Helping Seniors Be Safe At Home

A number of us are in that “sandwich generation” with having children to care for and aging parents. Personally, I am not in that particular situation. While there are a lot of children in my life, the kids belong to siblings and their offspring. My parents have both died. However, I have a 94-year-old aunt who I love dearly and who I help to facilitate her ability to continue to live independently. She lives in a retirement community where my mother once lived. This community is huge — some 6,000+ homes with over 8,500 residents. It’s right around the corner from me.

It is a retirement community, but is not a “senior center” nor provides services customarily found in senior housing. There are a variety of residences, from duplexes to condos to co-ops, in single-story structures, garden-style condo buildings, and high-rises. Each resident is responsible for the care and maintenance of his or her own home. The homes are owned by residents — they are not rental units (though some owners may rent to others, it is not a common practice to do that.)

I have visited and interacted with residents of this community for over 25 years. They’re fun, energetic, entertaining, and interesting. I always learn from my many “elder buds.” I have learned as well that they do not often want to admit that as they age, they may not get around as well as they once did, or see as well, or hear as well….

That’s where my individual twice yearly effort comes in. Without making a big deal out of it, I get donations from major building supplies retailers of essential items such as grab bars for bathrooms, non-slip strips for tubs, non-slip bath mats, brighter bulbs and additional lighting, night-lights, smoke alarms, and a variety of related safety products. I meet with my older friends to describe why these things are important, and get their permission to have these items installed in their home. I recruit volunteers from the community — sort of “seniors helping seniors” — and plan a “big day” to do the installations.

Before we do all that, we lay the groundwork to know what needs to be done where. With permission, we visit the homes where safety installations are to be done so we know exactly what will be needed to be done there. We make lists down to the “nth-” screw and whether a drill bit that can get through porcelain (such as to install a grab bar in a tiled bath) will be required. I have done this for about ten years now, and have the process down to a science.

One of my elder buds is hyper-organized (seriously, much more organized than I am) and he tracks all this information so that on the day of installations, everybody knows what materials, resources, and equipment is required, about how long a visit will take in each home, and who to talk to regarding specific needs, such as access to certain areas that may be restricted inside a building, or service access points, or so on.

Over the past two weeks, participant and volunteer recruitment has gone well and home visits have happened, and my buddy has been creating his “master list” of all things required, time, and scheduling. I have been contacting various public officials and the media, so we can get appropriate attention for the donors (so they will donate again in the future.) It’s a real team effort, and I can’t wait to get going!

Tomorrow is our next Senior Safety Day. I do the final “shopping” later today for the rest of the items that we don’t already have on hand. We will begin with a rally and kick-off, (hopefully short) speeches from an elected official and the primary donor… and we’re off! Let’s get safe!

Life is short: show those for whom you care that you love them by helping them be safe at home.