Services for Elders and Their Families
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Secure homes are safe homes

In the last issue, I discussed home safety. Keeping elders safe inside their own homes should be a high priority. In this issue, we will explore home security. As crime increases in all areas, it is an important issue that should be carefully considered.

Most elders live independently. Many are the victims of demographic changes that have resulted in the decline of their neighborhoods: aging homes and unsafe areas.

But crime is everywhere. Whether your elder lives in a gated community or an older neighborhood, security should be a concern. Although no one is guaranteed safety, this article addresses environmental safety: ways to deter a criminal from gaining access to your elder’s home or possessions.

The following are general security tips:

Form or take advantage of a neighborhood watch program.
These valuable citizen-centered groups are one of the most effective ways to reduce crime-neighbors looking after neighbors. Usually, the neighbors meet monthly with members of the police department. They are given training, which includes how to identify suspicious types of behavior. Neighbors are encouraged to watch each other’s homes when a neighbor is away, for example, picking up mail and physically checking the home. This not only provides an elder with a safer neighborhood, it involves the elder in other people’s lives and homes.

If there is not a formal organized neighborhood watch, and you or your elder are unable to start one, help your elder develop an informal watch. Find a neighbor or two willing to watch out for each other. They might telephone each other every morning , or at specified times. You, the adult child, can continue to call each day, but the neighbor is nearby and will offer the elder additional outside interaction if he is homebound.

Get a residential survey
Most sheriff’s offices or police departments offer a free residential safety survey. The department’s community affairs division, will make an appointment to have the home inspected by a police officer. The officer will conduct a full security audit. The audit focuses on many aspects of the elders’ home and surroundings and provides a concise outline that, if followed, will reduce the opportunity for crime in your elder’s home.

Crime prevention through environmental design
This concept has become very popular when planning new homes, but can be used for existing homes, too. Simply put, it is a way to make the outside area of a home safer by taking a closer look at the trees, shrubs, and outside lighting. Start by looking at the lot from a distant point. Crime prevention professionals use the “Three D Approach,” based on the three functions of human space: designate, define, and, design.

First, designate the living space. Is it meant to be lived in? Can an office be designated as a living area? Can that garage be turned into a separate bedroom and bath?

Next, define the designated space. Who will use the area- an elder, a disabled child, the caregiver?

Finally, design the space. If the garage is to be converted to a bed and bath, can it be designed to be safe? Does it have ample electrical outlets? Is it secure? Is the plumbing in place?

The three lines of defense
By breaking down the property into three simple categories, you will be able to make your elder’s home a safer place to live. The three lines of defense are perimeter, exterior and interior.

Start by looking at the perimeter of the property. Note the street lighting or lack thereof. Study the traffic patterns. Examine sidewalks and steps approaching the elder’s house for cracks that could trip them. Examine trees for low hanging limbs that may block security lights. Consider anything that may pose a safety hazard. Talk to neighbors about their safety concerns.

For the exterior, take a closer look at windows and doors. Trees or shrubs should not block the view of a window. A thief can hide in the bushes and surprise anyone approaching the front door. Examine door and window locks. Ensure that the locks work correctly. Each first floor window should have a lock. If there is a second story, look for trees that would allow someone to gain entry into the house by climbing them and entering through the window. If so, secure the window or remove the branch.

The interior survey will take the most time. Start with lighting. Timers fool thieves by leading them to think someone is home when a person is away. Timers can help elders away from home at night, too; they return to a well lit home.

Ensure all windows and doors close and lock properly. Install dead bolts on exterior doors; if the elder is moving to a new residence, be sure to change existing dead bolt locks. Sliding glass doors should have two locks, a Charley bar, a bar positioned across the bottom of the stationary door, and a standard lock. Also, add a screw along the top of the door to prevent the sliding door from being lifted from its frame. Don’t position locks near glass panes, as the glass can be broken and a thief can reach through the broken glass to open the lock.

Sometimes in working with caregivers of elders, the adult children will ask how to make their parents move to a safer area or facility. The caregivers find this especially difficult if the elder does indeed live in a neighborhood that has become more urban and dangerous. I have always felt that ultimately , it should be the elder’s decision to move.

Moving is difficult and stressful, even under the best circumstances, and a move that is forced or coerced is even more painful. If the elder is mentally competent to make his own decisions, then the best service the family can offer, is to assist the elder in living as safely as possible wherever he wants to live. When a caregiver takes this stance, when the time is right, the elder feels much safer taking steps towards a move.
 

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