arrange everything yourself, you can work with a quality Home Care Provider, who will assess your condition, apply for govt funding, and then organise home modifications and services for you.

Caroline Egan

A few simple changes can make a big difference to safety when preparing a home for people ageing in place. You can also make significant changes, such as enlarging windows to allow more light in to improve visibility, making your home more open place to make access easier, or turning a downstairs room into a bedroom.

Bob Ziegler

Your planning for future emergencies at home should include:

  • Getting health Insurance, including ambulance cover.
  • Having a designated family member or friend to notify if something happens.
  • Preparing an EPA (Enduring Power of Attorney), Finances.
  • Plans for your EPG (Enduring power of Guardianship, Life Style, AHD (Advanced Health Directive, your End of Life choices.

Lauren Swann

Emergencies can happen anywhere and at any time. Taking pre-emptive action and planning for the unexpected will ensure you are as prepared as possible in case of an emergency. Home Instead Senior Care's free, In Case of Emergency guide is designed to help you and your loved ones prepare a personal emergency kit that brings together important contact information, documents, medical records and directives needed to help you in case of an emergency.

At what point should an older person consider moving into an aged care facility?

Jacki Attridge

As people get older they need to have a realistic look at the suitability of their living situation. What is their home environment like? Are there lots of stairs or things that make it difficult for them to stay? Are they surrounded by support or do they live far away from their family and friends? If you do decide to stay at home you need to accept help. Speak to those around you and admit the things you struggle with. Don’t continue to do more than you can, agencies such as Uniting can help you with this. Make sure you plan ahead. The decisions you make after an incident or injury are likely to be different to those made when you have more time. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and talk about your options.

Colleen Johnston

The only time an older person should go into residential care is when they cannot function at home on their own even with support, when it is unsafe for them to stay at home, When they are socially isolated and need company, when their health - mental and physical determines it is time, or of course when the person decides to make this move.

Emilia Graham

Often, people move into an aged care home when they can no longer live safely and independently at home. A Home Care Package can assist older Australians to stay living safely and independently at home, but there may come a time that an older person’s care needs are greater than what can be provided in the home.

Sometimes, the decision to move into a residential care home can be sudden, when there has been an unexpected decline in health and an older person can no longer live independently. For some, it can be a decision that’s taken place over a long period of time when a loved one’s condition has gradually declined. Whatever the case, transitioning a loved one into aged care can be a challenging and difficult time.

There may be signs that an older person is no longer coping living independently at home such as not eating properly, missing their medication and falls, which can raises serious concerns about their safety and wellbeing.

An ACAT (Aged Care Assessment Team) assessment can help identify care needs of older people and eligibility for residential care, or other services that may be available to support them to live at home. To organise an aged care assessment, consumers should contact MyAgedCare, or speak to a provider for assistance with this process.

Karl Grimm

A good Retirement Village is like a resort. Move into one while you are still young enough, and enjoy what they have to offer: meals, golf, bowls, swimming pool, outings, events, etc. Then, as your needs grow, you are already in the right place to receive further support and services, and you won’t have to go through the trauma of having to relocate when you are least able to deal with it.

If you stay at home though, and things are starting to become difficult, don’t stick your head in the sand and hope you will be there forever. If at some point you simply have no choice but to move into an Aged Care facility, and you leave it to the last minute, you will likely be very unhappy with where you end up - waiting lists are long, most Australian facilities are full! So PLAN NOW. While you are still able, do the research and find the facilities that might suit you, visit them, and have a list ready if ever needed. Then you will know where you are going, should the need arise.

So when do you decide it’s time? This is a very difficult question, nobody wants to answer it, we all want to stay in our homes. We want to keep things as they have always been, cook our own food, go about our day on our own timetable, remain in control of our own destiny.

Look for the triggers that hint you are in trouble. Different for everyone, of course, but typical examples are:

  • You have a nasty fall or two
  • You leave the stove on once too often and nearly burn the place down
  • You take the wrong pills, perhaps due to poor eyesight or memory
  • Your are spending more time in hospital than at home
  • You can hardly leave the house on your own steam
  • Your spouse or carer is clearly stressed and unhappy

But most importantly, the daily routine, or parts of it, have become a nightmare.

When some of those triggers are occurring, and when you are waking up each day feeling horribly stressed about how you are going to cope, it is time to ask yourself: Why do you keep doing that to yourself? Move into the (terrific, local wonderful) place you chose when you did your research, and let them look after you. Would you enjoy...

a) having a bunch of friends to talk to every day?
b) help on hand to assist with the daily routine and medical care?

At some point, your need for the help will outweigh the attraction of home. Move in, and let them take care of you.

Caroline Egan

If you think an older person needs more help at home or is ready to move into aged care, you can arrange for an aged care assessment. Signs an older person may have to more into an aged care facility include: they require 24-hour care; problems with incontinence, mobility, or person hygiene; difficulties managing dementia behaviours such as aggression or wandering; problems with correct administering of medication; problems with lack of judgement and memory loss; and the person is feeling socially isolated. If an older person has a carer, but the carer is struggling to cope with their caring responsibilities can also be a factor.

Bob Ziegler

Older persons should start considering moving into an aged care facility when they need 24 hour care, and it is not convenient for carers or to provide this in the home.

Lauren Swann

In Australia, as an older person you are faced with many choices. Choices such as where and how to live as you age. At the heart of this decision is often the desire to remain independent, with many studies showing up to 90% of seniors wish to maintain a quality of life in familiar surroundings, in the comfort of their own home. However, for many people, as you age you will need support and assistance in your home to achieve this.
At Home Instead Senior Care we recognise that seeking care is not an easy decision to make; many people put off the decision until a crisis emerges. The pathway to finding the right care can be confusing and stressful to navigate. It can typically involve family, friends, professional caregivers, healthcare professionals, health organisations and/or government departments.

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