Before you move your aging parent or loved one into your home or when you are helping them age in place, you need a plan to make it safe. Take an objective view of your home from the perspective of someone who uses a wheelchair or is a fall risk.
One option is to call in a pro. A pro can assess the home and recommend modifications and/or remodel projects that will make the living space safer. This assessment can be performed by an occupational therapist, physical therapist, geriatric care manager, or a certified aging-in-place specialist.
Homes may require modifications such as :
- zero-threshold entryways
- wide doorways and halls
- offset door hinges to make room for a wheelchair, walker or two people walking side by side
- controls and switches that are reachable from a wheelchair or bed
- a waterproof seat in the shower
- a stair-climber
- a raised toilet seat
- a shower chair
- a frameless walk-in shower with a sloped floor instead of a step-over threshold
- put textured no-slip strips in the bathtub and shower to lessen the chance of a fall
These can be done is a stylish and comfortable manner that is safe for all ages.
Falls are a major concern for aging adults. You can minimize this concern by taking a number of simple steps to make the environment safer. Some examples include:
- Remove throw rugs.
- Use rubber-backed bathmats.
- Move laundry facilities to the first floor.
- Remove wheels on chairs.
- Put nonskid treads on steps.
- Keep steps clear.
- Apply nonslip wax to floors.
- If wandering is a worry, you may need to add sensors and alarms.
- Repair loose carpeting or raised areas of flooring.
- Move small and low furniture.
- Clear electric cords and clutter.
- Add a hall railing.
- Switch out standard doorknobs for lever handles.
- Add a raised toilet and grab bars.
- Remove locks from bedroom and bathroom doors so you can get in quickly, should your loved one fall.
- Put a railing on the hall wall.
- Swap out your recliner for one that raises and lowers — to make getting up easier.
You may be able to find assistance by contacting your local area agency of aging or Veterans Affairs office.
A home represents familiar comforts, independence and privacy. This is why the prospect of moving in with a relative or transitioning into a senior living environment can be one of the most difficult decisions a person will make in their lifetime. As families struggle with this decision, powerful emotions can often overpower rational thinking.
The difficult task of determining if a loved one can remain at home safely must be addressed. Geriatric care managers are professionals who specialize in assisting older adults and their families make long-term care arrangements. Typically, a GCM will begin by conducting a thorough assessment to determine if the older adult is physically and mentally able to continue living in their own home. A thorough assessment should include the following topics and questions:
- Do they remember to take their medications at prescribed doses and times?
- Have they had any hospitalizations or health issues due to mishandling their meds? If you aren’t sure, look for expired medicines and pill bottles that are spread out in different rooms with no apparent structure or routine.
- Can they cook for themselves?
- Are they eating balanced meals?
- Are they able to safely operate appliances?
- Have there been any incidents where they have forgotten a meal in the oven or accidentally left the stove on?
Safety and Mobility
- Do they have difficulty getting around or taking stairs?
- Have they fallen in the home?
- Do they have a plan in place to contact help in case of an emergency?
- If mobility is an issue, can the home be equipped with grab bars, an emergency response system and other tools to ensure safety? If they do not use a mobility aid for added stability, would they be open to using one?
- Can they bathe themselves, groom adequately and launder their clothes and linens?
- Are they bathing frequently enough? A generally unkempt appearance, body odor and soiled clothing are clues that a senior is unable or unwilling to care for themselves properly.
- Are they still driving?
- Should they be driving?
- Do they have alternate means of transportation for doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping and other errands?
- Are they isolated from others most of the time?
- Do they have friends?
- How often do they get out of the house?
- Are they showing signs of depression?
- Is the house clean or in general disarray? Take a peek in each room (including bathrooms) to get a feel for their level of cleanliness. Keep an eye out for stains on furniture and carpets and spoiled food in the refrigerator.
- Are they paying their bills on time?
- Are there stacks of unopened mail, unpaid bills or late payment notices lying around? Are there signs that they’ve been spending excessively?
- Do they get calls from telemarketers or creditors?
As you review the answers to these questions, know that even if your loved one is experiencing some of these difficulties they may continue to age in place safely with modest home modifications and/or home services. Interventions such as a cleaning service, meal delivery service, a minor bathroom modification, or a few hours of in-home care may be all that is needed for your loved one to remain at home.