While it’s important for seniors to remain connected, entertained and active through the use of technology, it is equally important for them to exercise caution and interest safety. None of us are exempt from Internet scams, but unfortunately, many scammers specifically target senior citizens. Senior citizens are often at an increased risk for Internet scams and fraud due to a variety of unique vulnerabilities. Lack of computer skills, limited Internet skills, and being more trusting and generous are just a few of the factors that put seniors at risk of falling victim to elaborate online scams.
Here are some helpful tips for ensuring you practice Internet Safety 101:
Keep your computer properly secured. Ensure you install reliable security software, set up automatic updates, turn on a firewall, and use secure passwords. You may need to hire a computer technician to get this setup, but exercise caution anytime you give access to your computer to an outside company. Ensure you choose a reputable company who is fully licensed and bonded. Beware of anyone who contacts you to inform you there is something wrong with your computer – even if they claim to work for Microsoft, Dell, Apple, or other common computer companies. NEVER give anyone remote access to your computer who has contacted you offering “help” or warning of a security breach; hang up your phone and take your computer to a reliable technician to have it looked at instead.
Don’t overshare. Social networking sites and sites who cater to older users are often targeted with quizzes and surveys that are in fact scams; these quizzes often ask invasive questions about private information such as health, wealth, assets, income, number of children, and family names. While some of these quizzes may not be scams it is best to exercise caution anytime you are dealing with the Internet and stray away from giving out any personal information about yourself or your family on an online quiz or survey.
Exercise caution with online dating. Online dating is becoming increasingly popular for senior citizens. Many seniors have lost their partner to death or divorce and may be lonely. Online dating is an excellent way to meet new people, and many people find success with it. Online dating is also an easy way for predators to find potential victims for their scams, most often with the goal to get money from them. Therefore, if engaging in online dating ensure you exercise some basic precautions: NEVER wire money or mail cash to someone you’ve met online – no matter what sob story they give you, if you decide to meet in person ensure you do so in a public place and also tell your loved ones when and where you will be meeting, never give out your address or personal phone number unless you have built a great rapport and are ready to take your online dating relationship to the next level with in-person dating.
Other Key Internet Safety Tips for Seniors:
- Don’t trust a link sent to you by someone you do not know, and DO NOT click on it.
- Never trust an email asking for account information or credit card information.
- If a deal is too good to be true, IT IS NOT TRUE!
- Never send money to another country, state, or a stranger.
- The best scams warn of fraud and offer to help save you from fraud. If you are concerned your computer, email, or online account has been compromised reach out to someone you find that is reputable – don’t trust someone who reaches out to you.
- If you did not enter the lottery or a sweepstake than you did not win a lottery or sweepstakes. Do not believe that if you give a little money to claim your prize you will get a lot of money back – true lottery winners do not need to pay anything up front to claim their winnings.
Sources (more info for Seniors!):
Online Safety Resources – https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/digital-skills/online-safety-resources
Internet Safety for Seniors – https://www.atg.wa.gov/internet-safety-seniors
How Technology can Give Seniors More Independance – https://telemedicine.arizona.edu/blog/how-technology-can-give-seniors-more-independence
The Benefits of Social Technology Among Older Adults – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5312603/
Pew Internet Research – http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/05/17/technology-use-among-seniors/
Aging safely – Prevent falls and help maintain independence
Falls are unpredictable for nearly everyone, but more so for people age 65 and older. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of people in this age category fall each year. In addition, those who fall once are two to three times more likely to fall again. Injuries from falls are responsible for significant disability, loss of independence and reduced quality of life.
If you are an older adult (or provide care for a family member who is), fall intervention studies* show that preventive steps like home modification and exercise-based activities can help prevent falls and maintain independence.
Preventing falls is especially important as autumn turns into winter — the most notorious season for accidental falls due to ice and snow in some areas of the country and greater inactivity. Follow these safety tips for making your home, property and yourself safer:
- Safeguard your home by removing throw rugs, electrical cords and paper piles that could trip you up.
- Keep your driveway and sidewalks clear of leaves and other debris that could cause you to trip during the fall months. Repair cracks, lips or dips.
- Once winter arrives, consider hiring a snow removal service or a neighbor to shovel your sidewalk, steps and driveway if it snows where you live. Spread rock salt, grit or sand to help prevent slips and falls.
- Use shoe traction devices when walking outside in ice and snow.
- Have your pharmacist review all your medications several times a year to check for potential interactions that could trigger dizziness.
- Get your eyes checked. Impaired vision contributes to falls.
Staying as active as possible is another way to prevent falls. Seniors who are less active during the fall and winter seasons experience higher levels of instability. Activity helps you to maintain balance and build muscle strength. Here are some tips:
- Move your walking regimen indoors to continue it year-round. Fitness clubs and shopping malls are great places to keep moving.
- Build core muscle strength and strengthen your thigh muscles by exercising or attending fitness classes. Weakness from underuse of the quads and lack of physical strength are major contributors to falls.
- Learn about safe ways to fall (read “Avoid injuries from a fall”). Being aware of safer ways to fall may lessen the impact should a fall occur. Start by consulting a physical therapist or martial arts instructor who studies the effects of falls for their advice on safe falling techniques.
You can find more fall prevention and safety tips on the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov.
* Source: A CDC Compendium of Effective Fall Interventions, 2nd Edition, 2010.
Avoid injuries from a fall
- When falling forward, turn your head to one side to avoid a direct hit to your face or nose. Open your palms to the floor to protect your wrists.
- When falling sideways, tuck your chin to your chest and keep your elbows close to your body.
- Be prepared to fall in a crouched, accordion-like position by bending at your knees and the waist. Your lower legs will hit first, protecting your hips.
Scammers will use any means to extort money from those they deem to be the most vulnerable. Often, they target senior citizens. Many seniors are targeted on a daily basis by predatory scammers and con-artists looking to take advantage of them, and keeping your elderly loved ones informed has never been so crucial.
If you’re worried that you or a loved one is being targeted, this guide will help you learn about common scamming methods, how to avoid becoming the target of a scam, how to recognize signs that someone is being affected by a scam, and what to do when you’ve discovered that a scam has taken place.
Common Methods of Contact for Scammers
Those looking to commit fraud will use any possible avenue to achieve their goal. Your phone, email inbox, and even your front door can become entryways for those with malicious intent. Because any method of contact can be used to defraud you or your loved ones, constant vigilance is required. Let’s discuss some of the most common methods of contact for scammers.
- Robocalls and pre-recorded messages: Most people are familiar with those annoying, automated phone calls that implore you to give away your personal information for a promised “free vacation” or some other alluring reward. These illegal calls are designed to gather information in order to steal from you, and robocall scams are on the rise.
- “Unknown number” or number spoofing: Callers may block their number or use voice over IP software to trick phone networks into believing that they are calling from your area code. Both of these tactics can make it unclear whether the call is legitimate, often leading targets to answer these calls. This opens the door to them being manipulated and possibly scammed.
- “Official looking” emails: Scam emails are very frequently designed to look like they originated from Microsoft or Apple. The emails may directly ask for your personal information or login credentials, or it may link to a phishing site — a website that tries to steal your information by tricking you into believing it is authentic.
- Information around your home or in your mail: Scammers may take some time to investigate your home before attempting to scam you. They often look for any stickers, notices, stray mail, and so on from known maintenance or utility companies on your property. Using this information, they will pretend to be an employee to gain access to your home and/or get your personal information.
Identifying the Most Common Scams
In order to defend yourself or your loved ones, you should get familiar with the strategies fraudsters use to exploit the elderly. Let’s take a look at the the most common scams. Learning about these will enable you to anticipate scams and protect yourself or report a suspicious person when needed.
Tech Support Scams
Have you ever received a call, email, or pop-up notification from tech support about a necessary update or software to remove dangerous viruses on your computer, tablet or phone? These “tech support calls” can be a scam.
If you get an email or phone call from a person claiming to be from Microsoft or Apple, be wary. Don’t give these people any information. They may be selling malware-laden software or are simply trying to steal your personal information in order to commit identity theft.
If you get a letter in the mail, a phone call, or an email informing you that you’ve won some sort of lottery — one that you’re unaware you were ever entered into — you may be the target of a lottery scam. The “prize money” is often locked behind supposed customs fees, taxes, and other expenses that you’re responsible for. They’ll often take wire transfers, credit card numbers, or even gift cards to pay these fees. The biggest problem with this is that the prize money doesn’t exist.
The easiest way to avoid this scam is to carefully analyze any propositions like this. Some of this boils down to common sense — if you didn’t enter a lottery, it’s extremely unlikely that you would be selected as a winner of one. However, if the lottery seems to be operated by a reputable organization, do some research: contact the group or check their official site for any evidence that the drawing is legitimate.
Home Repair Scams
This covers a variety of scams that involves fraudsters either taking money upfront for work they’ll never complete or participating in unethical behavior that you’ll have the pay the price for later. Some examples of home repair scams, as listed by the FTC, include:
- Home repair scams: Scammers often target the elderly, who often have physical limitations preventing them from doing essential home repairs or maintenance. If your property is in clear need of repairs or lawn care, they may offer to handle those issues for you for upfront payment. Instead of completing the work, they’ll leave after taking your money.
- Utility cut-on scams: Those forced to live without utilities — particularly seniors living in areas that have recently been struck by natural disasters — are commonly targeted by this scam. A person will pose as an employee from your utility company and offer to reconnect services for a fee, only to disappear after receiving payment.
- Cable reconnect scams: If, after going through your mail, scammers notice that your cable has been disconnected due to non-payment, they may offer to reconnect your cable for a surprisingly low fee. They may actually reconnect your cable — but doing so is illegal. You’ll be stuck with further fees and potential legal action against you if you accept this offer.
Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Scams
Reverse mortgages, an option for people at least 62 years old, can help seniors (who are often on a fixed income) overcome financial hurdles. Unfortunately, predatory lending practices have led to many seniors being charged unreasonable interest rates. Such loans with predatory rates are often called reverse mortgage scams.
The FBI has given some advice for seniors to avoid these loans. This includes:
- Not responding to unsolicited loan offers
- Carefully analyzing loan offers that seem too good to be true
- Not signing anything that you don’t understand
- Seeking out a reverse mortgage counselor before accepting any offers
Sometimes, scammers may target seniors by falsely posing as representatives from government organizations such as the IRS or SSA. They’ll demand payment for back taxes, for missing jury duty, or for some other false pretense and extort money under the threat of arrest, jail time, or deportation. Using phone number spoofing (as outlined above) and fake badge numbers, a call from such a scammer may even appear to be authentic.
Do not pay the imposter, and report any such attempts. Federal organizations such as the IRS don’t contact civilians in this manner to collect debts — they’ll typically make such requests through the mail.
Health Care/Health Insurance/Medicare Fraud
If someone claims that they are a representative from the government looking to help you continue your Medicare coverage, be wary: They may be simply looking to get your information in order to commit identity theft. This scam most often takes place during the Medicare “open enrollment” period and disproportionately targets seniors.
Only provide information after you’ve verified who you’re talking to. You can call 1-800-MEDICARE to check that you’re not speaking with an impostor.
Another type of scam that can harm seniors is romance scams. Malicious users will often target widows or widowers on social media or dating sites, posing as a new potential romantic interest. After taking some time to build trust with the target, scammers will begin to request more information about them, perhaps even soliciting money via wire transfers. Blinded by love, these users will often lose hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in this long con.
This is a prevalent problem on dating sites. In fact, 12 percent of all dating site users are conned. In order to avoid becoming a part of this statistic, do not give information or money to anyone unless you’ve verified their identity. Thoroughly research people online, and keep an eye out for any inconsistencies in a person’s backstory; these might be the signs of a fake, malicious user.
In a similar manner to romance scams, grandparent scams involve assuming a false persona in order to develop a relationship with a target under false pretenses. In this scam, fraudsters pretend to be the distant relative of the target (or a lawyer presenting the relative) in order to extort money from them for supposedly urgent reasons. This is particularly problematic when the person being targeted has memory-related issues stemming from conditions like Alzheimer’s or dementia.
An especially disheartening type of scam, charity frauds and donation scams are very common, particularly during the holiday season. People looking to turn the spirit of cheer and goodwill into personal gain may pose as a collector for a charitable (often non-existent) organization and solicit for donations.
Don’t donate before researching the veracity of this organization. If they have a good, reputable track record, you can feel confident that your donations will go toward the cause it is intended to. Furthermore, instead of giving money to a door-to-door collector, opt to donate directly to the organization when possible.
General Tips for Avoiding Scams
While some advice for common scams can be found in the previous section, there are some best practices that you must follow in order to protect both yourself and your family. Here are some of the most important general tips you should follow to avoid becoming the victim of a scam:
Do Not Share Personal Information
- Your personal information can be used by fraudsters to impersonate you. Bank accounts, credit cards, loans, and more can be opened in your name, and resolving a case of identity theft can be an expensive and panic-inducing experience. PIN numbers, credit card numbers, your Social Security number, passwords, even email address or mail addresses should all be kept strictly confidential.
- Legitimate companies will not ask for your PIN or password. You should treat any requests for your personal information with extreme suspicion.
Do Your Research
- When speaking to someone representing themselves as an employee for a reputable organization, don’t take their word for it. Keep notes, always asking for full names, a reciprocal phone number, their manager’s/supervisor’s phone number, badge numbers, ID cards, and/or some form of identification that confirms they are who they say.
- Do some research on the company before accepting an email or letter as authentic. Search the company or product name if they give you one along with words like “scam” or “complaint.” These results could reveal that they are part of an ongoing scam. You should also try searching with a phrase that describes the situation you think you might be experiencing, such as “IRS scam call.”
- Research the company on the Better Business Bureau. The BBB will give you an idea of the company’s reputation and give you valuable information to conduct further research.
Be Wary of When and How You Pay
- Do not pay upfront for promises. No reputable organization or service should charge you upfront for services regarding debt relief, credit and loan offers, mortgage assistance, or a job. These types of fees, as noted above, are extremely common in scams — and are a sure sign that you need to be cautious.
- If you are interested in something, ask the representative to send you an offer in writing. This will help you do further research and, if necessary, serve as evidence when you report any potential scams.
- There is a reason that scammers often accept wire transfers or reloadable money cards/gift cards; they aren’t easily traced. As such, using these methods is risky. Government offices and honest companies will not ask you to use these as a method of payment — they will send you a bill.
- Read the fine print and be wary of “free” trials. Such “free trials” often aren’t free at all: They may lead to unexpected charges, commitments to months of a service you don’t want to use, or worse. Take a look at customer reviews and check out the business on the Better Business Bureau before accepting any such offers.
Red Flags for Caregivers and Loved Ones to Lookout for
If you have concerns that a friend, family member, or patient is being targeted or has been affected by a scam, there are signs to look out for. Unusual behavior in regards to finances or contact with strangers could indicate that you need to open a dialogue with the person in question.
Unusual and Sudden Changes Regarding Finances
- Sudden financial problems: If a person has an uncharacteristic lack of money — or, worse, they are beginning to leave bills unpaid — there must be clear reason for this change. A financial scam could be to blame.
- Uncharacteristically secretive about their spending: If communication with an individual hits a brick wall whenever the subject of their spending comes up, they may be trying to hide their spending. Whether they feel ashamed for being scammed or have been manipulated into believing that no one should know about it, secrecy could be another sign that they are being taken advantage of.
- Excessive withdrawals or expenditures: If you have evidence that the person is withdrawing or spending an inordinate amount of money, and there is no clear reason why, you should be on the lookout for any other signs they are being scammed.
Abnormal Contact with Strangers
- An unusual amount of contact with strangers: An excessive number of phone calls, emails, paper mail, or house visits from unknown individuals or companies should put you on the lookout. Scammers often build a sense of urgency through multiple messages to extort money.
- A sudden fixation with someone new: Long cons often require that fraudsters build a sense of trust with their target, as is often the case in romance scams. Fraudsters groom their targets by building trust, pretending to befriend them, or show romantic interest and try to isolate them from their families.
What to Do if You or a Loved One Is the Victim of a Scam
Do any of the scam methods above sound like something you or a loved one has been through? Do you feel like you or they may be the victim of another type of scam? The following advice will help victims protect themselves and minimize the damage the scam can do to them.
Stop All Contact Immediately
- If you are still in contact with the person you suspect has scammed you, stop the conversation immediately. Don’t answer phone calls from the suspected scammer and don’t reply to emails or messages. Their efforts will be dedicated to extorting more money from you and manipulating you as much as possible, and confronting them will not resolve the situation.
- Do not make any more payments to the scammer. No amount of money will deter a fraudster or make them go away; if they suspect they can continue to exploit you, they will continue to do so. These are called follow-up scams, and they can cause serious, recurring financial harm to those affected.
Call Your Financial Institution
- If you have sent money to a scammer or given them any personal information that could be used against you, call your bank or credit union and explain to them that you believe you are a victim of a fraud. They will freeze any relevant accounts and give you further instructions to protect your identity.
- Most institutions will have procedures in place to deal with fraud. Check your bank’s website for advice regarding fraud and closely follow any advice they offer.
Assess Online Security
- Change passwords for all online accounts. Be sure that your passwords are strong by creating a complex one consisting of letters, symbols, and numbers. Do not share passwords across different sites or platforms; if one suffers a data breach, you can bet that cyber criminals will access each of your accounts using that password.
- Update PIN numbers. Just as with your passwords, if your PIN numbers are compromised, you’ll need to have them changed as soon as possible to prevent credit card fraud. You’ll may also need to open new banking accounts and be issued new credit cards, depending on the nature of the scam you were subjected to.
- Change your phone number. Once you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you’ll want to get a new phone number in order to avoid any other attempts at fraud or follow-up scams. Furthermore, since your phone number is needed for two-factor authentication for many applications/platforms, be sure to have your number updated in those places to maintain access to those services.
- Block the scammer through whichever avenue they contacted you through — such as your phone number, email, or social media profile. This is also necessary in order to avoid future attempts at scams. The malicious user may attempt to create new accounts or spoof a new phone number in order to bypass these measures, so be wary of opening emails, accepting friend requests, or answering calls from unfamiliar sources.
Report the Scam
Above all, in order to keep others safe from the scam that affected you, be sure to report the crime with the appropriate organization:
- The Federal Trade Commission is the ideal place to start when looking to report an act of fraud. You can file a complaint online or at 1-877-FTC-HELP. The FTC Complaint Assistant can give you more information on who to contact depending on the nature of your specific complaint.
- You’ll also want to file your complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center if the crime in question took place online. Complaints to this organization are used to inform cybersecurity efforts from the FBI and other organizations.
- Contact your local Adult Protection Services. These organizations are dedicated to protecting the vulnerable in the aging community.
Slips, trips or falls can happen at any time of life, however, the likelihood of having a fall and the impact that this can have on health and independence becomes more significant with age.
Falls are a major cause of hospitalization, especially amongst the elderly. For some people the consequence can be quite devastating resulting in loss of confidence, permanent injury and a restricted ability to lead an active, independent life.
Around 75% of falls occur in or around the home, but many of these can be prevented by being aware of personal risk factors, finding safer ways of performing tasks and making simple and practical adjustments to the home environment to reduce slipping and tripping hazards and improve safety.
- Ensure that there is good lighting in and around the home and that switches are easy to reach. Sensor lights can be strategically placed along hallways and at entrance doors to help with night time visibility.
- Glow in the dark products can be placed next to or on door handles, light switches and other objects that may need to be located in the dark. Luminous reflective tape can be used to mark exits, stairs and other hazards.
- Allow time for eyes to adjust when moving from brightly lit areas to darker areas and vice versa. Decrease glare by adding net curtains.
Floors, Stairs and Hallways
- Check carpeting regularly for worn spots or raised patches. Avoid using throw rugs and runners but if required secure them with carpet tape to prevent slipping. Avoid polishing floors with wax or other slippery materials.
- Use contrast to highlight changes in floor surfaces and depth. Avoid heavily patterned flooring which can obscure small obstacles from vision.
- Take care when walking through doorways as sometimes the threshold makes the floor surface uneven. Small threshold ramps may help individuals to negotiate these uneven surfaces, especially for walking frame users.
- Avoid leaving clutter on the floor (books, handbags, packages, toys and so forth), as these may become a tripping hazard. Ensure any electrical cords are tucked under furniture or taped to skirting boards and do not cross walkways.
- Install stair handrails on both sides of steps and stairs.
- Bathroom surfaces can be very slippery when wet. Keep water spray to a limited area where possible and clean up quickly. Avoiding using talcum powder (especially on tiled surfaces) which makes floor surfaces extra slippery.
- Be extra careful when using non-slip mats. Ensure the edges are firmly stuck down and the rubber-backed mat is held in place. Consider whether these mats create another tripping hazard—applying slip‑resistant tapes or a non-slip floor treatment to the floor and shower tiles may be a safer alternative.
- Install grab rails in or adjacent to the shower, bath and toilet to provide stability and support. Replace towel rails with grab rails for extra support.
- The hot, wet shower environment can sometimes affect balance—using a shower chair, flip‑down seat or removable stool can give extra support. Ensure soap, shampoo and towels are within reach to avoid bending or reaching. Be careful of dangerous lips/edges around the shower and eliminate if possible.
- Consider whether using a bath is really necessary. A clamp on bath rail, non‑slip tape and a bath hoist may make it slightly safer to get in and out of the bath. If the shower is over the bath consider a bath board or bath seat.
- A toilet seat raiser could be appropriate if the toilet seat is too low.
- Ensure beds are adjusted to an appropriate height to help you get in and out. Bed blocks may be an option if the bed is too low. Always get up slowly. Sit for a short time before standing up.
- Always turn a bedside lamp on before getting out of bed during the night and have a phone next to the bed for easy access in case of an emergency.
- A commode chair, urinal or bed pan can avoid the need to get up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night.
- For walking aid users, ensure that walking frames can be accessed very close to the bed.
- Remove or tuck away any tripping hazards like overhanging bedspreads, electrical cords, clothes or other clutter.
- Organise storage to reduce the need for reaching high or bending low as these actions can put you off balance.
- Considering sitting down on a kitchen stool when doing the dishes or preparing a meal. Use a tray mobile or trolley to carry items around. Pick up dropped food and mop up spills as soon as they occur.
- Put hoses, tools, toys and other objects away after use. Remove any hanging plants that could be walked into. Keep a look out for pets before moving around the garden.
- Repair uneven or cracked paths. Ensure lawn areas are as flat as possible. Kill moss and slime on paths. Be especially careful if the ground is frosty or wet and ensure that areas that get wet have non-slip surfaces. Ensure leaves, gravel or other debris are raked up regularly and removed.
- Mark the leading edge of steps with a contrasting color and install handrails.
- Sit down to dress. Avoid long clothing such as nighties and dressing gowns which may create a tripping hazard when standing up.
- Wear low-heeled shoes with rubber soles for good traction. Ensure shoes fit well, are in good repair and are free from grease or dirt. Avoid wearing socks or stockings without shoes when walking on tiled floors or polished floorboards.
- For those at high risk of falls, hip protectors may provide extra protection. These are plastic or foam shields worn in special underpants that protect your hips in the event of a fall.
People often down play a slip, trip or fall, blaming clumsiness or error. It is important to take any fall or near miss seriously and take the time to work out what may have caused or contributed to the event.
- Keep up with regular health checks and keep an eye out for health problems such as poor balance, dizziness, muscles weakness, incontinence, reduced sensation in legs and feet, poor nutrition, unsteadiness or loss of confidence in walking/using steps. It is important to discuss these with a doctor to ensure any medical conditions are well managed.
- Continue regular exercise to help maintain supple joints, muscle strength, balance and walking ability.
- Be aware of vision changes and use glasses if required. If your vision is deteriorating, see a low vision advisor to recommend home modifications.
- If getting to the toilet on time is a concern talk to a doctor or continence nurse.
- Review your medications regularly. Some medicines don’t mix, may cause nasty side effects or may be affected by alcohol. A medication reminder can assist with taking medication correctly. For those who are forgetful, there are timers that can remind them when to take medications.
- Ensure good access to telephones to prevent rushing. Consider getting a cordless telephone or install extra telephone extensions.
- Don’t rush, concentrate on tasks and take the necessary time. If you’re feeling light headed or exhausted, sit down and rest straight away. Have a plan of how to get help if a fall does occur.
- Avoid hazardous tasks such as standing on a chair to reach something from a high cupboard. Look at rearranging the home environment so that frequently used items are at an easy to reach appropriate height. Be aware of the implications of falling from a height and consider asking someone else to assist.
- Consider the direction that bathroom and toilet room doors hang—can they be opened outwards if someone has a fall inside the bathroom or toilet room?
- Consider the use of a mobility aid such as a walking stick or walking frame. It is important to discuss this first with your doctor.
- An emergency call system may help to increase your confidence and independence by helping you contact someone if a fall does occur, particularly for if you live alone.
The concept of a self-propelling wheelchair to aid in mobility for those who are unable or who have difficulty walking due to illness, injury, or disability, dates back to the mid 1600’s. This design evolved over time becoming lighter, easier to use, adjustable, and more comfortable.
Wood frames have been replaced with lightweight alloys such as aluminum, titanium, and carbon fiber.
Wooden wheels are now made from composite materials wrapped with tires that are solid rubber, treaded, pneumatic, or flat free.
Seats are now padded nylon or vinyl and are available in all sizes.
Backs are fixed, adjustable, or fully recline.
Arm rests flip back, are removable, and height adjustable.
Even with all of the innovation and new materials used in manufacturing the wheelchairs of today, two basic principles of physics remain the same: Motion and Gravity, which often result in falls and injuries.
These two principles apply when the user either forgets or is unable to secure the manual wheel locks on a wheelchair during transfers. When the locks are not used as a person attempts to sit into or stand from a wheelchair; the wheelchair, along with their seat will roll away from them, with gravity leaving nowhere to go but down.
This type of wheelchair fall can easily be prevented, yet they happen every day. Those using a wheelchair are already dealing with limited mobility and an unexpected fall can cause new injuries or exacerbate the conditions that resulted in the need for a wheelchair in the first place.
Falls such as this, especially to those who are elderly, most often lead to a greatly reduced quality of life as well as robbing them of living their life independently.
“Aging in Place” is a term used to describe the process of adapting one’s home for the current and changing needs of aging. The primary objective of aging in place is to create a living environment which allows you to safely remain in your home independently as long as possible.
A home assessment will identify risk factors within your home that may inhibit your goal of aging in place and offer a plan to resolve these issues based not only on current, but long term needs as well.
One major focus of a good home assessment is fall prevention, especially in bathrooms where a fall is most likely to occur. Good lighting is essential. Grab bars, safety poles, bath seats or lifts, and slip resistant surfaces offer additional safety.
Handrail systems, floor to ceiling safety poles and other types of safety railing will help prevent a fall from happening in other areas of the home.
A significant amount of time and thought goes into a good plan to age in place. However, one major fall risk that often results in the same devastating impact as a fall in the bath tub and is all too often overlooked is wheelchair falls.
- Roughly 1/3 of the elder population over the age of 65 will fall each year
- Over half of all seniors will fall by age 80
- Those who fall are up to three times more likely to have another fall
- 40% of nursing home admissions and 25% of hospital admissions are due to falls
- 40% of individuals who fall and are admitted to a nursing home or hospital never return home to live independently
- Close to half of all seniors have a fear of falling; resulting in a damaging impact on health and overall well-being, as well as a loss of confidence and restricting themselves from activities with others
Obviously, not all of the falls in these statistics are attributed to individuals who simply do not lock the wheels on a wheelchair, but those that are could have been prevented.
The most common reasons that wheel locks are not used include:
- Dementia and other cognitive disorders
- Lack of strength or dexterity in hands to full engage them
- New to wheelchair use
As a nursing home Medical Director for over thirty years, Dr. Grady Dugas of Marion, Louisiana saw this need first hand. Having witnessed residents routinely fall and suffer injuries while using wheelchairs, Dr. Dugas made it his mission to find a way to stop these preventable falls from ever happening.
His solution was to create an automatic wheel lock that would lock the wheels the moment the user stands from the seat and unlock the wheels the moment the user was safely seated. This would ensure that each and every time a wheelchair user sits in or stands from a wheelchair, there is a fixed and stable seat to sit into, or a fixed and stable base to push off of while standing.
Experimenting with different wheelchair locking and fall prevention systems, he was awarded a patent in 1993. After redesigning and perfecting the system over the next six years with United Plastic Molders, Inc. in Jackson, Mississippi, a new design was patented in 1999, and Safer Automatic Wheelchair Locks, or Safer Locks, was formed.
Today, with over twenty years of refinement and proven use, Safer Locks is the standard in fall prevention for wheelchair users across the country.
Guest Post by:
Automatic Wheelchair Wheel Locks
105 E. Rankin Street Jackson, MS 39201
601-353-3193 ext. 215
DESIGNED, BUILT, ASSEMBLED, & SUPPORTED IN THE USA
February is American Heart Month and this year’s theme is “Our hearts are healthier together.” Research has shown that having social support and personal networks makes getting regular physical activity, eating healthy, losing weight, and quitting smoking easier. During American Heart Month, assemble your friends and family and use #OurHearts to share how you’re working together to be heart healthy.
Heart Disease Risk Factors
High blood cholesterol is a condition in which your blood has too much cholesterol—a waxy, fat-like substance. The higher your blood cholesterol level, the greater your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and heart attack.
Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream in small packages called lipoproteins. Two major kinds of lipoproteins carry cholesterol throughout your body:
- Low-density lipoproteins (LDL). LDL cholesterol sometimes is called “bad” cholesterol. This is because it carries cholesterol to tissues, including your heart arteries. A high LDL cholesterol level raises your risk of CHD.
- High-density lipoproteins (HDL). HDL cholesterol sometimes is called “good” cholesterol. This is because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. A low HDL cholesterol level raises your risk of CHD.
Many factors affect your cholesterol levels. For example, after menopause, women’s LDL cholesterol levels tend to rise, and their HDL cholesterol levels tend to fall. Other factors—such as age, gender, diet, and physical activity—also affect your cholesterol levels.
Healthy levels of both LDL and HDL cholesterol will prevent plaque from building up in your arteries. Routine blood tests can show whether your blood cholesterol levels are healthy. Talk with your doctor about having your cholesterol tested and what the results mean.
Children also can have unhealthy cholesterol levels, especially if they’re overweight or their parents have high blood cholesterol. Talk with your child’s doctor about testing your child’ cholesterol levels.
To learn more about high blood cholesterol and how to manage the condition, go to the Health Topics High Blood Cholesterol article.
Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood. Some studies suggest that a high level of triglycerides in the blood may raise the risk of CHD, especially in women.
High Blood Pressure
“Blood pressure” is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage your heart and lead to plaque buildup. All levels above 120/80 mmHg raise your risk of CHD. This risk grows as blood pressure levels rise. Only one of the two blood pressure numbers has to be above normal to put you at greater risk of CHD and heart attack.
Most adults should have their blood pressure checked at least once a year. If you have high blood pressure, you’ll likely need to be checked more often. Talk with your doctor about how often you should have your blood pressure checked.
Children also can develop high blood pressure, especially if they’re overweight. Your child’s doctor should check your child’s blood pressure at each routine checkup.
Both children and adults are more likely to develop high blood pressure if they’re overweight or have diabetes.
For more information about high blood pressure and how to manage the condition, go to the Health Topics High Blood Pressure article.
Diabetes and Prediabetes
Diabetes is a disease in which the body’s blood sugar level is too high. The two types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2.
In type 1 diabetes, the body’s blood sugar level is high because the body doesn’t make enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps move blood sugar into cells, where it’s used for energy. In type 2 diabetes, the body’s blood sugar level is high mainly because the body doesn’t use its insulin properly.
Over time, a high blood sugar level can lead to increased plaque buildup in your arteries. Having diabetes doubles your risk of CHD.
Prediabetes is a condition in which your blood sugar level is higher than normal, but not as high as it is in diabetes. If you have prediabetes and don’t take steps to manage it, you’ll likely develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years. You’re also at higher risk of CHD.
Being overweight or obese raises your risk of type 2 diabetes. With modest weight loss and moderate physical activity, people who have prediabetes may be able to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes. They also may be able to lower their risk of CHD and heart attack. Weight loss and physical activity also can help control diabetes.
Even children can develop type 2 diabetes. Most children who have type 2 diabetes are overweight.
Type 2 diabetes develops over time and sometimes has no symptoms. Go to your doctor or local clinic to have your blood sugar levels tested regularly to check for diabetes and prediabetes.
For more information about diabetes and heart disease, go to the Health Topics Diabetic Heart Disease article. For more information about diabetes and prediabetes, go to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases’ (NIDDK’s) Introduction to Diabetes.
Overweight and Obesity
The terms “overweight” and “obesity” refer to body weight that’s greater than what is considered healthy for a certain height. More than two-thirds of American adults are overweight, and almost one-third of these adults are obese.
The most useful measure of overweight and obesity is body mass index (BMI). You can use the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI’s) online BMI calculator to figure out your BMI, or your doctor can help you.
Overweight is defined differently for children and teens than it is for adults. Children are still growing, and boys and girls mature at different rates. Thus, BMIs for children and teens compare their heights and weights against growth charts that take age and gender into account. This is called BMI-for-age percentile.
Being overweight or obese can raise your risk of CHD and heart attack. This is mainly because overweight and obesity are linked to other CHD risk factors, such as high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
For more information, go to the Health Topics Overweight and Obesity article.
Smoking tobacco or long-term exposure to secondhand smoke raises your risk of CHD and heart attack.
Smoking triggers a buildup of plaque in your arteries. Smoking also increases the risk of blood clots forming in your arteries. Blood clots can block plaque-narrowed arteries and cause a heart attack. Some research shows that smoking raises your risk of CHD in part by lowering HDL cholesterol levels.
The more you smoke, the greater your risk of heart attack. The benefits of quitting smoking occur no matter how long or how much you’ve smoked. Heart disease risk associated with smoking begins to decrease soon after you quit, and for many people it continues to decrease over time.
Most people who smoke start when they’re teens. Parents can help prevent their children from smoking by not smoking themselves. Talk with your child about the health dangers of smoking and ways to overcome peer pressure to smoke.
For more information, including tips on how to quit smoking, go to the Health Topics Smoking and Your Heart article and the NHLBI’s “Your Guide to a Healthy Heart.”
For more information about children and smoking, go to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS’) Kids and Smoking external link Web page and the CDC’s Smoking and Tobacco Use external link Web page.
Lack of Physical Activity
Inactive people are nearly twice as likely to develop CHD as those who are active. A lack of physical activity can worsen other CHD risk factors, such as high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, diabetes and prediabetes, and overweight and obesity.
It’s important for children and adults to make physical activity part of their daily routines. One reason many Americans aren’t active enough is because of hours spent in front of TVs and computers doing work, schoolwork, and leisure activities.
Some experts advise that children and teens should reduce screen time because it limits time for physical activity. They recommend that children aged 2 and older should spend no more than 2 hours a day watching TV or using a computer (except for school work).
Being physically active is one of the most important things you can do to keep your heart healthy. The good news is that even modest amounts of physical activity are good for your health. The more active you are, the more you will benefit.
For more information, go to HHS’ “2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans,” external link the Health Topics Physical Activity and Your Heart article, and the NHLBI’s “Your Guide to Physical Activity and Your Heart.”
An unhealthy diet can raise your risk of CHD. For example, foods that are high in saturated and trans fats and cholesterol raise LDL cholesterol. Thus, you should try to limit these foods.
It’s also important to limit foods that are high in sodium (salt) and added sugars. A high-salt diet can raise your risk of high blood pressure.
Added sugars will give you extra calories without nutrients like vitamins and minerals. This can cause you to gain weight, which raises your risk of CHD. Added sugars are found in many desserts, canned fruits packed in syrup, fruit drinks, and nondiet sodas.
Stress and anxiety may play a role in causing CHD. Stress and anxiety also can trigger your arteries to tighten. This can raise your blood pressure and your risk of heart attack.
The most commonly reported trigger for a heart attack is an emotionally upsetting event, especially one involving anger. Stress also may indirectly raise your risk of CHD if it makes you more likely to smoke or overeat foods high in fat and sugar.
In men, the risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) increases starting around age 45. In women, the risk for CHD increases starting around age 55. Most people have some plaque buildup in their heart arteries by the time they’re in their 70s. However, only about 25 percent of those people have chest pain, heart attacks, or other signs of CHD.
Some risk factors may affect CHD risk differently in women than in men. For example, estrogen provides women some protection against CHD, whereas diabetes raises the risk of CHD more in women than in men.
Also, some risk factors for heart disease only affect women, such as preeclampsia, a condition that can develop during pregnancy. Preeclampsia is linked to an increased lifetime risk of heart disease, including CHD, heart attack, heart failure, and high blood pressure. (Likewise, having heart disease risk factors, such as diabetes or obesity, increases a woman’s risk of preeclampsia.)
A family history of early CHD is a risk factor for developing CHD, specifically if a father or brother is diagnosed before age 55, or a mother or sister is diagnosed before age 65.