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Tips for Long Distance Caregivers

The past five years I’ve helped my sisters care for my mom and dad. Living 125 miles away from my parents required planning no matter how long the stay. This was a challenge for both my employer and residence. Although, I don’t have young children who depend on me, I do have a house, plants, yard and a dear cat, all of which needs attention. There are times that I went for consecutive days and other trips my stay shortened to one. Depending upon the help required and if my mom was in the hospital. Either way, it took planning and effort on my part.

Be Organized

Always carry a journal with you listing the elder’s medications, important phone numbers for doctors, pharmacist, the elder’s neighbors, church and important members there, hospital, ambulance service, police and fire station, long-time family friends, civic and social community. Give them your contact information (phone, cell, email and home address) and ask they call you if they spot a problem, potential issue or if they have a question).

  • Build a network with the above community. It’s your lifeline when apart from the elder.
  • Stay connected with them on a regular basis. This gives a message that you’re on top of things even though you are at a distance.

Legal and Financial Issues

These topics can be difficult to bring up with the elder but they help ensure your elder maintains decision-making authority even if they become incapacitated. Planning will also lessen family disagreements and protect family resources.

  • Will – the elder decides how to disperse assets after death
  • Power of attorney – gives a caregiver the authority to act on behalf of the older person
  • Trust: estate-planning document allows the elder to transfer assets and avoid probate and other legal problems
  • Joint ownership: makes it easier to gain access to the elder’s finances
  • Representative payee: A caregiver receives government checks for an older person unable to manage money
  • Medigap insurance: pays portion of medical bills not covered by Medicare

Get Organized

A few days before departure, talk with select neighbors to let them know your travel plans. On a sheet of paper list:

  • Your cell phone number, parent’s home number, and list calendar dates the house would be vacant
  • The house had automatic on and off light switch adaptors and listed the times they were set to turn on and for how long
  • The cat’s feeding was either sourced to a pet service, the neighbor looking out for things, or she made the trip with me in the car depending of the length of stay. The longer the timeframe, the cat came with me on the visit. My mom and dad got a kick out of the cat riding in the car. As most people on the highway since the cat sat in the rear window area looking out! She’d get honks from eighteen-wheelers and lots of smiles and waves from everyone. This was our most enjoyable drive knowing that we made people smile!
  • The house had a security alarm, so I’d inform the alarm company of my absence and timeframe
  • Call the postal mail and newspaper to hold or cancel delivery
  • Let important people in your life know that you’ll be out of town. Usually, this was done via email
  • If traveling by car, be sure to check the oil, gas level and tire air capacity – check on the weather and route before traveling
  • If renting a car, check on available rates, mileage per day, and return times (some car rental companies charge an extra day even if you return the rental car an hour later than designated rental times
  • If traveling by air, it’s better to plan ahead since most airlines offer 21, 14 or 7 seven-day advance reservation discounts. Although some airlines, 24 hours prior to departure offer low fares just to fill up the plane. I’d confirm with the airlines a couple of months before booking a flight and make sure they participate in such deals – stay over a Saturday night when traveling by air

While away from your home

Check with the responsible neighbor every other day to assure the home front is safe and in order.

Making the Return Trip

Checking with mom and dad before leaving on items such as bills that needed paying, grocery shopping, cooking, and making sure the house was clean and clothes were washed. This helped mom when I wasn’t there. She really hated cooking (in her last year because of low energy) but my dad was spoiled (by my mom), so I made sure he didn’t go hungry.

Medications are a big concern with an elder- you want to make sure the medicine cabinet is organized and the elder understands once again the procedure and application of all medications.

If an errand must be run in your absence, arrange for transportation. Contact the elder’s neighbors and let them know your departure and date of your next trip.

How to Live With Needful Aging Parents

Before taking on the role of a full time caregiver, it’s suggested to understand the complex nature and difficulties of taking care of an aging parent in your home before placing yourself in a difficult role.

When Ellen’s mom died three years ago, her dad declined rapidly. He no longer ate properly, cleaned his house (never did really), he drove worse than a fourteen year old behind the wheel for the first time, and his hygiene was atrocious. Ellen found herself driving 125 miles once a week to check on him and things. She made sure food was in the frig, doctor appointments kept, laundry done, and that he bathed. Siblings helped occasionally, giving Ellen a break every three months or so. But the bulk of her dad’s care fell on her shoulders. After six months of traveling the arduous highway to hell, to and fro, they both decided it’d be easier for Ellen if her dad sold his house and moved in with her.

Before the move, Ellen’s life was filled with her own family’s needs, a full time job and some personal time with friends and her love of writing! She often dreamed how fun it’ll be after the kids are grown, she’ll spend her day creating romance novels. Who knows, maybe she’ll be another Danielle Steele, she’d laugh to herself. Well, those days are gone. Having dad in the house, Ellen’s come to feel isolated, alone and abandoned by the rest of the living world. “I’ve aged 10 years in this last one and sure I’m headed for an early grave after all the stress and related illnesses. And Dad’s had a miserable life here and I somehow can’t let go of the feeling that it’s my job to make his life better! It’s so hard to know how these idealistic plans to help will actually turn out. I think that if we’d planned better and made arrangements for dad to stay in his home back a year ago, I would have visited when I could – perhaps my brother and sister and I would have contributed equally. My dad would most likely now be in assisted living rather than thinking “he doesn’t need it because he has me.”

Now her dad fills the house with irrational accusations, mid-morning wandering, and his memory loss drives Ellen into her room in panic. The dad she’s known has disappeared, and this mumbling, forgetful, incontinent stranger has replaced him. Where was her dad, Ellen wondered? Is there a core of him within this other person?

Ellen’s body rarely relaxes and most of the time her stomach is aching. She jumps to everything because her life now is filled with managing. Every morning she’s faced with; how to do a job, how to be a caring daughter, how to run a household, how to keep up with growing children and even how to be a devoted wife. And finally, finally, Ellen thought, feeling the nearby tears, how to have a minute to herself and peace to be a person.

“Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother,” she hears drumming in her head hourly. Honor. What did that mean? When she often considers placing dad in the nursing home out at the edge of town, remorse and guilt gets louder, never giving her rest.

Ellen is among the fast-growing groups today, adult children whose very old parents are needful of special care and attention. ‘What to do with Mother or Dad’ becomes an absorbing question for all adult children. More than 50% of the women work and immediate families were near are now removed from the close and caring others. The dilemma of how to cope when parents grow increasingly needful is one we hope to help many people solve.

A recent survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that an estimated 22.4 million U.S. households — nearly one in four — are providing care to someone age 50 or older or have provided care during the previous 12 months.

Do you remember when aging was simply a fact of life for a small percentage of people? We’re in the new age generation of better health, getting frequent, regular exercise and striving to improve our lives. Yet we face a huge concern born out of lengthening our life span – the widespread conflict between adult children-aging parents relationship. By extending the life cycle, the aging revolution has amplified a screaming need for adult children to provide assistance, especially health care and domestic services, for our elderly parents approaching end of life. Welcome to the boomer age!

Did you know the population of the frail is increasing at twice the number of the “young old” and at twice the rate of the total population? As a boomer, what does this mean to you? That couples, like you, who are facing their own retirement are suddenly being responsible for old parents whose needs are boundless! Couples or single baby boomer having planned carefully for their retirement days, wanting to travel or to study or to indulge in many hobbies, are unexpectedly home-bound by care of a needy parent. Or, if the parent is in a nursing home, the “children” still bear the responsibility for frequent visiting and care.

Is this you? Are you feeling trapped at the lessening options of caring for aging parents?

This increasing need is transforming the adult child-elder parent relationship more than any other single factor! Today in America more adult children, like you, provide more care to elderly parents for longer periods of time and for a wider range of needs than ever before in our history. It’s estimated that adult children provide 70 to 80% of all services to non-institutionalized aging parents. As a matter of fact most adult children will have some major responsibility caring for an elderly parent since the age eighty-five plus group is the fastest growing population segment. The demands are on adult children today without any limits on obligations and they’re mounting, having few social supports from the larger society.

Is your relationship like many adult children and aging parents more difficult, stressful, guilt-ridden, painful and complicated than you ever imagined? Are these feelings threatening to undermine the emotional foundation of the heart-felt bond itself? Here you’ll find stories of hardship, pain, frustration, guilt and great desire to live one’s own life but are hindered and trapped by caring for their aging loved ones.

But what can we do about it?

For many Americans growing old means loss: loss of looks, health, job, friends, and pleasures. Too often it means loss of ability to function in a fast-moving society. It often spells withdrawal, isolation, and loneliness. As the adult child, you may feel responsible for fixing these deficits. This what we do best, make our loved ones happy and feel worthy of love and feeling good? Right?

But as they experience the loss your aging senior will become depressed, more often than not. It’s a natural process of grieving. There were many times that my mom cried when she suffered the loss of her health. As a caregiver, her loss was difficult for me too. The mother I knew was changing and becoming more dependent. The saddest part of experiencing her loss was that I couldn’t do anything to change her aging. No one could. I had to accept her body and mind going downhill. She couldn’t change it either no matter how many doctors she visited, medications she took or eating habits she changed. Be prepared to grieve with your aging senior. It can break your heart.

Gone are the days when old people embraced a small percentage of our population, their presence did not make for problems or issues. Most families were rural and settled. Thus, the caring community of family and friends was close at hand. In the non-rush atmosphere of daily life, those who were old could find tasks to do and useful chores to accomplish. I remember my grandmother working in the garden or quilting, canning and cooking. I’d sit by her side watching as she stitched and mended socks and other items of clothing. Gone are those days!

Today is different. With urban development and growth its changed all that. Family lifestyles are no long static, we’re mobile; we’ve transferred to different parts of the country and began to live longer and caught up in a modular style of living that doesn’t make allowances for our old.

Caregivers deal with this dilemma best they know how. Many of us feel trapped in a lifestyle of “there’s no way out” and then resign to moving the older generation in with us without considering options. Our aging parent’s needs have grown in giant leaps and require being cared for due to events and inevitable changes in the later stages of life; like death of a spouse; declines in health and disability increases. At this point adult children are forced to move the parent’s place of residence because sometimes the health care costs has depleted financial resources. But if the economic resources are stable, then the elder parents may have an increased need like emotional and social support – which affects the capacity to live independently.

And adult children face hard questions to face like ‘our parents took care of their mom and dad while raising us; yet we’re unwilling to tend to them as their special needs grow?’ Although there’s some truth to this, it cannot be compared because in today’s population the number of old people has more than quadrupled. In the early 20th century only one person in 25 was 65 or older. That number jumped to one in ten by 1970, to one in 8 or 9 by 1980, and now it’s 1 in 5. Longer years have brought with them increasing fragility and mental disability. Many of our frail elderly have needs so complex that any household or family would be taxed to the limit in caring for them without professionally trained assistance.

What we need to know. What to consider?

Be clear on what your up against and what you’ll eventually face. Remember that knowledge is power and in the caregiving topic can literally save your life. Research. Research. Research. And after gaining knowledge, ask your self some hard questions.

A recent study profiled in USA Today shows the relationship between heavy-duty caregiving and poor health. The study by the non-profit National Alliance for Caregiving says family caregivers often face a “downward spiral of health that worsens as a result of giving care.”

Caregivers say their lives have become more difficult in a number of ways:

  • 90% More stress or worry
  • 69% Less time spent with family and friends
  • 51% Now taking more medications
  • 37% Less time spent at work
  • 10% More frequent use of alcohol or prescription drugs

Know the facts that more than 2.5 million family caregivers isolated in homes across America suffer from depression, stress and rapidly declining health often putting the needs of loved ones before their own. The survey goes on to claim that caregivers as a whole report poorer health than the general population, “the degree of deterioration in caregivers’ health increases in relation to the amount of time they spend caregiving and the intensity of their caregiving.”

Be prepared. Don’t risk your own health’s decline by ignoring your care. Unfortunately for many caregivers, we have the personality of putting others before us. This is an opportunity for you to do the opposite – care for yourself first. Put options in place for that to happen. Know now that you will need help. Period. Get respite and you’ll need breaks for caregiving. And make sure you ask for professional help when needed. Ask for help! Let go of the illusion that you can do it all! This can save your health.

Tips for Caregivers

All caregivers deal with stress, and often so much of it that it becomes part of their regular lives. While some level of stress comes with the territory, it doesn’t need to be so overwhelming all the time. Here are 5 survival tips that all caregivers should know:

  1. Take care of yourself with diet and exercise – eat well throughout the day, and no matter how busy you are, don’t skip meals, otherwise your energy levels will drop. Exercise at least 3 times a week for 20 minutes, and pick something that you enjoy doing (walking, biking, aerobics class.)
  2. Walk away – you won’t walk away permanently from your care responsibilities, but you can take a step back when you need to. Take a break, even if just for a few minutes, or have someone else step in to provide respite care.
  3. Seek help – 72% of caregivers refuse to receive outside help with their responsibilities; don’t be one of them. Ask a family member to step in and help, or hire a professional home caregiver to give you a break. Also, don’t be afraid to lean on others when you’re stressed, even if it means joining a support group.
  4. Spoil yourself – reward yourself for all of your hard work, once a week or once a month, go get a massage, have a manicure, go to a movie, or take a hot bath with a glass of wine. Do something that helps you rejuvenate!
  5. Don’t neglect your health – remember to get yourself to the doctor regularly, especially if you’re feeling ill. You’ll be better help to a senior when you’re in one piece!

Put these tips to use and you will be a top notch caregiver in no time.

Senior Medical Advice

Visiting the doctor’s office with your aging loved one is a stressful experience for both of you. The time spent with the doctor is extremely short and goes by fast. You have many questions, no doubt, and need the full attention of the physician to insure they are all answered. How can you be sure all the questions and concerns are answered? Investing time and effort prior to the visit ensures your satisfaction upon leaving the office.

As with all offices in business, you’ll find personalities. All doctor’s offices are different; depending upon the size, number of health employees, type of practice and its location. But most operate the same when it comes to time spending time with patients. Here are a few things they have in common – first learn how their office system work, you and your aging loved ones have a better chance for a positive healthcare experience.

First, find out who can answer your questions. Usually, the nurse or the physician’s assistant is a good place to start with questions and concerns. By talking with them first they may be able to:

  1. Make appointments
  2. Answer general medical questions
  3. Look up information in your care recipient’s chart
  4. Answer medical concerns and questions
  5. Give test results
  6. Confirm medications and dosages
  7. Help arrange for prescription refills
  8. Help with medical emergencies

They can also consult with the doctor between patients and get back to you with answers. If your questions are more complicated, feel free to ask to speak with the doctor. The staff can determine who is best to address concerns. Learn the names of all staff members, it’ll go a long way in developing cooperative relationships.

Learn the best time to reach the doctor. Some doctors have specific hours to read emails, faxes and return phone calls so, find out what those hours are. If the doctor does not have specific hours to correspond to communication, call the receptionist first thing in the morning and leave a message. Give a one sentence synopsis of your call so the doctor can better prepare for your inquiry. Be sure to leave all the phone numbers the doctor can call to get you immediately.

How to Deal with Emergencies

Most doctors will suggest going directly to the emergency room if it’s after hours. But find out if the doctor has specific instructions of dealing with emergencies. You will want to find out these answers:

  1. Who to call after hours, if the doctor is not available?
  2. Which emergency facility should you use?
  3. Which hospitals and clinics does the doctor have practice privileges?
  4. How should medical emergencies be handled?
  5. If those privileges are not at a hospital or clinic near you, which does the doctor recommend?

Prepare for the Office Visit

Make a list of questions and concerns you may have before visiting the doctor’s office. Think about when you go shopping, typically you make a list check your items that you need. Going to a doctor’s appointment may be different in a sense that shopping is not as serious. So, it’s a good idea to make the full list of what concerns you; the current health status and reasons for the office visit.

Before the Visit…Check the Patient’s File

Promote clear communication and function effectively as a caregiver is to create and maintain a patient’s file. All questions, notes, medical records, and instructions from healthcare professionals should go in this notebook.

Anytime you encounter an office visit to the doctor, clinic or hospital, take the notebook with you. And more importantly, read through the file and make sure it’s up-to-date. If your aging loved one has more than one doctor, make sure the notebook includes the latest physician notes or any hospital papers or discharges you have received. You may want to make copies to give to the doctor.

Gather Your Questions

Before visiting a healthcare provider, write all your questions down in the notebook so they are in one place.

Identify Current Symptoms

Think through your loved one’s current condition before the office visit. Make a list of any and all changes of your loved one’s condition and overall well being; This should include on the general condition, any changes in pain, medications, and emotional and mental well being. Share these observations with your care recipient. This assures that you both have same understanding of his/her health status.

Call to Confirm the Appointment

Because the trip to the doctor may be a physically challenging event, be sure you call ahead of time to confirm the appointment. It could save you a lot of trouble. The doctor may have been called on a medical emergency, delaying your appointment or rescheduling altogether. You may be taking valuable time away from work, so it’s wise to call the day of the appointment – a couple of hours before the actual scheduled time. You may consider calling just before leaving to the appointment to ensure the doctor has not been called away.

During the Visit.. Help with Reporting

The office visit is for the patient. Your loved one should take the lead. If you’re in the doctor’s office during the visit, listen carefully to what’s being said. You may fill in the gaps in you loved one’s reporting and gently correct anything you believe is incomplete.

How to Avoid Email Hoaxes

They promise you everything from untold riches to dream vacations to naughty photos. Some appeal to the do-gooder in you by asking for donations, while others try to trick you into revealing your most personal information.

Chances are you’ve come across these and other kinds of dubious emails in your inbox. Con artists and pranksters (attracted by the Net’s popularity and relative anonymity) are using email as a tool to bilk people out of their money, spread viruses, and compromise their privacy. If you’re not careful, a simple email message can end up wreaking havoc on your personal and financial life.

A Widespread Problem

Many of the most commonly reported online scams are spread via email, according to the National Consumers League. These include work-at-home schemes, bogus credit card offers, fraudulent business opportunities, and offers of “free” goods.

“While not all unsolicited senior email messages are fraudulent, consumers should be very suspicious of anyone who promises them easy money, incredibly cheap prices, or ‘free’ services that may have hidden costs.” says Susan Grant, director of the NCL’s Internet Fraud Watch program. “Many of the top ten Internet frauds are lurking in your inbox. The key is to recognize and report them.”

In many cases, the spread of email fraud has prompted Uncle Sam to get involved. The Federal Trade Commission has compiled a list of common email scams that include chain letters, health and diet scams, credit repair offers, and more.

The FTC has also been active in combating identity theft, warning consumers to beware of emails that ask you for credit card numbers and other sensitive information. For example, you might receive an email that appears to be from a company you’ve done business with. These messages claim that your “account information needs to be updated” or that “the credit card you signed up with is invalid or expired and the information needs to be reentered to keep your account active,” according to the FTC. No reputable company will ask you to send sensitive information via email.

But email hoax-mongers aren’t always after your money. Some of the most common email hoaxes involve computer viruses, and they come in a number of varieties. Some urge you to open an attachment, claiming that it’s a photo, a game, or some other fun and harmless file. Then the virus will infect your system. Others feature rumors about viruses that don’t even exist, urging you to spread the word. To see a useful 140-example-long list of phony virus warnings, see the “Hoaxes” link at Symantec’s AntiVirus Center (in the reference area towards the bottom).

Old Tricks, New Medium

Many of the hoaxes that appear in your inbox aren’t new. Barbara Mikkelson, who has published the Urban Legends Reference Pages since 1995 with her husband, David, says the method of delivery is the main difference these days. “So much of the stuff is quite old,” says Mikkelson. “It’s just new technology, but human nature is still with us. It’s kind of like what the telephone did for gossip.”

One example is the so-called Nigeria scam, which Mikkelson says has been circulating in one form or another as far back as the 1920s. Although there are numerous variations, one common version works like this: You receive an email from a Nigerian “official” who needs help transferring millions of dollars out of that country. The official asks to use your bank account for the transaction, promising you a healthy cut of the money in return. But soon after you get on board, the “official” begins to report unanticipated problems with the transfer and tells you to send some money in advance to help the transaction along. Of course, the big transfer never happens, and you’re left with a depleted bank account. The NCL’s Internet Fraud Watch says the Nigeria scam is the fastest-growing online fraud, with the number of reports rising a staggering 900 percent from 2000 to 2001.

But if hoaxes like the Nigeria scam are old news, why do people still fall for them? Mikkelson says the main reason is “the power of the written word” but adds that the Net has given these phony come-ons an unprecedented urgency, spurring people to act immediately on what they read without considering the consequences.

“When you see it in written form, it builds up a certain pattern of believability,” she says. “People tend to react [immediately] to things they find in their inbox.”

How to Take Action (and How Not To)

So what do you do when you get an email message that looks questionable? And, just as importantly, what should you not do? Use the following list of tips-compiled from the advice of government agencies, consumer protection groups, and others-as a guide:

Check reliable sources: Symantec’s free Virus Encyclopedia (in the reference area towards the bottom of Symantec’s AntiVirus Center is a good place to check whether a virus warning is real or fake, while sites like the Urban Legends Reference Pages and Purportal are good general references. If the email mentions a news story, try looking it up on a reputable news site like CNN.

Think twice before forwarding: If the sender urges you to forward the message to everyone you know, don’t. “That’s a strong sign that you should sit on your hands and stay away from the keyboard,” Mikkelson says.

Beware of attachments: Don’t open email attachments-even if they appear to be from people you know-without scanning them first using up-to-date antivirus software. Most antivirus software today can automatically scan email attachments. And remember to update your antivirus software’s definitions frequently.

Do your own digging: If the email names a real organization or government agency, visit the organization’s or agency’s Web site. If you don’t know the URL, then use a search engine like the one on your to find it. Don’t use any URLs in the email, as they might be phony, too. Organizations sometimes use their Web sites to address false rumors, as the U.S. Postal Service did to debunk widespread rumors of an impending email tax.

Report it: Internet Fraud Watch, and the the Federal Trade Commission have online forms you can use to report incidents of suspected email fraud.

Caregiver Checklist

A typical day of a working family caregiver, over and above the employer’s demands, includes making To Do lists for the aging parent or relative. Even family caregivers who don’t work outside the home make lists to help remember what needs to be done. And the lists are long and some get re-prioritized daily. We know how important it is for this list to include home safety for the aging seniors. In order not to worry about them constantly we suggest regularly walking through a home safety checklist. Another good one can be found on local Area Agency for the Aging websites.

Here’s a list adapted from “Safety for Older Consumer Home Safety Checklist,” U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. It’ll help ensure home safety for the elder and everyone’s peace of mind.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission believes that many injuries older Americans suffer through and treated for occur in and around their homes. CPSC suggests that many injuries result from hazards overlooked but are easy to fix. If we could take some time to spot these and make simple corrections, many injuries could be avoided. And the last thing we want is our aging parent getting hurt.

The CPSC says to use this checklist for possible safety problems that may be present. First walk through the home with the checklist, marking YES or NO to answer each question. Then go back over the list and take action correcting these items of hazard.

All Areas of the Elder’s Home

Check all electrical, telephone and computer cords; rugs, runners and mats. Check smoke detectors and electrical outlets and switches and bulbs. Don’t forget space heaters, wood burning stoves.

Are these cords placed out of traffic flow? 
 Yes    No

Are cords out from beneath furniture, carpet and rugs? 
 Yes    No

Remember cords that stretch across walkways may cause tripping. Arrange the furniture so outlets are available for lamps and appliances without using extension cords. If extensions are required then place them on the floor against a wall and tape them there.

In the Kitchen

Check the range area and make sure all cords, the lighting, stools and rugs are out of the walkway.

The range or stove; are towels and curtains away from fire hazard? 
 Yes    No

Storing non-cooking equipment like potholders, dishtowels, or plastic utensils on or near the range could result in fires or burns. Store flammable and combustible items away from range and oven. Remove any towels hanging on oven handles.

Do you wear clothing with short or close-fitting sleeves while you are cooking? 
 Yes    No

CPSC estimates that 70% of all people who die from clothing fires are over 65 years of age. Long sleeves are more likely to catch fire than are short sleeves.

Long sleeves are also more apt to catch on pot handles, overturning pots and pans and causing scalds.

Roll back long, loose sleeves or fasten them with pins or elastic bands while you are cooking.

Are kitchen ventilation systems or ranges exhaust functioning properly and are they in use while you are cooking? 
 Yes    No

Indoor air pollutants may accumulate to unhealthful levels in a kitchen where gas or kerosene-fire appliances are in use. Use ventilation systems or open windows to clear air of vapors and smoke.

Are all extension cords and appliance cords located away from the sink or range areas?
Yes  No

Electrical appliances and power cords can cause shock or electrocution if they come in contact with water. Cords can also be damaged by excess heat. Move cords and appliances away from sink areas and hot surfaces. Move appliances closer to wall outlets or to different outlets so you won’t need extension cords. If extension cords must be used, install wiring guides so that cords will not hang near sink, range, or working areas.

Consider adding new outlets for convenience and safety; ask your electrician to install outlets equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to protect against electric shock. A GFCI is a shock-protection device that will detect electrical fault and shut off electricity before serious injury or death occurs.

Does good, even lighting exist over the stove, sink, and countertop work areas, especially where food is sliced or cut? 
 Yes    No

Low lighting and glare can contribute to burns or cuts. Improve lighting. Open curtains and blinds (unless this causes to much glare). Use the maximum wattage bulb allowed by the fixture. (If you do not know the correct wattage for the fixture, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)

Reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially closing the blinds or curtains. Install additional light fixtures under cabinet or over counter-top lighting. Make sure that the bulbs you use are the right type and wattage for the light fixture.

Is the step stool in good repair? 
 Yes    No

Standing on chairs, boxes, or other makeshift items to reach high shelves can result in falls. If you don’t have a step stool, consider buying one. Choose one with a handrail that you can hold onto while standing on the top step.

Before climbing on any step stool, make sure it is fully opened and stable. Tighten screws and braces on the step stool. Discard step stools with broken parts.

In the Living Room/Family Room

Check all rugs and runners, electrical and telephone cords, lighting, the fireplace and chimney, the telephone area, and all passageways.

Are chimneys clear from accumulations of leaves and other debris that can clog them?

 Yes    No

Did you know that a clogged chimney could cause a poorly burning fire resulting in poisonous fumes and smoke coming back into the house? Have the chimney checked and cleaned by a registered or licensed professional.

Has the chimney been cleaned within the last year? 
 Yes    No

A burning wood fireplace can cause a build up of a tarry substance or creosote inside the chimney. This material can ignite and result in a serious chimney fire. Have the chimney checked and cleaned by a registered or licensed professional.

Check lighting in hallways. Are passageways between rooms and other heavy traffic well lit?

 Yes    No

Shadowed or dark areas can hide tripping hazards. Use the maximum wattage bulb allowed by the fixture. (If you do not know the correct wattage, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)

Install night-lights. Reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially closing blinds or curtains. Consider using additional lamps or light fixtures. Make sure that the bulbs you use are the right type and wattage for the light fixture.

Furniture, boxes, or other items could be an obstruction or tripping hazard, especially in the event of an emergency or fire. Rearrange furniture to open passageways and walkways. Remove boxes and clutter.

Remember: Check the Living Room/Family Room and passageways for all items under “All Areas of the Home” above.


In the bathroom, check bathtub and shower areas, water temperature, rugs and mats, lighting, small electrical appliances, and storage areas for medications.

 Yes    No

Wet soapy tile or porcelain surfaces are especially slippery and may contribute to falls. Apply textured strips or appliqu?s on the floors of tubs and showers. Use non-skid mats in the tub and shower, and on the bathroom floor.

Do bathtubs and showers have at least one, preferably two grab bars? 
 Yes    No

Grab bars can help you get into and out of your tub or shower, and can help prevent falls. Check existing bars for strength and stability, and repair if necessary.

Attach grab bars, through the tile, to structural supports in the wall, or install bars specifically designed to attach to the sides of the bathtub. If you are not sure how it is done, get someone who is qualified to assist you.

Water temperature above 120 degrees can cause tap water scalds. Lower the setting on your hot water heater to “Low” or 120 degrees. If you are unfamiliar with the controls of your water heater, ask a qualified. Is the temperature 120 degrees or lower? 
 Yes    No

NOTE: If the water heater does not have a temperature setting, you can use a thermometer to check the temperature of the water at the tap.

Always check water temperature by hand before entering bath or shower. Taking baths, rather than showers, reduces the risk of a scald from suddenly changing water temperatures.

Check Lighting

Is a light switch located near the entrance to the bathroom? 
 Yes    No

A light switch near the door will prevent you from walking through a dark area. Install a night-light. Inexpensive lights that plug into outlets are available.

Consider replacing the existing switch with a “glow switch” that can be seen in the dark.

 Yes    No

Check Small Electrical Appliances

Are small electrical appliances such as hair dryers, shavers, curling irons, etc., unplugged when not in use? 
 Yes    No

Even an appliance that is not turned on, such as a hairdryer, can be potentially hazardous if it is left plugged in. If it falls into water in a sink or bathtub while plugged in, it could cause a lethal shock.

Unplug all small appliances when not in use. Never reach into water to retrieve an appliance that has fallen in without being sure the appliance is unplugged. Install a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) in your bathroom outlet to protect against electric shock.

Check Medications

Are all medicines stored in the containers that they came in and are they clearly marked?

 Yes    No

Medications that are not clearly and accurately labeled can be easily mixed up. Taking the wrong medicine or missing a dosage of medicine you need, can be dangerous.

Be sure that all containers are clearly marked with the contents, doctor’s instructions, expiration date, and patient’s name. Dispose of outdated medicines properly.

**Request non-child-resistant closures from your pharmacist only when you cannot use child-resistant closures.

NOTE: Many poisonings occur when children visiting grandparents go through the medicine cabinet or grandmother’s purse. In homes where grandchildren or youngsters are frequent visitors, medicines should be purchased in containers with child-resistant caps, and the caps properly closed after each use. Store medicines beyond the reach of children.


In the bedroom, check all rugs and runners, electrical and telephone cords, and areas around beds.

Check Areas Around Beds

Are lamps or light switches within reach of each bed? 
 Yes    No

Lamps or switches located close to each bed will enable people getting up at night to see where they are going. Rearrange furniture closer to switches or move lamps closer to beds and install night-lights.

Are ashtrays, smoking materials, or other fire sources (heaters, hot plates, teapots, etc.) located away from beds or bedding? 
 Yes    No

Burns are a leading cause of accidental death among seniors. Smoking in bed is a major contributor to this problem. Between mattress and bedding fire related deaths in a recent year, 42% were to persons 65 or older.

Remove sources of heat or flame from areas around beds. Don’t smoke in bed. 
 Yes    No

Is anything covering your electric blanket when in use? 
 Yes    No

“Tucking in” electric blankets, or placing additional coverings on top of them can cause excessive heat build up which can start a fire.

Do you avoid “tucking in” the sides or ends of your electric blanket? 
 Yes    No

Use electric blankets according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t allow anything on top of the blanket while it is in use. (This includes other blankets or comforters, even pets sleeping on top of the blanket.)

Don’t set electric blankets so high that they could burn someone who falls asleep while they are on.

Do you ever go to sleep with a heating pad while turned on? Yes   No

Is there a telephone close to your bed? 
 Yes    No

*In case of an emergency, it is important to be able to reach the telephone without getting out of bed.

Basement/Garage/Workshop/Storage Areas

In the basement, garage, workshop, and storage areas, check lighting; fuse boxes or circuit breakers, appliances and power tools, electrical cords, and flammable liquids.

Check Lighting

Are work areas, especially areas where power tools are used, well lit? 
 Yes    No

Good lighting can reduce the chance that you will accidentally cut your finger. Either install additional light, or avoid working with power tools in the area.

Can you turn on the lights without first having to walk through a dark area? 
 Yes    No

Basement, garages, and storage areas can contain many tripping hazards and sharp or pointed tools that can make a fall even more hazardous. Keep an operating flashlight handy. Have an electrician install switches at each entrance to a dark area.

Check the fuse box or circuit breakers

If fuses are used, are they the correct size for the circuit? 
 Yes    No

Replacing a correct size fuse with a larger size fuse can present a serious fire hazard. If the fuse in the box is rater higher than that intended for the circuit, excessive current will be allowed to flow and possibly overload the outlet and house wiring to the point that a fire can begin.

Be certain that correct-size fuses are used. (If you do not know the correct sizes, consider having an electrician identify and label the sizes to be used.)

NOTE: If all, or nearly all, fuses used are 30-amp fuses, there is a chance that some of the fuses are rated too high for the circuit.

Check appliances and power tools

Are power tools equipped with a 3-prong plug or marked to show that they are double insulated? 
 Yes    No

These safety features reduce the risk of an electric shock. Use a properly connected 3-prong adapter for connecting a 3-prong plug to a 2-hole receptacle. Consider replacing old tools that have neither a 3-prong plug nor are double insulated.

Are power tools guards in place? 
 Yes    No

Power tools used with guards removed pose a serious risk of injury from sharp edges or moving parts. Replace guards that have been removed from power tools.

Has the grounding feature on any 3-prong plug been defeated by removal of the grounding pin or by improperly using an adapter? 
 Yes    No

*Improperly grounded appliances can lead to electric shock. Check with your service person or an electrician if you are in doubt.

Check flammable and volatile liquids

Are containers of volatile liquids tightly capped? 
 Yes    No

*If not tightly closed, vapors may escape that may be toxic when inhaled. Check containers periodically to make sure they are tightly closed.

**CPSC has reports of several cases in which gasoline, stored as much as 10 feet from a gas water heater, exploded. Many people are unaware that gas fumes can travel that far.

Are gasoline, paints, solvents, or other products that give off vapors or fumes stored away from ignition sources? 
 Yes    No

*Gasoline, kerosene, and other flammable liquids should be stored out of living areas in properly labeled, non-glass safety containers. Remove these products from the areas near heat or flame such as heaters, furnaces, water heaters, ranges, and other gas appliances.

In Stairways

For all stairways, check lighting, handrails, and the condition of the steps and coverings.

Check Lighting

*Stairs should be lighted so that each step, particularly the step edges, can be clearly seen while going up and down stairs. The lighting should not produce glare or shadows along the stairway.

*Use the maximum wattage bulb allowed by the light fixture. (If you do not know the correct wattage, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)

*Reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially closing blinds and curtains.

Have a qualified person add additional light fixtures. Make sure that the bulbs you use are the right type and wattage for the light fixture. 
 Yes    No

Are light switches located at both the top and bottom of the stairs? 
 Yes    No

Even if you are very familiar with the stairs, lighting is an important factor in preventing falls. You should be able to turn on the lights before you use the stairway from either end.

*If no other light is available, keep an operating flashlight in a convenient location at the top and bottom of the stairs. Install night-lights at nearby outlets. Consider installing switches at the top and bottom of the stairs.

Check Steps

Do the steps allow secure footing?

Worn treads or worn or loose carpeting can lead to insecure footing, resulting in slips or falls. Try to avoid wearing only socks or smooth-soled shoes or slippers when using stairs. Make certain the carpet is firmly attached to the steps all along the stairs.

Consider refinishing or replacing worn treads, or replacing worn carpeting. Paint outside steps with paint that has a rough texture, or use abrasive strips.

Are steps even and have the same size and height? 
 Yes    No

Even a small difference in step surfaces or riser heights can lead to falls. Mark any steps, which are especially narrow or have risers that are higher or lower than the others. Be especially careful of these steps when using the stairs.

Are the coverings on the steps in good condition? 
 Yes    No

Worn or torn coverings or nails sticking out from coverings could snag your foot or cause you to trip. Repair coverings. Remove coverings. Replace coverings.

Can you clearly see the edges of the steps? 
 Yes    No

Falls may occur if the edges of the steps are blurred or hard to see. Paint edges of outdoor steps white to see them better at night. Add extra lighting.

If you plan to carpet your stairs, avoid deep pile carpeting or patterned or dark colored carpeting that can make it difficult to see the edges of the steps clearly.

Is anything stored on the stairway, even temporarily? 
 Yes    No

People can trip over objects left on stairs, particularly in the event of an emergency or fire. Remove all objects from the stairway.