We know that personal safety is a really important issue for older people who are often very aware of how much more vulnerable they are now, so we've come up with a few tips to help you help them.
1. Keep the door closed!
It may be obvious, but unexpected visitors can be very bad news sometimes. Rather than talking to someone through a security chain, it is far more sensible for the person to shout through the door, or even simply ignore the door. Unless people phone ahead and say they are coming to visit, there's no need to open the door, much less to strangers.
Don't let that put you off getting a chain for the door, however. They can still be useful (see below).
2. Always check IDs and double check by telephoning
Most official IDs that can be used as identity checks by proper organisations should have a telephone number to call for a double check. All your relative needs to do is open the door on the security chain and take the offered card.
No ID, no entry, and even if they hand over a card, the person should always make the telephone call to check it out properly unless they have met this individual before in connection with this particular organisation.
3. Keep the house tidy
Slips, trips, and falls, are the most common accidents that take place, and with older people they can have very serious consequences. Bones are more brittle and more easily broken, and there isn't as much 'bounce' in an older person.
For this reason, and because eyesight and awareness can be impaired with age, it's important to ensure there are no 'trip hazards', such as flexes that curl out from furniture, small tables that are hard to see when the person is on the move, and unexpected hazards like children's toys.
It's best if you do a quick visual check of each room before you leave your relative for the day, to ensure you don't miss anything vital.
4. Food safety
Although many older people are able to look after their own eating habits without assistance, some may have more difficulty than others. For example, someone with a sight impairment may not be able to see the tiny spots of mould appearing on bread, cheese, and other products.
It's also very important that food - especially meals that contain meat - is heated through thoroughly, to ensure bacteria cannot survive before being eaten. The most common reason for gastroenteritis is food poisoning from inadequately heated or cooked food, and a severe bout of food poisoning can make an older person extremely ill.
5. Fire safety
Many older people have a very deep-seated fear of fire, particularly if they are not as mobile as they used to be. For this reason it's just so important to ensure as best you can that there are no fire hazards in their home.
Fire can occur when the ventilation for a piece of equipment, such as the microwave, is covered over while in use. Some heaters have ventilation holes too, and these have to be kept clear of obstruction, so wet socks are not to be hung on these!
Anything electrical with an integral flex must be completely intact and undamaged. If the cable becomes damaged, you must cease use and replace the equipment as soon as possible, because there is otherwise a danger of either fire or electrocution.
Electric blankets are known to be an issue, but their comfort means they are a piece of equipment many older people cannot do without. Some day care centres and even adult social care units do a yearly electrical check to ensure the integrity of an electric blanket, so you should look into this if your relative uses an electric blanket, even if they don't get it out very often.
6. Emergency telephone numbers
If the unthinkable happens, and your parent has a fall or something else happens that causes them injury, they will need to telephone for assistance. You should make sure they are able to reach the telephone from where they normally sit, and if not, that they are able to use a mobile phone.
They may know your telephone number already, so you may be the first to be called in any case, but it's also a good idea to remind them if they have an accident, they should telephone the emergency services.
There are a number of assistive technology services that are available for older people through their local Adult Social Care office. These are telephone-line-operated, and provide the person with a big red button on either a wrist band or a pendant.
If something happens, the person can press the button and speak to someone on the speaker phone without having to move. If they are unable to speak or are too far from the speaker phone to be heard properly, the Telecare operator will send assistance immediately.
Not all these services are called Telecare - this is just an example, but there should be one available in every area, so just ask your relative's social worker for details if you think it may be useful.