Home-safety measures provide seniors security, peace of mind

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The golden years should be a carefree time that allows mature adults to do as they please, unencumbered by work or child-rearing.

But all too often, newfound freedom is replaced by newfound fear.

In today's increasingly uncertain world, personal safety is utmost in the minds of members of the older generation who often are prime targets for crime.

Many, in fact, worry so much that they curtail travel and outside activities and elect to stay home.

What's more, home sweet home can prove to be a dangerous place .

A break-in is always devastating, no matter how much personal property is lost.

Additionally, home-based accidents such as trips, bumps and falls are scary, expensive and often debilitating. One statistic estimates that one in every three adults aged 65 or older fall each year.

Such spills can even result in death.

So if you can't run and can't hide, what can you do?

"Prepare, prepare, prepare" is the experts' mantra: Preventive measures, along with a goodly dose of street smarts, are the keys to a healthy, happy retirement. There are also a variety of products and services designed to promote safety and security.

From installing a high-wattage light bulb in the hallway to employing full-blown security systems, seniors can find many ways to make home a safe place.

Begin by taking a good look at your surroundings. Check to see that halls and stairways are well-lighted and equipped with sturdy handrails. Furniture and extension cords should be placed out of the main lines of traffic, and outdoor walkways should be smooth and crack-free.

For a safer shower or bath, install nonskid stickers in the tub, and/or a "grab bar," which can be purchased from a medical equipment supplier; anchor area rugs with nonskid stripping. If you're up to making a larger investment, there are cushioned, slip-resistant bathtubs and whirlpool baths with watertight doors that provide easy access.

Consider installing remote controls for lights, stereos and televisions to eliminate unnecessary trips back and forth.

Another smart tactic involves knowing one's limits. If it's a snowy day, leave shoveling slick sidewalks to a neighbor or hired hand, and let a delivery service pick up prescriptions and groceries instead of braving the weather to do so on your own.

Items designed to make life safer and easier include cool-touch appliances with exterior plastic that prevents accidental burns, "smart" appliances such as irons that turn themselves off and easy-to-read objects such as large-numeral clocks, thermostats, telephone pads and scales.

There are even visual devices designed to supplement standard fire alarms, and telephone ringers and doorbells for the hearing-impaired.

As for security, make home the safest spot by locking valuables in a safety deposit box and placing locks on all doors and windows. Install motion-sensitive lights outside the house, and look into timers that turn lights on and off at appointed hours. Mark valuable property with a personal identification number.

Other theft-thwarting ideas include joining or starting a Neighborhood Watch program, and/or hiring a yard service to keep bushes sufficiently low to deny intruders cover. Installing an alarm system will promote both safety and peace of mind.

Or consider adopting a dog. Besides providing good company, a trustworthy pet might provide just enough bark or bite at a crucial moment.

Need additional inspiration? Consult an architect, interior designer, occupational therapist or security specialist.

Staying independent yet safe in an increasingly dangerous environment is a top priority for seniors. But surprisingly, many of the best stay-safe tactics have been around for years.

Top tips include taking care of business during daylight hours, venturing out at night only when accompanied by a friend or group, keeping windows and doors locked at all times, and trusting one's own instincts.

Never let a stranger into your house, and verify the identification of repair persons or any other workers — expected or otherwise — before letting them in.

You might also consider joining a "calling group" that will assign someone — usually another senior — to contact you by phone at least once a day. Or keep in touch the high-tech way — via a personal pager or online computer service.

When driving, remember to use seatbelts, and keep up with changing traffic laws and automobile safety developments.

Heed the results from regular medical, eye and hearing checkups, and know how medications affect your ability to drive.

Other behind-the-wheel tips include avoiding rush hours and limiting your driving to short distances, daylight hours and fair weather.

Many personal safety tools on the market are designed especially for mature adults.

Personal alarms and vials of hot pepper and chemical compounds, for instance, are small enough to carry in a purse or pocket and can be used during an accident or assault.

To make a quick call for help, rely on an automatic dialer, a cordless or cellular phone or a medical signaling device. With the touch of a button, an MSD can put you in contact with a friend, family member, the police or with a monitoring station.

Identification dog tags, bracelets and cards provide all pertinent medical and personal information that rescue teams would need should an emergency occur.

Also, consider that you could be on the other end of the stick — perhaps giving lifesaving assistance to an ailing spouse or grandchild. A recent survey showed that 54 percent of grandparents readily admit that they do not know how to give their grandchildren CPR.

But learning or brushing up on first-aid skills is easy. To do so, simply enroll in a class offered by your local Red Cross, hospital or community education program.