Keeping yourself and your home safe

Opened the newspaper today and there was yet another news item about another elderly couple robbed at home.  The stories are disturbingly similar.  Two youngsters knock on the door, one of the elderly (living alone or with an elderly spouse) opens the door, the youngsters barge in, pull the gold chain from the lady’s neck, grab whatever else they can, injure one or both of them and run away.

For the young thugs it is probably the easiest way to make money.  The elderly are easy targets, the police are stretched too thin to follow up on every such crime, and the victims are shaken, tired and too distraught to take any further action.

If you are a senior citizen reading this or have elderly parents living alone (or with you but alone through out the day when you are in office), here are a few tips that can help you and your parents remain safe when at home.

1.  Have a grill door fixed outside your main door.  Keep it locked all the time.

A good grill door would cost you Rs 15000 to Rs. 20000.  It is a one-time investment and worth its weight in gold.  A lot of visitors come by who need not enter your home.  These people can be dealt with from within the safety of your house.  If you need to sign documents or if they request for water to drink, you can handle it all through the gaps in the grill door.  This ensures that for the thugs to reach you, they need to do extra work and spend more time – which dramatically increases the risks they have to take and gives you more time to holler for help.  So they usually leave to find easier targets.  Remember to keep the keys away from reach of outsiders so the thugs are not able to reach in and snatch your keys.  A key holder nailed on the inside of your main door well out of arms length from the outside is an ideal place to keep the grill door key.  That way, if you need to let a friend or relative in, you don’t have to walk far to get the keys.

2.  Avoid keeping valuables and cash at home.

These are the things that attract the thug in the first place.  If you ensure that there are no valuables at home and make sure this fact is known, you immediately become far less appealing to the thieves.  Set aside your sentiments and get rid of that thick gold chain around your neck, the gold bangles around your wrist, and the glittering diamond ear studs.   Replace them with simple jewelry that look clearly inexpensive (but elegant, of course).

Don’t keep cash lying around or in plain sight.  You might ask, “Who can be so stupid as to have cash lying around the house?”, but you would be surprised to know how many people make this mistake! Start using credit cards, get an ATM card and withdraw only as much as your require, keep an account with your neighbourhood kirana shop and pharmacy and settle bills on a monthly basis or have a cheque  book ready.  And if you need to pay other bills, do it online through net banking.  You definitely should not need more than a couple of thousand rupees in cash with you at any given point of time.

3.  Don’t let strangers in.

Another cardinal rule and if you have put the grill door, quite easy to implement.  In India, every household gets a lot of uninvited visitors every day.  Courier agents, grocery delivery, vegetable man, the gas delivery person, the EB meter reader, the used paper collector, the census guy, the person selling encyclopaedias or peddling hundreds of other things from snake oil to eatables, the list goes on and on.

Most of these guys do not have to come into the house.  Deal with them through the grill door and be done with it.  It is not ill-mannered or discourteous no matter what was taught to you when you were young.  Times have changed, and you should too.

If it is somebody you have to let in, (the gas delivery man, the electrician or the plumber you called), check their credentials and only then let them in.  Stay with them and keep a close watch until they leave, and make sure you lock the grill door in their presence when they leave. And while they are in the house, make sure you keep all the money and valuables hidden.  Don’t let them enter areas where they have no business.

4.  Keep all important numbers and a mobile phone handy.

Make a list of all important numbers, print them in bold face, big fonts and stick them prominently in every room.  That way, if you fall down, feel sick or need to make a call quickly for some other reason, all the data and tools you need are right there within reach.

Some of the important numbers to maintain are those of your  Doctor, the nearest ambulance service, pharmacy, food caterer (if you regularly get food from outside), your nurse/nursing assistant, your physiotherapist, children, relatives, friends and neighbours.  Put all these numbers on speed dial on your mobile phone.  A mobile phone with a pre-paid card costs nearly next to nothing these days.  There are even a few senior friendly phone models available in  the market today with big buttons and displays that make it a breeze to use a mobile.

5.  Keep the other unwanted visitor out – the mosquito

Of all the unwanted, uninvited visitors to your home, none is more dangerous than the diminutive mosquito. Not only can they make your life miserable by biting you all the time, they can also cause malaria, dengue and other serious diseases, some of which can be life threatening for the elderly.    You need to mosquito-proof your home.  Mosquito meshes are available and you can fix these on all your doors and windows and when you sleep, you can use one of the large number of easy to use mosquito nets that are available in the market today.

The points listed above are a few simple ways in which to make your life much safer and they neither cost you too much not force you the dramatically change your lifestyle or the way you live.  Let not the next news item about robbery be about you.

Here’s wishing you a secure and safe life.

Making your bathroom senior friendly and safe

If you have perused a copy of house beautiful or homes and gardens or some such magazine, you would have seen photos of wonderfully spacious, carpeted, dry and glistening bathrooms.

Unfortunately Indian bathrooms are a completely different matter.  Most of them are small and ill-lit, have narrow doorways, have the slipperiest tiles on the floors and walls and are almost always wet.

No surprise then that most of the accidents that happen at home happen in the bathroom, especially where senior citizens are involved.

However, with a few changes and some precaution, your bathroom can be made safe (though they will never look like the picture above) and usable. The changes we are recommending here are cost effective and do not require any major remodeling or masonry work.

1.  Remove the latch/lock on the inside of the bathroom.  

Most Indian bathrooms have a strong latch on the inside that ensures that nobody can gain access to the bathroom from outside when the bathroom is already occupied.  With elderly people in the house, it is very likely that sooner or later, the person inside may not be able to open the door by themselves and will need assistance from outside.  In such cases, the only option is to breakdown the door and this means that any help that can be rendered will be delayed.

One easy way to circumvent this problem is to remove the latch on the inside and replace it with a typical aircraft toilet door vacant/engaged type of door latch.  This allows people to quickly enter the bathroom if required as well as ensures that people know when a bathroom is occupied.  This will cost very little and could save a life next time an elderly family member has a dizzy spell or falls down in the bathroom.

2.  Use anti-slip mats where necessary.

Indian toilets and bathrooms are always wet and this is an indisputable fact.  On top of that most bathrooms have tiled floors that make the bathroom floor cold and slippery all the time.  One simple way to ensure people do not slip and fall is to cover the wet areas with an anti-slip mat.  These mats are similar to those used around swimming pools and so are designed to keep the top dry while allowing water to flow freely through the gaps.

A simple device that ensures that you don’t have to lay a new floor for your bathroom, something that can not only prove costly but will also put your bathroom out of commission for a week or so.

The mats are in-expensive (at about Rs. 170 per sqft), are easy to remove and clean and extremely durable.  The mats stop people from slipping even when there are minor/major oil spills or talcum powder spills (both of which are deadly when combined with water on any hard flooring).

3.  Convert Indian toilets into western toilets.

They say that sitting on your haunches is the fastest and best way to evacuate your bowels and personally, I quite agree.  However, as people get older, it gets more and more difficult to go on ones haunches and the western commode become more appealing.  However, breaking the Indian toilet and replacing it with a western one can be a costly and time consuming process.  While the best course of action is to bite the bullet and make the change, if budget and time are constrained, there are multiple other options in the form of Indian to western converters.

Option A:  A simple converter that can be placed on top of the existing Indian commode.  Not the most elegant solution, but an effective stop gap arrangement.  Could cost as little as Rs. 900.

Option B:  A height adjustable powder coated or chrome plated western commode with pail that is clean and effective and easy to wash and maintain.  Several variants are available and cost anywhere between Rs. 1500 to Rs. 4000.  You can buy it here.

4.   Install grab bars and railings.

The next issue faced by senior people is support when sitting or getting up from the toilet seat.  Many times, the walls around the toilet are tiles and smooth offering no assistance to the elderly by way of something to hold on to.  At other times, the walls themselves are too far away from the closet to be of any assistance.  Many western closets are also very low making it very difficult for people with weak knees when sitting down and getting up.  There are a few simple devices that can make life easy under such circumstances.

A.  A toilet raiser.  This is a small hard-plastic device that sits on top of the commode and increases the overall height of the commode by 8cm to 13cm.  It can be easily removed and washed after use or completely removed when not in use.  Such a toilet raiser will put you back by about Rs. 1500 – much cheaper than ripping out the low commode and replacing it with a taller one!  Click here to buy.

B.  Grab bars.  These are stainless steel bars that you can affix to the walls around the toilet bowl.  When installed at the right height, they can provide additional support allowing people to use their hands and upper torso to take the weight off their knees when getting up or sitting down.  Would cost you between Rs. 500 to Rs. 1500 to install a pair of grab bars.  Click here to buy.

C. Toilet safety railings. In some bathrooms, the walls may be too far away from the toilet bowl and hence having grab bars conveniently placed may not be an option.  Under such circumstances, the best option is to go for a toilet safety railing. It requires no wall and can be fixed to the toilet bowl itself with just a couple of screws (the provision for such screws is already available on most of the common toilet bowls to accommodate the toilet lid.  So you can easily fix these railings yourself without having to call a plumber or a carpenter.  Will cost you about Rs. 2500 – Rs. 3000.

5. Install a health faucet.

Many Indian bathrooms have a tap close to the floor with a tiny bucket to assist in washing oneself. To use this, a person has to bend down and straighten many times in the process of washing oneself.  A health faucet is a good option that makes the cleaning process efficient, thorough and easy.  A health faucet is a tube connected to a tap at one end with a hand-held nozzle at the other end.  The nozzle can be pressed to release water and it can also be used to regulate the pressure of the water jet.  Will cost about Rs. 500 – Rs. 1500 to buy one.

6. Get a shower chair and a hand shower installed.

Having a bath, especially with hot water can be tiring for the elderly.  A shower chair and a hand shower can allow people to have a leisurely bath while seated. The shower chair shown here is a very light weight hard plastic and aluminium chair that is easy to carry and wash.  Its shape also provides access to different parts of the body so bathing a patient also becomes easy.  The chair is also height adjustable and costs about Rs. 2000.