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Senior Health

Gift of Safety - Priceless!

Safety, like health and wellbeing, is a priceless gift that tends not to be fully appreciated until such time as one's safety is compromised. Safety is not achieved by simply "wishing" for and wanting it. Safety is a need people have to be motivated to achieve. Maslow's Hierarchy1 is a great tool for encouraging and motivating people to proactively consider the importance of safety in their everyday lives.

We know that 'needs' and 'wants' can be similar but also quite different. For example, we have all heard an older adult make a statement such as "I want to remain independent and not be burden my children." In this statement, the word 'want' may be used by an older adult, but he or she really means "need." As you work with clients/patients, it is critical to understand their preferences and values, not simply hear the words they say. Words are often linked with motivations and signal opportunities to encourage behavior changes and tough decisions in order to maintain one's health, wellbeing and safety.

Through the gift of listening, we may identify safety issues that are important and encourage older adults to consider the gift of prevention. Therefore, it is important to discuss safety and provide guidance about risks related to aging that may compromise function and the ability to live independently. Threats to health, wellbeing and safety come from several sources. In addition to risks associated with physical illness, two of the most serious threats to safety include: Intentional injury or violence such as elder abuse and unintentional injury from accidents such as falls, medication and motor vehicle mishaps. Both categories are considered by the CDC to be significant health problems.2,3

Safety-first thinking is not always a priority in daily life, regardless of age. The news provides evidence for this statement. Likewise, motivation to enhance safety does not necessarily translate into safety behaviors, but is considered an essential component of any plan for safeguarding older adults. Professionals understand the need to tap into knowledge gained over the years by helping older people tap into their own wisdom by adding practical, useful information to assist them in understanding the need to transform their knowledge into behaviors that reduce risk and enhance safety.

Knowledge is considered essential and professionals empower older adults to be powerful by taking personal responsibility for applying knowledge to optimize their own health and wellbeing. The following illustrates the difference between knowledge and wisdom for the topic of safety:4

Elder Abuse/Exploitation: A serious public health problem, an estimated 13% of older adults in the U.S. experience abuse. Direct cost of financial exploitation alone is $2.6 billion per year.

Falls: 16,000 fatal falls each year is equivalent to a Boeing 767 airplane crashing every week for a year, killing all 300 people aboard. The direct cost of non-fatal falls today is $19.2B per year; projected to be $43.8B per year in 2020, which is more than the entire budget of U.S. Homeland Security.

Medication/Transportation: About 1 in 5 older adults experience unintentional medication or alcohol misuse injuries per year.9 While the total cost was unavailable, there are significant implications for Medicare, Medicaid, insurance companies, and other payer sources!

References

  1. Maslow"s Hierarchy of Needs Image
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2004). CDC's Unintentional Injury Activities. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. 
  3. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding Elder Maltreatment Fact Sheet.
  4. Bellinger, G., Castro. D., & Mills, A. Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom.
  5. University of Chicago News. More than 10 percent of older Americans suffer mistreatment, University of Chicago study shows.
  6. Metlife Mature Market Institute (2009). Broken Trust: Elders, Family and Finances.   
  7. Chin-Hansen, J. (2009). Safety of Older Adults: Preventing Falls, Why Should Congress Care
  8. Ibid.
  9. US Pharmacists. (2007). Medication and Alcohol misuse in older adults

GERO GEMS is a monthly publication of the Center for Aging with Dignity. Compiled by Evelyn Fitzwater, this publication is designed to raise awareness of aging and related issues impacting health care professionals and our society as a whole.

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Last Reviewed: Dec 17, 2009

Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN
Associate Professor Emerita
Associate Director of the
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati