Community strategies to make Home Sweet Home synonymous with Home Safe Home
By Janet Benavente, Colorado State University Extension Agent
Personal safety is a keen interest of the aging individuals, their personal support group or family, advocates for the aging, and public safety personnel.
Architect H.A. Steinberg’s wrote, “The needs of older people are not peculiar to them. They are simply an intensification of the needs of the general population. That is, convenience becomes a necessity, safety becomes paramount, and standards of comfort are more exacting”. This view brings a perspective that should energize communities to assure that Home Sweet Home means Home Safe Home regardless of age or neighborhood. Living environment includes not only a person’s home but also their neighborhood and the neighborhoods through which they travel and it determines their sense of safety. Regardless of age, one’s living environment should include:
Aging individuals may begin to question whether their living environment can provide these characteristics because of changes in their cognitive, motor, sensory, and perceptual capacity. Strength begins to diminish around age 50 and joints may be less flexible. Falling becomes more likely as step-length shortens and the body tilts forward. High frequency hearing begins deteriorating around age 40 for men and a little later for women. Normal yellowing of the lens of the eye changes color perception. The aging eye becomes more sensitive to glare and has more difficulty recognizing contrast. In addition, reaction time is decreased, word fluency may diminish, and process thoughts may take additional time. Other changes that can impact the aging individual’s perception of their living environment include new neighbors and changes in traffic patterns in their neighborhood.
These changes may impact perception of the living environment. Some of this impact can be ameliorated by adaptive or assisting technology, while other impacts may require structural modifications. However, many of these negative impacts could be avoided all together if universal design principles were used for all buildings and hardscapes.
The optimal approach to creating a living environment that is appropriate for aging community members includes increased knowledge, refined skills, improved communication, and enhanced social support. Groups and individuals that share concern about aging community members have a rich opportunity to work together on this optimal approach.
Each group concerned about safety and security for the aging has a unique role this optimal approach to creating the Home Safe Home neighborhoods. Aging adults themselves can benefit from increased awareness of predatory practices targeting aging persons and knowledge of adaptive or assisting technology, structural modifications, and universal design principles. They will also benefit from enhanced ability to communicate effectively, increased access to resources for the aging, and a variety of opportunities to stay active and connected to the community. The aging individual’s personal support group or family can benefit from these five things in addition to working knowledge of the warning signs of diminished capacity.
Advocates for the aging and public safety professionals can contribute by listening and responding to needs identified by the aging and involving aging individuals in developing policy, as well as, planning and implementation of programs. Assuring that educational programs and information are readily accessible to the aging, their families and advocates is another valuable contribution from advocates and professionals. In addition, advocates for the aging and public safety personnel are in unique positions to support adaptive and assisting technology and universal design principles in public venues; develop intergenerational opportunities in recreation, entertainment, and education; and establish, strengthen and maintain supportive programs for the aging and their personal support group or family.
All of these ideas can be summed up in the words attributed to human rights advocate, Sojourner Truth; “It is good to be dependent on each other for something. It makes us civil and peaceable.”