15 Health & Safety Tips for Elderly Living Alone

Agnes, with her silver hair and sparkling eyes, had a zest for life that refused to dim with age.

After her husband passed away, her children pleaded for her to move in with them, citing worries about her living alone.

Agnes, fiercely independent, would hear none of it. "I raised a family in this home," she'd say with a wink, "now it's my turn for some well-deserved peace and quiet."

And honestly, she did pretty darn well for herself.

But even the most independent spirits need a little help as the years go by.

Living alone as a senior is about more than just wanting your own space - it's about maintaining control, dignity, and feeling like you still steer your own ship.

Yet, how do you balance that with making sure our older loved ones stay healthy and safe?

Good news: it's absolutely possible.

With a few practical steps, you can create an environment that supports their self-reliance while giving you all peace of mind. Let's dive in!

15 Essential Health and Safety Tips for Seniors Living Alone

Tip #1: Implement a Regular Check-In System

elderly man checking in with family on tv video call

There are several ways to maintain regular contact with your aging loved one.

It can be as simple as daily calls or visits from friends, family, or a hired service.

Technology options, such as apps or devices that send automatic check-in notifications, can also automate the process and make life easier for you.

Regular check-ins not only provide a safety measure but also help reduce social isolation, which is linked to serious health conditions such as increased risk of dementia, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Tip #2: Wear a Medical Alert Device

elderly man wearing a medical alert smartwatch for seniors

Medical alert devices come in a variety of styles - pendants, bracelets, or even built into smartwatches.

These devices connect seniors with emergency help at the push of a button, even if they are unable to reach a phone.

Many systems offer advanced features such as fall detection and GPS tracking.

Some devices automatically detect falls and call for help, a major benefit for seniors who may be injured and unable to activate the button manually.

GPS tracking can be especially helpful for seniors with memory issues or who may wander, as it helps locate them quickly in an emergency.

Choosing the right medical alert device is important.

Look for one that is reputable, has a strong signal, includes the features important to you and your loved one, and fits seamlessly into the senior's lifestyle.

Tip #3: Minimize the Risk of Falls

Falls are a serious concern for older adults, and the consequences can be severe. Each year, 3 million older adults seek emergency treatment for fall injuries, according to recent data.

infographic of fall facts  

There are proactive steps you can take to help your loved one reduce their fall risk:

  • Walk Through Their Home: Do a thorough assessment of their living space, looking with a critical eye for tripping hazards. This could include throw rugs, loose cords, clutter, or poorly lit areas. Offer to help them fix these potential dangers.
  • Bathroom Safety: Discuss installing grab bars in the shower/tub and near the toilet. Check if they'd benefit from a raised toilet seat or non-slip mats. Offer to assist with these modifications either yourself or by hiring a handyman.
  • Footwear Check: Make sure your parent has comfortable, non-slip shoes with good support.
  • Vision and Medication: Remind your parent to have regular eye exams and suggest they talk to their doctor about any medications that might increase dizziness or affect balance. Offer to go with them to the appointment for support.
  • Encourage Physical Therapy: Ask their doctor about a referral for physical therapy. A therapist can help them improve their strength and balance, further reducing the risk of falls.

Remember, approach these conversations with sensitivity and respect.

Frame these suggestions as ways to help them maintain their independence and safety for as long as possible.

Tip #4: Encourage Physical Activity

elderly couple practicing yoga at home

Safe and regular physical activity is crucial for seniors, as it benefits both physical and mental health.

Experts at the CDC recommend seniors aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. Brisk walking is a great option, but other activities count too! If your loved one enjoys it, they can get similar benefits from shorter bursts of more vigorous activity, like jogging or hiking.

Strength training and balance are important as well. Seniors should try to include exercises that work major muscle groups a few times a week. Simple activities like standing on one foot help maintain balance and reduce falls.

Here are some ways to encourage your aging loved one:

  • Focus on Enjoyment: Find activities they find enjoyable! This might be walking, gardening, swimming, tai chi, or dance classes specifically designed for seniors.
  • Start Slowly: No need to be a marathon runner right off the bat. Encourage short walks or a few minutes of gentle exercise, gradually increasing as they become stronger and more comfortable.
  • Make it Social: Suggest group exercise classes, walks with a friend, or joining a senior fitness club. The social aspect can boost motivation and enjoyment.
  • Talk to the Doctor: Always a good idea to discuss a new exercise plan with their physician, especially if there are health concerns. The doctor might even have specific recommendations.
  • Celebrate Small Wins: Acknowledge and celebrate even small amounts of physical activity. Positive reinforcement is motivating!

Important reminder: While physical activity is beneficial, it's vital to consult a physician. Encourage your loved one to listen to their body and avoid overexertion. Pain is a signal to stop and rest.

Tip #5: Practice Safe Cooking Practices

elderly woman cooking dinner at home

Kitchen accidents, especially fires, can be a concern for older adults. Steer clear of approaching this discussion as taking away their ability to cook. Instead focus on keeping them safe and independent for the long term.

To promote cooking safety, emphasize never leaving the stove unattended while cooking and setting timers to remember food on the stove or in the oven. Consider installing an automatic shut-off device for the stove for added safety.

Encourage focused cooking by suggesting they turn off the TV or avoid talking on the phone while preparing food. If your loved one has difficulty with complex cooking, suggest simplifying meals, preparing large batches to reheat, or consider meal delivery options to reduce their time spent in the kitchen.

Keep essential items within easy reach and clear clutter off countertops. And always make sure there's a functional fire extinguisher within close reach of the kitchen and that your parent knows how to use it.

Tip #6: Prioritize Bathroom Safety

Bathrooms present some unique hazards for older adults due to wet floors, tight spaces, and the need for balance when getting in or out of tubs or showers. In fact, 80% of falls among older adults happen in the bathroom, according to studies by the CDC!

Here's how to make their bathroom safer:

  • Tackle Slippery Surfaces: Install non-slip mats inside the shower or tub and on the bathroom floor.
  • Grab Bars for Support: Securely install grab bars by the toilet and within reach of shower or tub entry and exit areas. Professional installation may be best for these.
  • Raised Toilet Seat: A raised toilet seat can make standing up and sitting down easier. You can purchase these at most medical supply stores.
  • Improve Lighting: Ensure the bathroom has good, overall lighting with an especially bright light focused on the shower/bath area.
  • Consider a Shower Chair: If balance while standing is a concern, a shower chair or transfer bench provides a safe and comfortable option.

If getting in and out of a traditional bathtub is difficult, discuss walk-in tub options (these can be expensive but are a good long-term solution). Eliminate clutter and unnecessary items from the bathroom to increase maneuverable space.

Tip #7: Find Safe and Convenient Transportation

Elderly woman existing van with assistance from family caregiver

As seniors age, driving may become less safe or comfortable. It's essential to have alternative transportation plans.

Consider ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, which often offer senior discounts.

Many areas have public transportation specifically tailored to seniors, offering door-to-door pickups.

If possible, schedule appointments or errands for times when a friend, family member, or neighbor can provide a ride. The goal is to find reliable and accessible options that help your loved one maintain independence while getting where they need to go safely.

Tip #8: Set Reminders for Medications and Appointments

medication reminder showing on senior tv

Remembering to take medications on time and keeping track of medical appointments are critical for seniors. Here are tools and strategies that can help:

  • Pill Organizers: A weekly pill organizer is a classic way to sort medications by day and time. They come in various sizes and even with built-in reminder alarms.
  • Smartphone Apps: Many medication reminder apps exist. They provide features like refill reminders, medication interaction warnings, and the ability to share adherence reports with family or caregivers.
  • Visual Calendars: A large-print calendar placed in a central location is a simple yet effective way to track appointments and visually cue them about upcoming events.
  • Automated Systems: Some pharmacies offer automated phone call or text message reminders for refills and scheduled appointments.
  • Family Support: If your loved one feels comfortable, offer to help set up their reminder system or provide occasional reminders as a backup.

Even with reminder systems, check in with your parent regularly about medications and any upcoming appointments. This ensures they are taking medications correctly and staying on top of their healthcare needs.

Tip #9: Post an Emergency Contact List in a Visible Location

A clearly visible emergency contact list is essential for first responders or anyone who may need to quickly reach someone in the event of an emergency.

Create a comprehensive list that includes the names and phone numbers of immediate family members, trusted neighbors, their primary care physician, preferred hospital or emergency contact, and any home care providers or relevant services.

Post the list on the refrigerator door, near the phone, or by the front door. Ideally, have multiple copies placed in different areas.

Make sure the names and numbers are easy to read, even in low light, using a large font size and high-contrast colors. Consider laminating the list for durability and remember to regularly review and update it as needed.

Tip #10: Establish a Support System & Ask for Help When Needed

It's important for seniors to know that they can ask for help when they need it - no matter how big or small the ask may be.

A strong support system benefits both the senior and those who love them.

Having someone to assist with errands, chores, or transportation reduces stress for the senior and can help them remain in their home longer. Knowing they can rely on help fosters feelings of comfort and security.

Additionally, a support system offers you peace of mind, knowing your parent is not handling everything alone. This support can come from family, friends, neighbors, or even hired services like housekeeping, meal delivery, or companionship. You can also connect with community programs or senior centers for additional resources.

If you don't live nearby, consider how remote caregiving technology can make it easier to provide support from a distance.

Approaching this conversation with your loved one requires sensitivity. Emphasize that accepting help is a sign of strength (not weakness) and a proactive way to maintain their independence as much as possible.

Tip #11: Ensure Social Interaction and Mental Stimulation

Staying connected and mentally engaged is crucial for emotional well-being and cognitive health in older adults. Here's how you can encourage your loved one:

  • Prioritize Face-to-Face Time: Encourage regular visits or phone calls with family and friends. If mobility is a concern, help them get out to see loved ones or arrange visits at their home.
  • Join Social Groups: Suggest senior-oriented clubs, classes, or activities that match their interests. Look into local senior centers, community centers, even libraries - they often host a variety of social events.
  • Embrace Technology: If distance is a barrier, tools like video chats or social media platforms help seniors connect with loved ones who live far away. Offer help setting them up or learning the basics if needed.
  • Pursue Hobbies and Interests: Encourage them to pick up old hobbies or explore new ones. This fosters a sense of purpose and can make them excited to try new things.
  • Consider Volunteering: Giving back to the community is an excellent way to meet new people, feel valued, and contribute to something larger than oneself.
  • Lifelong Learning: Many community colleges or senior groups offer classes on a variety of topics, promoting mental stimulation and social interaction.

Research has found strong links between social isolation, loneliness and serious health risks. Staying socially active supports both emotional and cognitive well-being!

Tip #12: Install Motion Activated Lighting Inside and Out

Motion-activated lighting both inside and outside the home provides an added layer of safety and convenience for seniors.

Indoors, these lights automatically illuminate hallways, stairways, or bathrooms when movement is detected, reducing the risk of nighttime falls.

Outdoors, motion-activated lights not only deter potential intruders but also provide well-lit pathways for safer navigation after dark. Installing them near entryways, garages, and walkways can make a significant difference in preventing accidents and promoting a sense of security.

Tip #13: Invest in a Home Security System

A comprehensive home security system can offer peace of mind for both you and your loved one.

Modern systems often go beyond basic alarms, incorporating features like door and window sensors, motion detectors, and even cameras that can be monitored remotely.

Some systems allow for two-way communication, enabling your loved one to speak with a monitoring center or a trusted contact in case of an emergency.

When choosing a system, consider those designed with user-friendly interfaces and features like remote monitoring and automated alerts.

Tip #14: Recognizing and Avoiding Scams

Scammers often target older adults, making it crucial for them to be aware of common tactics and know how to protect themselves.

Educate your loved one about prevalent scams, such as:

  • Government Imposter Scams: Someone impersonates a government official (e.g., from Social Security, Medicare, or the IRS) to demand money or personal information.
  • Tech Support Scams: A scammer poses as a tech support representative, claiming there's a problem with their computer and tricking them into giving remote access or personal information.
  • Grandparent Scam: The scammer pretends to be a grandchild in urgent need of money, often citing an accident, arrest, or other crisis.
  • Charity Scams: Fraudulent charities solicit donations after disasters or emotional events.
  • Sweepstakes/Lottery Scams: These scams notify the person they've won a prize but need to pay a fee or provide personal information to claim it.

Share these tips with your loved one to help them avoid scams:

  • Be Suspicious of Unsolicited Contact: Don't give out personal information or money in response to unexpected calls, emails, or texts.
  • Never Give Remote Access to Your Computer: Legitimate tech support companies won't ask for this over the phone.
  • Verify the Story: If someone claims to be a relative in trouble, hang up and call them directly at a known number to confirm.
  • Research Before Donating: Check out charities through reputable websites before giving any money.
  • Don't Pay to Claim a Prize: Legitimate sweepstakes or lotteries don't require upfront payment.

By sharing these tips and having regular conversations about scam awareness, you can empower your loved one to protect themselves and their finances.

Tip #15: Have a Plan for Higher-Level Care if Needed

While we hope for the best, it's wise to plan for the possibility that your loved one's needs might change over time. Discussing potential care options in advance can reduce stress and ensure that their preferences are honored.

Start by having open and honest conversations about their wishes for future care. Explore options like in-home care, where professional caregivers assist with daily tasks or provide medical support in the comfort of their own home.

Another option is assisted living facilities, which provide varying levels of assistance with personal care, meals, and medication management while allowing residents to maintain some independence. Nursing homes offer comprehensive care, including skilled nursing and 24-hour supervision, for those with significant medical needs.

Research facilities in your area together, visit them in person, and discuss the pros and cons of each. Talk about financial aspects and potential insurance coverage.

Creating a plan now ensures that decisions are made with a clear mind and open communication, promoting a smooth transition if higher-level care ever becomes necessary. Having these conversations might seem difficult, but they are ultimately about empowering your loved one and ensuring their long-term well-being.

A Path to Safety and Well-Being for Seniors Living Alone

By implementing these 15 health and safety tips, you're not only fostering your loved one's independence, you're also ensuring their well-being and giving yourself peace of mind.

Remember, aging doesn't have to mean sacrificing the comforts of home or the joy of living on one's own terms.

With a bit of planning, open communication, and the right support systems in place, your loved one can thrive while staying safe and independent.

If these tips have been helpful, we encourage you to share them with other families navigating this journey.