Senior Safety

Senior Safety

Seniors can face many difficulties as they grow older. Canada Safety Council provides safety tips to help in the aging process, and what seniors can do to make their home free of safety hazards.

Being Smart on Smartphones and Social Networks

A study from Statitics Canada revealed that seniors are the fastest growing segment of Internet users in Canada and that 69 per cent of Canadians aged 55 to 64 and 18 per cent of those 75 years and older own a smartphone. In addition to adopting mobile technologies like smartphones and tablets, seniors are also joining social media networks to stay connected. It is now more important than ever before to empower seniors to stay safe in our digital world.

Social media sharing and safety

There is a thin line between being connected and over sharing on social media. Here are six tips to help you protect your privacy and avoid over sharing on social media:

  1. Never share your passwords, banking information, social insurance number or any other private information online. This tip may seem like common sense, but there may come a time when you need to share this information with a family member. Instead of sending the information online, it is more prudent to call them or, ideally, deliver the information in person.
  2. Set strong and unique passwords or passphrases (i.e. a complete sentence such as ILoveMyGrandkids367*) for your accounts and enable two-factor authentication (2FA) for added protection; with 2FA, you need to authenticate yourself with something in addition to your username and password, such as a code that is sent to your device by text.
  3. Switch your social media profile to private in order to hide your profile information from users you have not accepted as friends.
  4. Regularly review and update your privacy and permission settings so that you’re comfortable with what information you’re sharing and with whom.
  5. Don’t accept friend requests from strangers or those you don’t know.
  6. Be mindful of what you post and share, including information you may be unknowingly sharing. For instance, posting photos while on vacation is an indication that you’re not at home. You may also be inadvertently sharing the location in which the photos and/or videos were taken. This is done through the process of geo-tagging, which adds geographical location data to photos or videos. To enhance your privacy, turn geo-tagging off in your phone settings and wait to share vacation photos until you return.

Mobile device safety

Protect your information on your phone (or tablet) by implementing these steps:

  1. Set up a passcode on your device so no one can access your device without your permission and update settings so your phone automatically locks after a period of inactivity.
  2. Most smartphones have a feature allowing you to locate your phone remotely in case you lose it, or delete data/disable it if it is stolen. Be sure this feature is activated (Find my Phone on iOS and Find my Device on Android).
  3. Erase all content and settings (iOS) and/or perform a factory reset (Android) on your phone before giving it away or recycling it. This will wipe the phone clean of all your data and is more secure relative to manually deleting the information on your phone item by item.
  4. When using free Wi-Fi in public places, be cautious of what information you transmit over the Internet:
  • Don’t download any software updates over public Wi-Fi. It is an easy way to accidentally introduce a virus onto your device.
  • Avoid surfing sites that require you to login, but if you can’t avoid it make sure the URL of the website starts with https and not http. This indicates an added layer of data encryption.
  • Refrain from doing any online shopping so as to protect your credit card information.
  1. When downloading apps, read the privacy and permission agreements. These outline what information of yours is shared with the developer when you agree to their terms.

Guarding Against Identity Theft

With technology advancements and upgrades coming at breakneck speed, there’s always something newer and more up-to-date to make our lives easier. Unfortunately, things that make our lives easier can also make life easier for criminals – notably, fraudsters and identity thieves. 

The Competition Bureau of Canada estimates that seniors between the ages of 60-79 were scammed out of $94 million between January 2014 and December 2017.

“Criminals tend to look for the path of least resistance and, too often, that passes through our most vulnerable sections of society,” said Jack Smith, president of the Canada Safety Council. “Seniors seem to be easy targets for a lot of scammers, which is why we feel it’s crucial that we do our part to keep the elderly as informed and prepared as possible to avoid being victimized.”

When it comes to email scams, fortunately, there are some clues that can indicate if a message is legitimate or an attempted scam. Unlike professional emails, scam emails are often littered with spelling and/or grammatical errors. These messages also frequently come from unknown email addresses, do not address the recipient by name and feature low-quality images.

Additionally, malicious messages may encourage recipients to take urgent actions, involving clicking on links or opening attachments, providing private information, or calling a specific phone number. Unless you’re absolutely certain of a message’s origins, do not download attachments or click on links as they may contain viruses, spyware and malware. Further, refrain from using any method of contact shared in the message. Rather, contact the organization using the phone number or email listed on their website and inquire about the message’s legitimacy. Messages that appear malicious in nature should be reported to the Canadian Anit-Fraud Centre and deleted.

Here are five other useful tips to keep your information out of the wrong hands:

  1. Limit what you share online; do not give out your social insurance number online under any circumstances.
  2. Don’t share personal information online, including credit card numbers and your address, unless you are on a secure website. To check, look for a padlock icon next to the site’s address.
  3. Many scam calls are of the “cold call” variety. If you’re unsure, let the call go to voicemail.
  4. If you are asked for information over the phone, ensure that you are the one who initiated the call and you know who you’re talking to. Be wary of incoming calls as you may be speaking with someone who is not affiliated with the organization they claim to be from.
  5. Keep your digital household clean – ensure your software is kept up to date and deactivate/delete accounts or apps that are no longer in use.

Safety Tips for the Older Driver - Senior Safety, Traffic Safety

Maintaining a driver’s license is an important issue of independence for older Canadians, especially to those who have driven for most of their life.

The aging process brings changes that can affect the older driver’s ability to drive safely. These include: reduced vision, particularly at night; a decrease in depth perception; and movement-limiting disabilities such as arthritis and rheumatism that slow down response. The rate of aging varies for each individual, but it is important to recognize age-related changes and learn how to compensate for them.

Vision, Hearing and Medication

  • Have regular vision and hearing examinations.
  • When traveling, always wear your eyeglasses or hearing aid.
  • Give yourself time to adjust to new eyeglasses and have your glasses checked periodically.
  • Use medication correctly, know how it could affect your driving and ensure you are free from harmful effects before driving. With some medicines, you may not be able to drive at all.

Driving Tips

  • Always wear your seat belt.
  • Keep your eyes moving and watch the entire traffic environment.
  • Be alert for parked cars, pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Use rear view and outside mirrors often.
  • Check to the side several times before turning or merging.
  • Never assume you can take the right of way, even if you know it should be yours.
  • When unsure whether you should pass or change lanes, stay in your lane.
  • Maintain a minimum three-second following distance. Start your count when the car ahead passes a fixed road mark.
  • When driving in the rain or in winter, reduce speed and increase following distance.
  • Maintain space cushions to the sides and behind your car.
  • Plan all your trips, choosing familiar routes and avoiding dense and/or high-speed traffic.
  • Avoid driving at dusk or dawn, when visibility is difficult.
  • Avoid prolonged hours of driving.
  • Keep windshields and rear windows clean inside and out.
  • Avoid looking at the headlights of oncoming vehicles.
  • Concentrate on your driving and prepare for the unexpected.
  • Do not drive if you are emotionally upset.
  • Minimize background noise. Keep radio volume, air conditioning and heater blowing units on lowest setting.
  • Never drive after consuming alcohol.
  • Take a driver improvement course such as the Canada Safety Council’s 55 Alive.

Safety Tips for Winter Walking

When the winter air is crisp and the ground is covered with snow, there’s nothing like taking a walk to enjoy the beauty of the season — and walking is one of the best ways to keep fit.

On the other hand, winter can be a challenging time of year to get out and about. Freezing rain, icy surfaces and piles of hard-packed snow pose a hazard for the innocent pedestrian.

A few simple measures can make it safer to walk outdoors in the winter. Removing snow and ice, putting sand or salt on areas where people walk, and wearing the right footwear all make a big difference.

Just one bad fall on ice can have long-term consequences. These include: chronic pain in the affected area; a disabling injury that may mean loss of independence; or fear of another fall, which discourages a healthy, active lifestyle.

Basic Precautions

The Canada Safety Council offers seniors some practical suggestions to stay active in winter.

As winter approaches, outfit yourself for safe walking:

  1. Choose a good pair of winter boots. For warmth and stability look for these features: well-insulated, waterproof, thick non-slip tread sole made of natural rubber, wide low heels, light-weight.
  2. Ice grippers on footwear can help you walk on hard packed snow and ice. But be careful! Grippers become dangerously slippery and must be removed before walking on smooth surfaces such as stone, tile and ceramic. Before buying the grippers, be sure that you are able to attach and remove them from your boots, this is best done sitting down.
  3. Use a cane, or even a pair of ski poles or walking sticks to help with balance. Make sure they’re the right height for you. When your cane is held upside down, the end should be at wrist level. Speak to your doctor, pharmacist or local public health department about how to use a cane properly.
  4. If using a cane, attach a retractible ice pick to the end. Cane picks will be slippery on hard surfaces so be sure to flip it back as you get indoors. Picks are inexpensive and available at most drug stores.
  5. If you need further support, use a walker. The cost might be defrayed by government programs; talk with your doctor.
  6. Wear a hip protector (a lightweight belt or pant with shields to guard the hips). It can help protect the hips against fractures and give added confidence.
  7. Help other road users see you by wearing bright colors or adding reflective material to clothing.
  8. Prevent heat loss by wearing a warm hat, scarf, and mittens or gloves. Dressing in layers may also keep you warmer.

Once the snow and ice arrive, make sure your walking surfaces are safe:

  1. Keep entranceways and sidewalks clear of ice and snow. Report hazards on sidewalks or pathways to your landlord or the City.
  2. Contact your local home support agency or other community services for help with snow removal, transportation and grocery bus services.
  3. Carry a small bag of grit, sand or non clumping cat litter in your jacket pocket or handbag, to sprinkle when you are confronted with icy sidewalks, steps, bus stops, etc.
  4. Ask a passer-by to help you cross an icy surface.

Walking on Ice

Facing an icy surface can be a paralyzing experience. Not everyone has grippers and other safety aids. So, what should you do if it’s impossible to avoid an icy patch? Believe it or not, body movements can increase your stability on an icy surface.

  1. Slow down and think about your next move. Keeping your body as loose as possible, spread your feet to more than a foot apart to provide a base of support. This will help stabilize you as you walk.
  2. Keep your knees loose — let them bend a bit. This will keep your centre of gravity lower to the ground, which further stabilizes the body.
  3. Now you are ready to take a step. Make the step small, placing your whole foot down at once. Then shift your weight very slowly to this foot and bring your other foot to meet it the same way. Keep a wide base of support.
  4. Some people prefer to drag their feet or shuffle them. If this feels better to you, then do so. Just remember to place your whole foot on the ice at once and keep your base of support approximately one foot wide.

Of course, it’s always better to avoid tricky situations by being prepared and planning a safe route for your walk.

How to Prevent Falls in the Home

  • Talk to your doctor about falls prevention. Have regular vision and hearing tests.
  • Take prescription and over-the-counter medications correctly. Keep a medication record and review it regularly with your doctor. Tell your doctor if your medication makes you dizzy or light-headed.
  • Install proper lighting throughout your home. Pay special attention to stairs (with a light switch at both ends) and bathrooms. Use night-lights in the hallways, particularly between the bedroom and bathroom.
  • Keep your floor and stairs free of clutter. Avoid the use of scatter rugs.
  • Be sure to have at least one handrail (preferably two) on all stairways and steps in your home. Ensure handrails are securely attached and in good repair.
  • Check that stairs are in good repair and are slip resistant. If any stairs are broken, have them fixed promptly. Add a strip along the edge of each step in a contrasting color to make it easier to see or use reflective anti-skid treads.
  • Take the same precautions for outdoor steps. In addition, arrange to have leaves, snow and ice removed on a regular basis. Use salt or sand throughout the winter months.
  • Wear proper footwear. Shoes, boots and slippers should provide good support and have good soles. Avoid loose slippers or stocking feet.
  • Install grab bars in all bathrooms, by the toilet and in the bathtub or shower. It’s a good idea to have two bars in the tub, one on a side wall and one on the back wall. If you need extra support, consider a bath seat or bench so you can have a shower sitting down.
  • Use a rubber mat along the full length in your tub, and a non-skid bath mat beside the tub.
  • Use walking aids and other safety devices for extra safety. If you use a cane or a walker, check that it is the right height and that the rubber tips are not worn. Install stainless steel prongs (ice picks) on canes for safe walking in the winter.

Drugs and the Older Driver

No matter what your age, being able to drive means independence. This independence comes with the responsibility to drive safely.

Older drivers are very likely to be taking several medications, some of which may affect driving skills. To be a safe driver, you need to use your medication correctly and know how it can affect your ability to drive.

According to the Canada Safety Council, the main factors in collisions involving older drivers are slow response, not seeing a sign, car, or pedestrian, and interaction with other drivers. Medications can make a driver more susceptible to any of these factors – and Canadians over age 65 take an average of nine medications daily, including prescription, over-the-counter and herbal blends.1

How Medications Affect Driving

Medication can have a positive or negative effect on driving ability. Some people, such as epileptics, may not be able to drive at all without medication. An older driver with untreated depression is at high risk due to decreased concentration and slower decision-making. However, treatment may also carry a risk – 10 milligrams of Valium® (an anti-anxiety medication) can produce more driving impairment than a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10; the Criminal Code limit in Canada is 0.08.

Physicians prescribe benzodiazepines, to combat anxiety and insomnia among seniors. They can have side effects such as drowsiness, impaired motor function and confusion.

Drugs that slow you down also reduce your ability to make decisions and process information rapidly. Seniors taking painkillers that contain codeine or propoxyphene may experience sedation and mild impairment. Even over-the-counter drugs can reduce driving ability. Antihistamines can cause drowsiness and poor concentration. Tranquilizers or cold remedies, such as cold tablets, cough syrup, and sleeping pills, can reduce driving ability. Most seniors do not discuss their over-the-counter drugs with their doctor.

Combinations of drugs can produce unexpected side effects and bad reactions. If you have more than one doctor prescribing medications without knowing what the others are prescribing, or if your doctor does not know about the over-the-counter drugs you are taking, you could be in danger.

Alcohol has a powerful impact on the body, physically and psychologically. With age, tolerance for alcohol decreases steadily, and the body processes it less efficiently. Combining alcohol with medications is risky whether or not you are behind the wheel. For instance, it can lead to falls. The only safe practice is to avoid alcohol completely if there is any chance that you will have to drive.

Impaired driving, whether due to medications, alcohol or a combination, is not only dangerous and socially unacceptable; it is also a criminal offence.

Tips for Older Drivers on Medications

Driving is a complicated task. Don’t let yourself be impaired by any kind of medication, including over-the-counter drugs and herbal or alternative remedies.

  • Take all medications according to the instructions.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the effects of prescribed medications on driving, and whether even a small amount of alcohol will increase the effect.
  • Make sure the combination of your medications does not impair your driving skills. If you have more than one doctor, make sure all of them know everything you are taking.
  • Never mix medications, or share them with another person.
  • If the label says “Do not use while operating heavy machinery” let someone else drive. With some medications, you may not be able to drive at all. If in doubt, choose not to drive
  • Take a driver improvement course, such as the Canada Safety Council’s 55 Alive. Aging brings changes in hearing, vision, flexibility and reaction time. You can learn to compensate for those changes.

Some Medication Effects For The Older Driver

Older drivers need to know how prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs can affect their driving ability. Here are some examples.

Medical Condition Type Of Medication Potential Effects
Anxiety Sedatives Drowsiness, staggering, blurred vision
Arthritis and rheumatism Analgesics (pain relievers) Drowsiness, inability to concentrate, ringing in ears
Common cold Antihistamines, Antitussive (cough suppressants) Drowsiness, blurred vision, dizziness
Fatigue Stimulants Over excitability, false sense of alertness, dizziness
Heart Arrhythmia Antiarrhythmics Blurred vision, dizziness
Hypertension Antihypertensives (blood pressure drugs) Drowsiness, blurred vision, dizziness

1. Prescriptions for Health: Report of the Pharmaceutical Inquiry of Ontario, (The Lowy Commission Report), Toronto, 1990.