Monday, June 11, 2012

Safety Hints for Seniors - Margaret Ullrich

Recently two elderly women were robbed in Winnipeg.  
One was over 90 years old.
A friend reminded me of a piece on Senior Safety I had written in 2005 for the radio show "2000 & Counting".
I'm posting it here and hope it helps keep others safe... 

     One thing I've heard a few seniors say is that they're lonely.  They can't remember the last time the kids called and said, "Let's meet for lunch" or "Let's window shop".  
     The lonely folks wonder.  Is it something I said?  Could it be my deodorant, my denture cleanser, my Jean Nate?

     Most likely you haven't said anything out of line or at least nothing the kids haven't heard before.  And they're used to how you smell.  
     So why the neglect?
     In one word, FEAR.  No, you're not a spectre of what we'll become.  You look just fine and we can only hope we'll be as healthy.  It's just that we're scared of what might happen when you're out in public with us.

     There've been a lot of articles about how seniors are often the victims of scams and muggings.  We hear how trusting the elderly are.  How they grew up in a time when they didn't lock their doors.  How helpful everyone was, how you could trust perfect strangers.

     Guess what?  Crooks have parents, too, and they've heard all about how wonderful it was before the invention of the light bulb.  They know that the greatest generation trusts everybody.  They know you're easy marks.  And that's why we're afraid to go out with you.  We feel the same way we did when we took our kids out, back when they were toddlers.  We feel responsible and we can't yell at you.

     Now, before you get all snippity, think back.  Even Erma Bombeck had a column about driving her Mom to the doctor's office, braking suddenly and reaching out to keep her Mom from crashing into the windshield.  It was just instinct, something she would've done with a child.  It's normal.  You did it with Granny.  Now we're doing it with you.  Parents and kids change places.  

     Annoyed at being compared to your grandchildren?  Think I'm talking out of my hat?  Ok, I'll give you an example.  
     On Friday I went to our local Green Machine to pay a couple of utility bills.  No big whoop.  Ahead of me was a mother and daughter.  The daughter was about my age.  She was showing her Mom how to pay her bills on the machine.  No problem.  There was enough cash and the bills went through without a hitch.  The daughter sighed with relief, mentally crossed another item off her 'To Do' list and started to walk away. 
     Not Mom.  There's a small shelf on the machine.  Mom had plunked down her purse and was rummaging through it, probably sorting used from clean tissues.  She wasn't aware of anyone behind her.  I could've been a mugger for all she knew.  Her daughter looked horrified when she saw her Mom alone and so defenceless.
     Moments like that haunt my generation.
     Want us to hang with you?  Get with the program.  Learn how to survive in 2005.

     If you're walking down a street try to have 'an attitude'.  Walk with purpose.  Be alert and aware.  Don't appear distracted or hesitant.  Don't look like you'd be an easy victim.  If you were a mugger which would you rather attack: sweet old Aunt Bea or Murphy Brown?

     Cross at corners and with the light.  Give the drivers a break.  Hey, some of them are seniors, too.  Mix their reduced peripheral vision with your arthritis and you're asking for an accident.  And even if you have the right of way, be careful.  Right doesn't always win out over might, especially if might has four wheels. 

     Use all your senses.  Leave the walkman at home.  Don't cut off your hearing with earphones.  Don't wear anything that blocks your peripheral vision.

     Use reflective surfaces to see behind you.  Glance at car and shop windows as you walk.  If you think you're being followed enter a store or cross the street.  Even just stopping and staring as the person passes you by is good.  It shows you're aware of him.  At ATM machines check the plastic strip.  If someone starts crowding you, turn around and give him that hard stare you're famous for.  

     Be careful at pay phones.  Always face out so you can see if anyone is approaching you.

     By wary of strangers.  Rude can be good.  Anyone asking for the time, directions or a light might be distracting you so you won't notice his buddy reaching for your purse.

     Fall's a great time to take classes.  How about a martial arts course?  It's good exercise and you can learn how to break a mugger's kneecap.  A kick to the knee is hard to block.  Don't have time for a course?   Rent Sandra Bullock's Miss Congeniality.  Pay attention when she shows that S-I-N-G is a reminder to aim for the Solar plexus, Instep, Nose and Groin.  If you're too much of a lady to do such things then remember that a clenched fist to the Adam's apple is a good thing.

     Be armed and fabulous.  Carry an umbrella or a nice old hat pin or metal nail file in your hand, not your purse.  Be ready to use them.  If you have to take a long walk late at night, pick up a cup of steaming hot coffee.  It can be tossed into a mugger's face. 

     Back to that Mom at the ATM.  Once you have your card back, walk away, fast, especially if you've gotten cash.  If you just have to check that you've gotten the total amount, put the money in your purse and count it there.  Don't make like a Mississippi gambler and flash your wad.  It's no one else's business how much cash you have. 

     And about that purse, clean it out at home.  Some women carry every piece of identification they have, like they were leaving the country.  If you're not going to 20 different stores, then why carry 20 different store charge and identification cards?

     And please, please, don't leave your purse in the shopping cart while you check out the produce.  Crooks have to get groceries, too.  

     If you're driving, focus on the driving.  'Don't talk on the phone while driving' isn't as catchy as 'Don't drink and drive' but it's a good rule, too.  
     Don't run out of gas.  Buy it in the daytime.  And never leave your keys in the car, even for the short time it takes to pump the gas.

     Be careful in the parking lot.  Choose busy, well-lit parking spaces near stores or security booths.  Always use the club, roll up your windows and lock your car.  I've seen cars with keys in the ignition and the windows open.  Owners have said, "This way I know where my key is."  Yeah, but one day you won't know where your car is.  If the kids are asking what you'd like for Christmas, how about an immobilizer? 

     If you have to return to an empty parking lot or garage, ask the security guard to escort you.  Keep a flashlight in your purse for when you've parked on a side street.  Walk quickly to your car with your keys in your hand to avoid fumbling at the door.  Carry your key aimed out, like a stilleto, ready to use in either the car or a mugger's eye.  And check the back seat of your car before you enter it. 

     Sometimes an accident isn't an accident.  If you're bumped from behind, call for help on your cell phone or drive to a busy area to exchange information.  The driver of a locked car is safer than a pedestrian is.

     If you suspect you're being followed, drive to the nearest police station, firehouse, emergency room or open service station.  Misery may love company, but a car jacker doesn't. 

     Unless you live in a full house a la the Waltons, a few little tricks should make a burglar think twice about picking your home.
     Get a 'Beware of Dog' sign.  We're dealing with criminals here.  You can lie.
     Use timers to make lights, radios and TV sets go on at regular times.  They make a house appear occupied.
     Get motion detector light fixtures that can spotlight anyone walking nearby.
     Put good locks on exterior doors and the door between your garage and house.  Use them.  Don't forget to secure your windows, too.

     Want an excuse to invite someone on a shopping trip?  Tell her you're picking up a few items for your Emergency Kit.  We don't get hurricanes like Katrina, but our blizzards are just as good.  Now's the time to prepare.  If your Emergency Kit list is in a safe place, here's another: a flashlight and portable radio, fresh batteries for both, candles, matches, a manual can opener, bottled water, nonperishable food (including powdered instant sports drinks to prevent dehydration), a first aid kit with a manual, extra prescription medicine, cash, pet food and a list of emergency phone numbers. 

     The following are household basics: smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, a multipurpose fire extinguisher, emergency lighting wall units, a camp stove or hibachi, a coil of half inch rope, duct tape, work gloves, a crowbar, a shovel, a hammer and a handsaw.  Add a portable toilet or plastic bags, plastic sheeting for covering broken windows, a suitcase packed with warm clothing and sturdy shoes and you're set for an emergency.  If you live in a mobile home, know where the nearest safe structure is.

     If mobility is a problem, have a network of people to help you, and give someone a key to your home.  Wear your medical alert ID.  If you need dialysis or other treatments, know the location of more than one facility.  And know the size and weight of your wheel chair and if it's collapsible.

     We can't leave it all to government agencies.  Now's the time to plan your own evacuation route and emergency housing.

     Don't be scared, be prepared.

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