Senior safety tips shared at Rancho Santa Fe community event


By Karen Billing

The Rancho Santa Fe Senior Center hosted a presentation on senior safety Dec. 18.

“The more people know about these things, the safer we’ll all be,” said Terrie Litwin, executive director of the RSF Senior Center.

Guests from the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District, the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol and the Encinitas Sheriff Station provided tips on how seniors can keep themselves safe and healthy.

Fire and fall safety

Julie Taber, public relations coordinator for the RSF Fire District, spoke about two main safety areas: Fire and fall prevention.

Taber said older adults face a higher risk of dying in a fire and had numerous tips for avoiding a fire starting in the home and what to do in the event it happens:

• If people smoke, Taber said to smoke outside whenever possible. Smokers should use a heavy, sturdy ashtray and wet cigarette butts and ashes before throwing them out. Never smoke in bed and never smoke if medical oxygen is in the home.

“Even if you think you’re far enough away it is too dangerous, it is very flammable,” Taber said.

• If space heaters are used to help keep warm they should be kept three feet away from anything that can burn. Shut off space heaters and unplug them when you leave the home or go to bed.

• When cooking, stay in the kitchen when using a stovetop, don’t leave it unattended. Try to wear short sleeves when cooking and avoid anything that could dangle into heat or catch fire. Use lightweight, easy-to-manage pans and do not cook when you’re drowsy from alcohol or medication.

If a pan catches fire, slide a lid over it and turn off the burner. If your clothing catches fire, remember to stop, drop and roll covering your hands with your face. Burned skin should run under cold water for five to 10 minutes and get medical help if the skin blusters or opens.

•Fire alarms should be in every sleeping area and on every level of the home. Test alarms at least once a month, using a pencil if you cannot reach it. Change the batteries once a year.

• Plan and practice an escape route. People should have two ways out of every room make sure windows open easily. Taber said to plan escape routes around your abilities and have things you need close to your bed, such as a phone, cane, walker or wheelchair, glasses and shoes. If possible, call 9-1-1 from a landline because the address will be immediately available.

Taber said the most common non-fatal injury for older adults are falls — in 2010 there were 2.3 million non-fatal injuries in emergency rooms related to falls and the risk increases for those older than 75.

Taber said the leading case of injury for adults can be preventable with some helpful tips:

• Exercise regularly: Take walks, keep moving. The RSF Senior Center provides fitness classes on Monday mornings that focus on balance and fall prevention. For more information or a schedule, visit

• Take time when you get up, sit a moment to get ready. Once standing, wait until you have your balance.

• Be aware of your surroundings. Keep walking areas and stairs clear of things such as shoes or electrical cords. Improve the lighting in your home and outside areas. Use night lights and always turn the light on before you use the stairs.

• Use non-slip mats in the shower and have grab bars installed if needed. Make sure stairways have handrails to hold onto — add a second handrail onto the wall if possible.

Crime prevention

RSF Patrol Chief Matt Wellhouser said that so far this year, burglaries are down in Rancho Santa Fe— there have been 26 burglaries, 22 of them residential. There have also been six auto break-ins.

What Wellhouser finds most disconcerting is that a lot of homes are left unlocked, alarms not set and cars are unlocked or valuables left in plain view.

“A lot of crime is opportunistic and people are making it way too easy for criminals,” Wellhouser said.

He said people can avoid being a victim by locking their doors, setting alarms and simply paying attention to what’s going on in their neighborhoods. He advised people to not hesitate to report it when something seems not right or suspicious in their neighborhood.

Jackie Stockholm, crime prevention specialist with the Encinitas Sheriff’s Station, also spoke about a number of scams targeting older adults. She said that people should never open the door to people selling something.

“Let them know that someone is home, talk to them through the door, otherwise they could be casing your home and looking for a way to get in,” Stockholm said.

Many scammers are using the phone to target victims, using ploys such as pretending to be a grandchild that is in trouble and needs money, selling anti-aging products or doing a lottery or vacation scam.

“The chances are if it sounds too good to be true, it is,” Stockholm said. “Never give personal information over the phone, especially if you didn’t initiate the call.”

Stockholm said there are so many scams out there, they’ve even heard of people doing a jury duty scam, telling the person they missed jury duty and are in trouble unless they pay a fine. She advised seniors to be aware and hang up if something feels suspicious.

Local resources

Hiram Walker, a native Rancho Santa Fe resident since 1955, just started a Safe Home Inspection business. He will come to the home to run through a safety checklist for doors, windows, lights, smoke detectors, utility shut-offs, water leaks, water heater and even install grab bars.

“Having grown up here I have come to know quite a few people and enjoy knowing that everyone in my community is safe,” Walker said.

To find out more about Walker’s services, call (858) 354-6244 or e-mail

As many people will be traveling during the holiday season, Wellhouser reminded the community that the RSF Patrol does complimentary vacation checks of homes. To set up a vacation check, call the Association at (858) 756-1174. Vacation check forms, as well as more information, can be found at