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A Caregiver’s Guide to Help Keep Loved Ones Safe

In an ever-increasing ageing population, caring for a loved one is a challenge that most of us will have to face at some time. Whether you are personally caring for a loved one or are a care provider responsible for a residential care home, there is much to consider.

Carers must know when to step in and when to encourage independence. Being a caregiver can involve managing finances and ensuring safe living environments that meet changing needs. It also means being concerned about safety, whether the person concerned is your loved one living in their own home or a patient/resident in a residential or nursing care home.

It is important for all caregivers to be familiar with possible risks and proactive prevention for the person, especially when severe conditions such as Dementia or Alzheimers are involved. Some real safety threats can include accessing and ingesting dangerous substances, injury to themselves or others from sharp objects, fires, burns and more.

Providing care services at any level is not easy, but advance planning and employing helpful strategies help ensure the safety and wellbeing of the vulnerable and elderly.

Medication Safety

Sadly, avoidable medication errors are a leading cause of hospitalisation, and even death, simply due to patients not taking their medications correctly. Many patients can have multiple prescriptions in addition to over-the-counter drugs or supplements. Taking medication can rapidly become complicated and confusing for both carers and patients. A simple solution is to introduce a system to track and manage medication, i.e., a pillbox or reminders on the carer’s phone. Monitoring daily medicines on behalf of another person is a big responsibility and mean more than just handing them a tablet to take. It also involves:

· understanding and adhering to ever-changing medication schedules

· noting the correct name of each medication type being taken

· knowing why each medication type is being prescribed and for how long

· understanding the exact dosage as well as the time and frequency for administering

· being aware of the side effects and monitoring potential interactions between the different medications

· clear labelling and secure storage of medication

Caregivers should, wherever possible, communicate directly with the person they are caring for regarding their medication schedules. Involving a loved one or patient in the conversation allows the caregiver to learn about any side effects that the patient may be experiencing, allowing time for early intervention.

Falls, Accidents and Injuries

It is by no means an easy task to make sure your loved one or patient never suffers injuries resulting from accidents. However, being aware of the common safety problems and taking pre-emptive action can help prevent such injuries as safely storing sharp objects.

Many older adults have impaired balance and poor vision, making them particularly susceptible to accidents involving a fall. This makes falls the leading cause of injury among older adults, with many falls occurring at home. Although some minor fall injuries, many are severe and can even cause death.

Preventing Falls

Fall prevention measures can be easily identified and implemented by care providers. Some things to consider include:

· good lighting

· trip hazards (i.e. rugs, electric cables) and clutter-free environments

· grab rails in bathrooms and entryways

· secure stair handrails are positioned at the right height

· physical supports to aid in getting up and down or walking

· encouraging the patient to be as active as possible

· doing exercises with the patient to improve balance and maintain strength

· taking the patient for walks

Getting Lost or Wandering

It is a real possibility that some older people will go wandering (very common in Dementia or Alzheimers). Leaving familiar territory quickly leads to disorientation, increased confusion and high anxiety levels. It also makes them highly vulnerable to many dangers they cannot deal with on their own. Should a vulnerable person succeed in going off alone, then there are additional steps that can help ensure they are safely returned as quickly as possible:

· The Herbert Protocol is a form to record critical information about a vulnerable person (i.e. medication, mobile numbers, places previously located, description, a photograph). It should be completed by carers, family members or friends before a vulnerable person goes missing. When the person goes missing, the form is immediately given to the police, saving time so the person can be found faster.

· ensure they always have a form of ID on their person, i.e. a bracelet with their name and address on it.

Preventing the Vulnerable From Wandering Off

Some helpful preventative steps to keep vulnerable people safe from getting lost or wandering include:

· provision of enclosed safe spaces where they can safely wander

· entrances and exits that are camouflaged so that they are not easy to spot

· simple and visual signage that helps them register where they are

· note behaviours so you know when a patient needs close monitoring for wandering

· install door locks and anti-wandering alarms

· keep car and house keys hidden

· ensure you can contact local police and fire service

· ensure relevant local support services are aware

· ensure neighbours are aware

The Potential For Abuse and Neglect Research has shown that abuse of the elderly is a growing problem, with estimates suggesting that at least one in ten older adults experience some form of abuse each year. The best protection from elder abuse is education on the signs and symptoms.

Key signs that should be of concern include:

· unexplained bruises or fractures

· changes in mood or behaviour

· self-isolation

Ensuring the vulnerable person has an active support network of family and friends around ensures both patient and caregiver have access to people they can share concerns.

Caring For Aggressive or Agitated Patients

Caregivers must be mindful that becoming agitated or aggressive is a symptom of an illness and not a deliberate malicious intention for some patients. Different solutions will work with varying patients, so learning a variety of strategies to help defuse these situations is a good idea:

· redirection of the patient’s attention

· enabling access to an outlet for their frustration, i.e. punching bags or stress balls

Don’t Suffer in Silence – Help is Available.

If you are a struggling carer, please do not suffer in silence. You can access your local Area Agency for ageing or other elder care resources within your community if you are unsure what to do or where to turn for help in these situations.

Whether you are an individual providing care for a loved one or a care service provider and would like to learn more about training to keep older people safe, please contact Miriam at

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