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Wednesday 29 June 2016

Live alone? Worried about being buried by clutter and no one knowing you're unwell, or worse...?

If you live alone and don't have many friends, who would know if something happened to you?  

If an accident occurred and you died at home alone, what state would your body be in by the time someone found you?  

Sadly, for some people, such as the elderly with no family or friends, or those who isolate themselves from social interaction - including some hoarders and those with issues relating to Autism and neuro-diversity - the answers to these questions can be painful to hear, and decidedly unpleasant for the rescuers if the scenario came true. 

Add this to the conscious and unconscious anxiety that often goes along with having heaps of stuff ("what shall we do with it? I don't want it to go to waste; it might come in handy one day so I shouldn't get rid of it"), and the result can be a melt-down which causes people to freeze with fear, and end up doing nothing.

So how CAN people reduce the risk of all this happening?
Here are a few options which could reduce the amount of time that might go by before an alarm was raised about a person's wellbeing and location.

Cultivate a friendly neighbour
Maybe have an agreement with a friendly neighbour, postman or firefighter or police officer whereby if your curtains aren’t pulled back by a certain time each day, they phone you or knock on your door to check you’re OK.
  • You may want to make it a reciprocal arrangement and give them a key, as my elderly father did with his elderly neighbour, supporting each other.
  • A firefighter or police officer might be a good person to befriend, as it would probably be they who would be the ones authorised to break in if nobody else has a key, or knows the code for a key safe

Phone call check-ups
CareCalls is a telephone reassurance call service where - for just £3 per week - you can get up to 4 automated phone calls per day, seven days per week.  And if they don’t respond someone else (who you nominate – preferably with a key to your property) is informed.  
  • I can’t vouch for them personally (yet), but it seems a great idea
  • If you’re often out and about (including holidays), choose a time for the calls that would suit your schedule. 
AgeUK also offers a “Call in Time” service, where you get to actually talk with someone, although that’s primarily for people over 60.

Neighbourhood Watch/religion/culture watch
Perhaps ask your local Neighbourhood Watch group, local religious or cultural group for some advice or support.

Lions Club Message in a Bottle
I organise for all my elderly or vulnerable clients who live at home alone to have a LionsClub Message in a Bottle (usually available from local community or day care centres).  

The idea of the scheme is that people entering your home in case of an emergency have access to personal information about you, such as Next of Kin and what medication you’re on.

Legal stuff - Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) & Will
Appointing an Attorney to act on your behalf if something happened to you would ensure someone can make decisions about your affairs (health and wellbeing, finance and property) if you are incapacitated (ie. not dead but unwell – eg. had a serious stroke).  

Crucially, a solicitor can act as an Attorney, which could be appropriate for anyone who doesn’t have any close relatives or friends who could act on their behalf.

Here’s a link to some information about LPA's on the Government’s website.

Consult a solicitor to create a Will; this will ensure that your funeral and disposal of assets are carried out according to your wishes.

Fit a Telecare System
Having done Surrey Fire & Rescue Service's excellent Dementia training, we're massive fans of Telecare systems.

They provide a 24-hour emergency call system, which empowers people to live independently in their own home, safe in the knowledge that help is at hand at the touch of a button.
The equipment is easy to install and consists of a small base unit linked to your telephone socket and a pendant trigger, which can be worn discreetly around a resident's neck or wrist.  They can simply press a button in an emergency and an alarm call will be sent to their alarm centre, which is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 

Consult your local authority for details of your local scheme.

Safe & Well Check (also known as a Home Fire Safety Check)
Reduce the risk of fires in your home, by speaking to your local Fire & Rescue Service about them visiting to carry out a Safe & Well (Home Fire Safety) check.

The visits focus on three key areas:
·       Identify and be aware of the potential fire risks within your home.
·       Know what to do in order to reduce or prevent these risks.
·       Put together an escape plan in case a fire does break out and ensure you have working smoke alarms.

The inspection of your home is not as intrusive as it sounds. The Fire & Rescue Service will visit your home, sit down and talk to you about fire safety issues in your home covering areas such as electrical safety, smoking safety and the use of electric blankets.

Then, with your permission, they’ll look at the various rooms within your home paying particular attention to areas such as overloads plug sockets or wires trapped under carpets. They will also ensure that doors shut correctly and advise you of any remedial work that they feel may be in order for you to become safer within your home. You are welcome to ask any questions that you feel you need answering in respect of your home safety. They will also run through an escape plan if you do not already have one.

In addition to the above, you may qualify for free smoke alarms to be fitted within your home. The Fire & Rescue Service will carry this out completely free of charge and can fit them in a matter of minutes, ensuring you are safer from the moment they leave.

Ask a trusted person to help you declutter your piles
Areas of your home that attract mountains of clutter (like newspapers) can become a death trap if avalanches occur. 

A declutter buddy must be empathetic, non-judgemental and have your best interests in mind, rather than their own agenda. 

And if you can’t find a declutter-buddy to help you, there’s bound to be a professional organiser nearby who can.  Find one here.  Not all of them work have experience of working with hoarders or people with mental health problems, so be choosy and do ask lots of questions until you feel comfortable you’ve found the right person.

Use the ice-breaker form
If any or all of this becomes just too overwhelming and makes you feel ill or at your wits end, fear not - all is not lost. 

Download and complete this ice-breaker form, to start up a conversation with your GP or other medical practitioner to ask for help.  If it doesn’t say exactly what you want to say, don’t worry – nothing is perfect; write on it and play around with the words until it says what you want it to say. 

Find out more about it here.

It’ll be a starting point that will give you something to talk about, and could mean that if something happens, you won’t be alone in your home - lost amongst the piles - for too long before help arrives.

Do please let us know how you get on.

First published July 2015 - updated June 2016