Aging in place can be a great way to spend your golden years. However, if you’ve been living in the same house for decades, it may be out of date with security standards. It may also require modifications to accommodate the physical and sensory changes that older adults encounter as they age.
This guide will go over the various ways you can make your home a safer place to retire in. It will discuss home invasion safety and prevention, common home accidents and ways to prevent them, and how to avoid the countless scam artists just vying for your hard-earned savings. Even the smallest changes to your home or routine can make a massive difference to your security, so grab a pen and take note!
Home Invasion Safety and Prevention
It’s easy to fall into the mindset of, “A break-in will never happen to me. This is a safe neighborhood.” But the fact is, break-ins can and do occur in even the safest areas. All that robbers really need is opportunity, so it’s up to you to take that away from them.
When securing against home invasion, start with the basics. Take a look around the outside of your home and ask yourself: what is the easiest route inside? That should be number one on your priority list to remedy. The harder you make it to enter your house, the more likely the burglar will move on to another location. As a general rule, always keep your door locked and valuables like purses and wallets tucked away.
Get to know your neighbors and develop a trusting relationship with them so they can be an extra set of eyes. Their outside perspective could help you become aware of anyone who seems to be casing your house. This is especially important when you go out of town since criminals often seek out empty homes. Ask a trusted neighbor to collect your mail and check in on your home while you’re away; not only will this reduce telltale signs of an unoccupied house, they can keep an eye on your home to help prevent unwelcome visitors. Give them a back-up key directly and be sure never to leave a spare under the mat or a nearby flower pot — crooks know to check those spots first!
- Replace hollow or glass exterior doors with solid wood or metal
- Install deadbolt locks on all exterior doors
- Reinforce exterior doorframes or install metal ones
- Replace decorative door glass with safety glass and line with privacy film
- Install a peephole
- Replace window panes with safety glass
- Get a safe and give the combination or spare keys only to trusted loved ones
- Install motion sensor lighting around the structure, or in hallways and shared entry points in apartment buildings
- Install a home security system
You can ask your local police department to perform a home security survey if you still aren’t sure what modifications might be right for your home. Remember to keep any outside gates locked and ask expected visitors to call to enter. Never buzz in anyone you don’t know, and ask for identification for service and delivery people. Keep a wireless phone on you when you answer the door in case of an emergency.
Thieves don’t have to even enter your home to steal from you, so be wary when you can. Opt for monthly payments (like Social Security) to be directly deposited into your bank account when possible. Thieves can figure out the dates and times of a paper check’s arrival and swipe it before you even know it’s there.
Installing a home security system is always a great option and helpful not only in the event of burglary, but also for fires and medical emergencies. There are all kinds of different options when choosing a system that’s right for you:
- Home automation systems are set to automatically arm and disarm, alleviating the stress of having to remember to set it every night. Some even let you program the lights to turn on and off at certain times!
- Remote control access systems allow owners to remotely monitor the home and control specific elements like locks, lights, and temperature settings. It’s an especially valuable option for seniors who do a lot of traveling or make frequent visits to family members.
- Medical alert systems use a single-button device to immediately summon medical or emergency help.
Any system you decide on should cover the basics: motion sensors, door and window sensors, and smoke detectors. It should protect against the threat of invasion, fire, and gas leaks in the home.
In the event that a home invasion occurs despite your best prevention efforts, call 911 immediately or hit your emergency/panic button. If you have a safe avenue of escape, leave the house and head to a neighbor’s. If you’re stuck inside, lock yourself in a secure bedroom or bathroom and wait for police. Should you face a confrontation with the intruder, put your own safety first and comply with his orders.
Home Accident Prevention
The National Institute of Health estimates that 6 in 10 falls happen at home. Many of these kinds of accidents can be avoided with simple adjustments:
- Remove clutter, small pieces of furniture, electrical and phone cords, pet bowls, and any other tripping hazards from the floor.
- Arrange furniture so that you have clear pathways to walk all around your house, removing unnecessary items from stairs, hallways, and pathways.
- Removing rugs completely is the safest route, but at the very least they should be secured to the floor.
- Put non-slip strips on floors and steps, especially bathroom tile. Use non-slip mats for entrances, including bathtubs and showers.
- Ensure you have enough lighting in each room, in stairwells, at entrances, and along outdoor paths. Use bulbs with the highest recommended wattage for the fixture. Stairways should have light switches at both the top and bottom.
- Keep a lamp within easy reach of your bedside, along with a flashlight in case of emergencies.
- Keep often-used items like dishes, clothing, food cans and boxes, medications, and linens in easily-accessible places. Avoid using high shelves and deep cabinets.
- Put nightlights in hallways, bathrooms, your bedroom, and the kitchen.
- Keep a printed, large font list of emergency and family phone numbers in a clear plastic sleeve in your bedroom, kitchen, and by any landlines in your home. If you have a cell phone, store those numbers in your phone’s memory.
- Keep assistive devices like walkers, wheelchairs, and canes in good working condition.
- Stick to low-feel, non-skid shoes and slippers, and double-check that they fit properly.
- If your bedroom is upstairs, consider making the move to a first-floor bedroom to reduce the likelihood of a stairway injury.
Occupational and physical therapists often provide home consultations for safety and modifications. Depending on your abilities, they may suggest making more permanent changes that should be performed by a professional. Because most residential housing is geared to young, healthy adults, it may not support the physical and sensory changes that older adults encounter as they age.
Contractors who specialize in aging-in-place modifications can be hired to make adjustments including:
- Adding handrails to both sides of stairways or extending them beyond the top or bottom
- Installing grab bars in the shower or tub, as well as next to the toilet
- Attaching rugs to the floor
- Repairing uneven, cracked, or unstable flooring
- Installing elevated toilets or toilet seats
- Adjusting cabinet and countertop heights
- Installing smoke detectors with strobe lights to help those with reduced hearing abilities
- Installing a hand-held showerhead
- Installing a bath seat in the tub or shower; setting up a transfer bench for the tub; or installing a pull-down seat in a walk-in shower
- Rounding off sharp counter edges
- Adjusting closet rods to a lower, more comfortable level
- Installing pull-out shelves in kitchen, bathrooms, and closets
- Installing closet organizers
- Painting stair edges a different color that stands out
- Installing under-cabinet lights
- Installing a garbage disposal to reduce trash
- Installing a kitchen sink spray hose (which can help you fill pots on the stove and avoid having to transfer them while full)
- Installing low-pile carpet with firm padding or replacing carpet with hard tile or wood
- Widening door frames to allow entry of walkers, wheelchairs, scooters, and other large mobility devices
Most certified aging-in-place contractors also offer in-home consultations. Be sure to shop around for a company or individual with a strong reputation and proper accreditation. An improperly-installed grab bar can cause just as many accidents as none at all, so make sure the job is done right!
Avoiding Fraud and Scam Artists
Seniors tend to be a common target for fraud for a number of reasons: they’re more likely to have a nest egg or significant savings and often have great credit. Those who grew up in the 1930s-1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting, so it’s easy to exploit their hospitality and manners. Further, victims of fraud often don’t realize for weeks or months that they’ve been had and thus have a difficult time recounting important details to authorities; especially tricky for seniors who may have patchy memories.
There are countless scams and fraud schemes out there with new ones popping up all the time, so it’s important to always practice a heavy level of skepticism. It’s helpful to know some of the major schemes:
- Medical equipment scams come from equipment manufacturers offering “free” products that may or may not be as necessary or helpful as they seem. The scammers then bill insurers or Medicare for the equipment, sometimes without ever even delivering it.
- “Rolling labs” refer to illegitimate healthcare testing vans or buses that may pop up at grocery stores, health clubs, or malls. They offer unnecessary, sometimes even fake, tests for free and then bill insurers or Medicare.
- Services not performed refers to an instance when providers or scammers bill insurance companies or Medicare for services never actually rendered. They may simply alter a bill or draft a completely fake one and submit it.
Insurance and Medicare fraud can cause all kinds of serious problems, so it’s important to take safety measures where you can:
- Never sign blank insurance claim forms
- Never give blanket authorization to a medical provider to bill for services rendered; always look over bills and verify that all products and services are accounted for
- Don’t hesitate to ask questions to providers clarifying what they charge and what you’re expected to pay out-of-pocket
- Keep accurate records of all health care appointments and be aware of any equipment your doctor orders for you
- Give your insurance and Medicare identification information only to those who have provided you with medical services; never give it to a salesperson
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has this helpful comprehensive information page detailing known fraud schemes including false telemarketing, advanced fees and Nigerian letters. It also has important information about preventing identity theft, another serious concern for seniors. Scam artists can get your information by going through your trash, stealing your wallet, or compromising your credit card or bank information. Scammers often contact you via telephone or the Internet posing as government agencies and demanding your information to remedy a made-up problem. They often speak so quickly and urgently that people become frantic thinking they’re in trouble and give the information without thinking. There are a few ways to ensure this never happens to you:
- Never give your credit card number over the phone unless you make the call
- Never throw away ATM receipts, bank or credit statements, or old credit/debit cards in usable form; shred them thoroughly before tossing them
- Go over every bank statement and report any discrepancies to your bank
- Report unauthorized financial transactions to your bank, credit card company, and the police as soon as you detect them
As with home invaders, the more difficult you make it for scammers to get your information, the more likely they are to move on and look for an easier target.
Your retirement should be a relaxing time to enjoy all that life has to offer without constantly living in fear of a criminal taking advantage. Let this guide lead the way to that safe and carefree way of living!