The best way to make the most of our older years is to take control
before we become frail or sick. Most older men and women want to "age"
in their own homes as long as they can physically and financially care
for themselves. A fall or other injury can make an older person more
dependent and vulnerable to fraud and abuse. With that in mind, it is
of utmost importance to learn as much as possible about both safety and
Remember, over the course of the year there may be many different
repairmen, home deliveries, or home care workers who will have
unsupervised access to the home. Minimizing temptation and opportunity
can reduce the risk for theft and abuse.
The following six steps, combined with frequent visits by family and
friends, can help to protect elders, especially those who are homebound:
Prepare the Home
The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control estimates that
each year in the United States one in three people older than age 65
suffers a significant fall. Fortunately, many falls and injuries can be
prevented when a meaningful effort is made to create a safe
environment. A fall can cause serious injury and may push an older
patient to a chronic, or even permanent, need for a higher level of
care. For example, half the elderly patients hospitalized for hip
fracture cannot return home or live independently after the fracture.
There are many ways to increase the safety and security of our homes.
Some are as simple as installing brighter lights in the home to
compensate for failing eyesight, or providing night lights to mark a
clear path to the bathroom at night. Others include installing smoke
detectors throughout the home, especially in the kitchen. Installing a
burglar alarm system can add to the safety of an elder, especially if
the system includes a medical alert feature which can be activated with
a remote. Portable and cellular phones facilitate emergency calls, not
to mention making it easier for the older person to keep in touch with
family and friends.
Safeguard Your Possessions
All cash, jewelry, financial records, checkbooks, and credit cards
should be placed in a protected location such as a safe or a
safe-deposit box. Social Security, pension and investment checks should
be direct-deposited to prevent theft and forgery. Monitor you mail to
make certain that you receive your routine monthly financial statements
listing recent transactions. Don't just throw them in a drawer unread;
check all statements for unusual or unauthorized activity. Shred your
junk mail, financial and insurance records before you put them in the
trash to reduce the risk of identity theft. If you suspect that your
identity has been stolen, immediately contact the Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338)
Install Medical Equipment
Any medical equipment that helps maintain independence is helpful.
Walkers, wheelchairs, hearing aids, eyeglasses and hospital beds are
examples. The more active and alert you are, the more protected you are
from the risk of abuse or fraud.
Screen Potential Home Care Workers
There are many certified home health care agencies that provide home
care service. A home care worker can also be hired independently.
Screen all applicants with a prepared telephone interview in which you
ask for specific information such as licensing, experience and
references, and require that an employment application be filled out
and submitted. Do not give your address or any other personal
information until you have verified the information gathered in the
telephone interview. For the most part, checking a reference or license
is not a complicated procedure; however, you must do your homework.
Take Advantage of Respite Care
Many family caregivers devote themselves so fully to their chronically
ill spouse or parent that they neglect their own needs. It is important
to take time off from the rigors of caring for a family member. Respite
care for caregivers is available from visiting nurses, home health
aides and other professional home care workers, as well as such sources
as senior centers, meals-on-wheels and adult day care centers. The
stress relief provided by respite services helps both caregivers and
patients. An exhausted caregiver can only provide limited care.
Involve Family and Friends
When all other precautions have been taken and a home health care
regimen is established, make frequent, unscheduled visits, positioning
the home health care worker as part of a support team.
As the headlines attest, using unreliable providers who entice clients
with "bargain priced" care can lead to tragedy. But patients and their
families can protect themselves from elder fraud and abuse. Additional
information is available by reading Tom Cassidy's book, Elder Care/What To Look For/What To Look
(New Horizon Press, 2004).