When I first started working with older people and their families, I soon learned that one of the biggest concerns among seniors was the potential situation of needing emergency help, but not being able to let someone know you needed help. Many of us remember the TV commercial with the woman on the floor saying, “Help Me! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” Sometimes families became so concerned that they tried to force their elderly relative into a “safe” environment. Not unexpectedly, most individuals did not want to leave the comfortable familiarity of their own home, so conflict ensued. What I tried to do in these situations was to get everyone to realize that there is no “risk free” environment, and the goal should be to minimize the risk of living alone. This was before the advent of emergency telephone alert systems (something I highly recommend for elderly people who live alone). As I talked with people, I learned that there were two creative ways to minimize the risk of living alone. For those who cannot afford an emergency telephone alert system, let me share these ideas with you since they still are effective.
The first idea is to have someone call one or more times per day to make sure the person living alone was ok. The key to this plan is to have a set schedule of when the call or calls would come in. This way the older person can be near the phone ahead of time to answer it. It avoids possible falls from rushing to answer the phone at random times, and it avoids false alarms from an older person being outside on a nice day or being gone to the store when a random call would come in.
The second idea requires some assistance from a neighbor who has a view of the older person’s house. Here a neighbor would check at night to be sure the lights in the main living area were turned off by a certain time in the evening, typically after the older person’s normal bedtime. In the morning the signal that everything was ok would be for a specific window shade to be raised by an agreed upon time. If the signals did not occur as planned, the neighbor would call or go to the house to make sure the person was ok.
In both these ways the older person has the freedom to be on his or her own, while having the risk of living alone minimized. However, while these ideas still work, an emergency telephone alert system can be even better because it is available 24/7 and can summon help immediately. We will talk more about them in another blog.
Elder Care Coordinator