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07/22/2014

Checking in on the Elderly
Healthy Living - July 22, 2014
Joan Pellegrini, MD


Do you know or live near an elderly person who lives alone? Living alone offers the advantage of freedom but may have a unique challenge of limited resources for help when needed. The elderly are at particular risk because of medications and balance issues that can lead to slips and falls. As we get older we develop balance issues because of hearing, vision, and muscle loss and also degenerating nerves and bones. The falls are more likely to cause a broken bone because of osteoporosis. The elderly are frequently on blood thinning medications and this can cause serious bleeding with a simple fall.
Checking in on the elderly offers a support network that will allow them to stay in their home longer and safely. I have a provided a list of some concerns that you and your family or neighbors may want to discuss when discussing how to make sure the person of concern is safe and has a plan.
  • Do a home safety check to make sure rugs are secure and cords are safe, etc. A good reference is the website for Consumer Product Safety (www.cpsc.gov) which has a checklist for the older person’s home safety.
  • Advance planning and scheduling: who is going to check on the person and on what days and at what time? There are automated calling services available in some areas. If you live far away and cannot reach the person, who lives nearby that can be called? I would recommend at least a daily check to make sure they have not fallen or become ill in such a way they cannot call for help. It could be as simple as a daily test message that requires an answer in a certain amount of time before you or someone else goes over to check on the person.
  • Does this person need medication reminders? If so, will someone be able to check the pill counts? Does the person need an alarm to be set for medication reminding? Do they often forget if they took the pill/pills? Perhaps a check box on a calendar would work in that situation.
    Is a medical alert system needed? These are companies that offer a bracelet or necklace with a button that can be pressed if the person has fallen or cannot otherwise call for help. A necklace may be a better option because a person having a stroke may not be able to move the arm that is necessary to press the button on the other arm.
  • Can this person afford a cell phone that can be used when they are not in their house? If not, there is a service through the Federal Communications Committee that will provide a low cost cellular phone for emergency calls only.
  • If there is bad weather (too hot or too cold) or the power is out then someone should check on this person to make sure they have what is needed.
  • If this person is your neighbor and you are going to store, they may appreciate your offering to pick up a few things for them.
  • Should this person have an ID bracelet with emergency contact information? People who need this are the elderly with some memory or dementia issues.
  • Is this person safe to still be driving? If not, what can you offer to help them be able to give up their license and yet not suffer too much loss of freedom?
Each elderly person who lives alone has different needs. Some may need more frequent checking in and some may just need a number to call in case of emergency. Even without a formal plan in place, you may know someone who lives alone and could use a little bit of help or checking upon in times of bad weather, etc.