If you're living alone, you're in good company. According to the latest census data, there are now 3,673,305 one-person households in Canada -- that's about 28 per cent of households overall and more than the number of households with a couple and children. In the last 50 years, the portion of our population that lives alone has more than tripled to 13.5 per cent.
Whether it's due to preference or circumstance such as divorce, living alone has its challenges along with its rewards. If you or someone you know lives alone, here are some tips to do it safely.
Get to know your neighbours. Don't be shy about introducing yourself -- neighbours have a way of looking out for each other. When you're familiar with the people on your street or in your building, you'll be better able to spot someone who shouldn't be there.
Avoid telling people you live alone. You might mention "it's just me" in an innocent conversation, but you never know how far the news will spread. Experts advise against giving out this unnecessary information -- especially to seemingly friendly strangers.
Mind your social media. When you "check in" or post status updates revealing your whereabouts, you could be giving away crucial information about your routine, when your home is empty and when you're home alone. You should be careful with your privacy settings, but experts say it's best to avoid these updates altogether.
Adjust your answering machine message. Experts suggest excluding your name in the outgoing message on your home phone line and saying "we" instead of "I". ("We can't come to the phone right now", for example.) If you're uncomfortable with the white lie, be vague: "No one is available to take your call."
Lock up. Regardless of where you live, experts say it's a smart habit to keep your doors locked at all times -- even when you are home. ("Dead bolts" or "barrel locks" are best.) The same goes for your windows and sliding doors -- make sure they're secure and install alarms for extra security if you feel they are needed.
Install a peephole. People who live alone need to be extra cautious about who they let into their homes. A peep hole or window lets you see who's there -- and ask for I.D., if needed -- before you open the door to a stranger.
Be aware of your surroundings. Are there places around your home where people could hide? Are there suspicious people lurking about? At home or on the road, experts warn to be aware of your surroundings at all times. If you live in an apartment, beware that common areas like the laundry room or gym and dumpsters can be unsafe at night -- it's best to handle chores earlier in the day.
Trim your shrubs. Any trees, bushes or structures around your home can conceal a would-be thief or peeping tom. Make sure your neighbours and passersby can see prowlers with the 3-foot/7-foot rule: shrubs shouldn't be more than three feet high and tree branches shouldn't hang lower than seven feet.
Install good lighting. Crooks don't want to be seen so outdoor flood lights and motion-sensor lights can be an effective deterrent. For your own safety and the safety of your guests, bright lighting around walkways and doors can help prevent falls. Indoors, night lights and motion-sensor lights can provide well-lit pathways to keep you safe walking around at night.
Make good use of your curtains and blinds. Could a stranger see your big screen TV or watch you through the window? Curtains and blinds can improve your privacy and hide temptation, especially when you aren't at home.
Remove safety hazards. Hazards such as scatter rugs, dangling cords and clutter around stairs are dangerous for everyone. If you have rugs or bath mats, make sure they're secure and non-slip. Safety measures like secure railings on staircases are smart no matter what your age or status. (See Simple steps to make your home safer for more details.)
Get help with chores. Avoid injuries and falling risks by getting help with potentially risky tasks around the house. Enlist a friend or neighbour to help with any heavy lifting, or to spot you if you need to tackle a task on a step ladder.
Stock your pantry. Keeping an emergency stash of food and water and some essentials in your medicine cabinet can help you stay self-sufficient if you the power goes out or you come down with the flu.
Invite company when you're expecting strangers. If you need something fixed or you're selling something online, have a friend or neighbour come over so you won't be alone in your home with strangers. It never hurts to have a back-up or a second opinion.
Keep your keys to yourself. Never give out your keys to someone making repairs or renovations on your home -- there have been cases where crooks have copied the keys. A spare key hidden around the home can also be used to commit a crime. If you don't have a superintendent as back-up, considered giving a spare set of keys to a trusted friend and family member.
Vary your routine. Go for your daily walk at different times or take different routes to work, for example. Someone watching you or your home will know when to strike if your routine is predictable, say experts.
Check in with a buddy. Find a friend or family member to touch base with on a regular basis so someone will know if anything goes wrong. You can take this one step farther by letting your check-in person know your whereabouts such as where you are going and when you'll be back -- especially if you're giving online dating a try. Even if you don't have a regular check-in person, it's a good idea to call friends or family to let them know you're home safely after a night out.
Another option for older adults: look into "check in" services that call on a daily or weekly basis. There are commercial services available through companies such as Care Chat (for $40 a month) and services offered through non-profit organizations such as Seniors Services Society or The Canadian Red Cross.
Consider a personal alert system. Personal alarms -- small devices with "panic buttons" that emit a loud sound when pressed -- can deter crooks and bring help, but they may not be of much use when no one is around. A personal alert system such as Lifeline, LifeCall and Direct Alert includes a pendant with a button you press if you need to call for help. Some alert systems include a special motion sensor that sends out an alert in the event of a fall or collapse.
These systems aren't free, but many cities and provinces offer some funding for low-income people looking to purchase one. As always, be sure to do your research to compare prices and features.
Keep emergency contact information handy. A tip from one of our Twitter followers: keep emergency contact information on speed dial. Experts also suggest keeping a list of emergency contacts and services in an obvious place such as near your phone or on your fridge.
If you're unable to speak for yourself in an emergency, there are I.D. tags that can help a first responder know which medical conditions you have or whom to contact in an emergency -- including MedicAlert, RoadID and I.C.E. (in case of emergency) tags. You can also program an "I.C.E." number into your cell phone.
One final piece of advice: seek support if you need it. Don't hesitate to enlist the help of other singles or friends and family. If you're concerned about health or mobility issues, talk to your health care team about ways to modify your home and your routine as needed.
Is it dangerous to live alone? That's not the message from experts -- after all, millions of people do it everyday without a problem. Still, a few precautions and good old-fashioned common sense are always a good idea, no matter what your living arrangements.
Sources: About.com, ApartmentTherapy.com, MovingToday.com, MyProperty, Public Health Agency of Canada Senior Living Guide, Yahoo.com
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