Skip to main content


Putting Age -friendly Principles into Practice - 7 Safety


Keeping safe at home


I have cobbled these tips together from a number of sources – my local Ambulance Service, Police and Fire Department, the various organisations such as Age UK and America’s AARP, so please check their websites for more.

Preventing Injury 

 We’ve already talked a bit about structural changes to our homes such as adding ramps and railings (Housing), making sure our streets are safer and pavements aren’t full of holes and trip hazards  (Mobility and Transport} ), and having level access, non -slip  surfaces and good lighting. Below are some more ways to prevent falls, one of the most common reasons for hospital admission among older people. While most of this is common sense for everyone, it is particularly important for the elderly because older bones are more easily broken and take much longer to heal.Our Senior Centre often has strength and balance training sessions which help to reduce the risk of falls, the US AARP lists many as well. These exercises are quite different to those which you might to for general fitness or weightloss.


 Here's more from Age UK


I’d also add putting non -slip mats in your bathroom or shower and perhaps putting adhesive strips – even glow -in -the – dark ones, on the edge of steps and stair treads. I noticed that at the Senior Centre I visited last night there was white paint to mark the edge of the kerb which I found very helpful which made it really easy to see the changing levels in the dark, so this would would be a good simple idea in places where older people live.

Stick -on LED lights aren’t expensive and having a touch light beside your bed is another inexpensive idea so you don’t trip in the dark while looking for a light switch. Keep the things you use often within easy reach and ask Santa to bring you a stable step stool for high cupboards. Much cheaper and more fun than a stay in hospital!

Having a large font on your phone is useful – my sister's also has a panic button in case she has a fall. You should make sure you have all your emergency numbers in it – Doctor, Ambulance, Police, Fire, Power, Plumber, Next of Kin and so on, and keep that information on your fridge or near your phone too so that you, a friend or a neighbour can easily call. The City of Opole one of Poland's Age - Friendly cities, issues its seniors with safety wristbands which have at least three of the following features:-

  1. A safety button with an SOS signal
  2. A fall detector
  3. A wristband removal detector
  4. A GPS locator
  5. Functions which maintain communications with a service centre or caregiver
  6. Functions which monitor basic life activity such as pulse and saturation

While these have proved invaluable during distancing requirements of Covid, it 's anticipated that the technology will in future enable family members to monitor the well - being of elderly family members and allow the elderly to easily notify their loved ones or emergency services of any changes in their condition. A similar but more complicated service was provided to me via a special telephone while I had Covid. This allowed remote reporting of vital information such as temperature, pulse and saturation, which in turn enabled the medical personnel to determine whether hospitalisation would be necessary.

 There are various other types of commercial alarms and sensors and sensors on the market which automatically alert agencies or medical authorities if someone has a fall, but it would be best to enquire which services are available where you live. The ACT (Australia's Capital Territory) for example, provides such a service via the Red Cross but to access it you must go through My Aged Care or the National Disability Scheme. Check -in services such as the Red Cross has here for frail or disabled elderly people involves volunteers ringing each day to make sure they are OK. 

Other Emergencies

Our major Ambulance service has excellent on -line fact sheets on what to do in the event of common conditions ranging from an Asthma attack to Snake bite which everyone should become familiar with. [However St John’s does warn that these are designed for Australian conditions only and are no substitute for a proper first aid course. You must also get permission first if you want to use the information in any commercial way]. Wish I’d known what to do about Anaphylaxis before I got my last bee sting! It goes without saying that everyone should have at least a basic First Aid Kit on hand. Many communities are now installing defibrillators in offices and public places – see for example Akita City in Japan, yet if no one knows where they are or how to use them, they won’t be of much help. Nullumbik Shire is mapping theirs and that would be a good idea for others as well. These should be included on street guides and directories. I have just written to Google Maps asking that they be included there. If more people did so, it could happen and save someone’s life.


Anyone who has to take lots of different tablets or has difficulty keeping track of them may want to invest in a Webster organiser. Apparently these can only be rented from pharmacies and the like. They come in different sizes, 21 different languages and in low vision format and make sure you take the right dose on any given day. They are also very convenient for carers or if having to go away or to hospital. Don’t forget to include a supply of your medication if putting together an Emergency Kit. See the next post on how to put one together. 

Food Safety

While food safety is important for everyone – see general food handling tips here,  it is particularly important for older people (and the very young) because their immune systems are not as strong. 


Read about Food Handling Hygiene here, the importance of maintaining correct temperatures here, how to avoid cross -contamination here, and how to do a proper clean up here, These are all only short clips, but important if you are planning to do any large scale catering or cooking for the elderly.

Crime prevention

Tasmania Police has an excellent online Personal Safety Handbook  - don’t try to read it all at once! It covers everything from safety in the home to safety in the street and on public transport, how to protect your valuables, how to prevent fraud and identity theft, your Legal Rights and Elder Abuse.

Full security systems with automatic alerts to police or a central agency are now getting much cheaper but may still be beyond the means of many seniors. Cameras, sensor lights or video door monitors have also come down in price and may be more affordable. The next option is to have a peephole installed in your front door plus a safety chain and a deadlock. Keep the key in the deadlock (inside) are near it in case you need to leave in an emergency. If people whom you don’t know come to your door claiming to be from say a charity, an insurance company or other service, ask to see their identification before letting them inside. If you live alone, a pair of used men’s work boots by the door or work clothing on the clothesline might help to deter intruders, as would having a noisy dog.

Don’t leave cars unlocked and leave nothing of value inside. Even a few coins in the console are enough for desperate people to break a window to get at them. Don’t leave ladders or mowers out and make sure sheds and garages are locked. Don’t hide keys anywhere around the house. Leave one with a trusted neighbour.

If you are going away, let police know and have mail and papers held or collected so as not to advertise the fact that you aren’t home. For the same reason don’t put notices about weddings and funerals or ads. for pet minders on social media or in the papers. A radio playing inside and or lights on a timer switch help to make it look as if there’s someone home. Join or get to know your local Neighbourhood Watch Group so that they keep an eye on things too. If they see any suspicious activity, they’ll report it to police. 

Electrical Safety Tips

If we expect people to age at home, an electrical check is a really good idea, especially in older homes where wiring may have deteriorated or switches overloaded because they were never designed for all the new appliances and devices we are using now. Many of us tend to make do with multiple power boards and piggy – back plugs which may not be entirely safe. With my former electricity supplier we used to be given a small device – A Cable PI (see pic) which alerted power users of  faulty circuits and the like. 


Cable PI tells you whether you have faulty power circuits

A surge -buster will protect computers and televisions if your power fluctuates or comes back on suddenly after a storm. Make sure heaters have cut -out switches if they get too hot or fall over and keep them at least 2 metres away from curtains and furnishings. Don’t let lint build up in dryers and switch off appliances when you aren’t using them. See more here. There’s also an excellent visual guide for those with language difficulties. On the subject of devices, don’t charge them near your bed, as they can overheat,  keep your drinks away from them and turn them off if it looks like you are going to have a thunderstorm. Keep things like hairdryers and radios well away from water altogether and never touch anything electrical with wet hands. Oh yes, and don't swim during thunderstorms either. I didn't know about that one.

Another good idea is to have a pre -winter check of electric blankets and heaters including heat pumps – better for efficiency as well as safety. This would also be a good time to make sure that you have no frayed leads or loose switches.

Fire Prevention

Smoke detectors are a must and these should be tested once a month and must also be checked each year to make sure that the batteries haven’t run out. The City of Surrey -on -Trent uses its army of senior employees to attend to routine matters such as this and City of Manchester has volunteers who do safety inspections and make minor adjustments and repairs. You can see the Handymen of Milton Keynes in the UK at work here and you may even pick up a few tips on how to lower your heating bills. The City of Ottawa gives smoke detectors to its older residents along with Carbon Monoxide detectors. We haven’t heard much about these in Australia yet, but would be an excellent idea for those who use gas or wood -heating.

Our State Fire Department does free home fire checks and installs smoke alarms for the elderly and disabled. There are specialist alarms for those who are hard of hearing and at least six ways to report a fire for those with speech or hearing difficulties. See also their terrific guides for fire prevention at home, and a basic home safety course for carers.

There are also a number of American videos about preventing house -fires too. These include cooking fires which are responsible for 40%  of US fires.  Don’t try to put them out with water or try to move the pot or pan – simply turn off the heat and smother the flames with a lid. It also includes a bit about choosing and using fire extinguishers. A small fire extinguisher near the stove is a good idea. A fire blanket which smothers flames is also a good investment. Failing either, my ex used to keep a large jar of bicarb soda near the stove in case of a kitchen fire. See more on basic fire safety around stoves and appliances here.

Surviving a house -fire

This video should scare the pants off you. Rooms will ignite in 2 -3 minutes. Not only do today’s furnishings burn much faster, they give off very toxic smoke which will kill you even before the flames do, which is why you need to “get low, get out and go, go go!” and then call the fire brigade.  If you still need convincing, watch this clip as well.  

Be careful with ashes from your stove, firepit or BBQ too. My sister thought the ashes from her wood stove were all out when she put them on her garden. Unfortunately she hadn't counted on a freak wind reigniting them and setting fire to her house. This has caused her a huge amount of stress and over a year later, she is still waiting for the rebuild. 

Do make a fire plan. Make sure everyone knows the location of fire extinguishers and how to use them. Think how you will leave the house in the event of a fire and what you would take. Just writing this made me realise I hadn’t checked the smoke detector in a while and that the fire extinguisher in my car was long out of date.


While bushfires aren’t uncommon in places like Australia and California, more and more people are experiencing them of late, driven by higher temperatures. Read about bushfire preparation here

 Keep your gutters clear of leaves, keep your yard clear of flammable materials including dry grass and fallen timber and clear a space around your house. Think how you will leave the area in the event of a fire and what you would take. Know where evacuation centres are and get children, other vulnerable people and farm animals and pets out early if you know there are fires in your area. Be sure to discuss your plan with other family members and arrange where you will meet and whom you’ll notify.

Today (13TH ) is in fact UN International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction so it’s a good time to be thinking about such things. I’ll talk a bit more about that next time including what to how to set up your own Emergency Kit and How to keep warm if your power goes out. With winter approaching in the Northern Hemisphere this will be important and for the rest of us, with our power bills soaring, there might be some useful tips for us too.