You inherited her thick auburn hair, love of wordplay and wacky sense of humor. She taught you the meaning of persistence and that things always look brighter in the morning. You know she’s taking her failing eyesight and rheumatoid pain in stride. Growing old is a privilege, she reminds you.
It’s precisely that sense of integrity and perspective that spurs you to do everything in your power to support her independence and dignity. Luckily, it takes the smallest of modifications to make a big difference. Below we’ve compiled mindful, proactive ways to keep your loved ones safe this year.
Aging in Place
A keystone phrase in senior care, aging in place describes the desire of many caregivers to keep their senior family members home as long as possible. The rationale is that while nursing facilities are well-equipped with 24-hour staffing and specialized equipment to safeguard your loved one’s physical health, an emotional sense of well-being bred of familiarity and routine may be of equal importance.
Adapting a home to accommodate the changing needs of seniors is just as much a matter of foresight as it is modification. One prevalent risk to take into consideration is the propensity for falls. Poor vision, decreasing range of movement, inefficient circulation resulting in loss of feeling in the feet, after-effects of a stroke or other injury, and blood pressure medications are some of the many common conditions which increase risk.
The protocol of appropriate action after a loved one has fallen is necessarily swift, thorough and comprehensive. It’s best to minimize the possibility of occurrence from the get-go whenever possible.
Structural modifications that take into account safe, independent mobility need not be complicated. First, look at the flooring your loved one will travel over the course of her daily routine. Avoid high-pile carpeting and tile or hardwood floors that may be slippery, since these surfaces are especially hazardous for seniors who shuffle their feet or use canes and walkers.
Consider replacing with low-pile tight-weave carpet, or laying a walkway of snap-together rubber tiles over existing flooring.
Area rugs should be secured with a nonslip pad or grip tape. Pay particular attention to corners, which have the tendency to curl up and catch. If there is marked textural difference between area flooring and throw rugs, consider ditching the rugs altogether — they may be a trip hazard regardless of how securely they’re fastened.
Light It Up
Critically scrutinize living space in terms of lighting. Consider laying LED light strips alongside walk flow paths, similar to the little lights on airplanes that line the floor. Often advertised as undercounter lighting for kitchen cabinets, these strips are self-adhesive and can be activated by remote control.
Motion-detector plug-ins illuminate dark corners and can be strategically placed to magnify your loved one’s pedestrian route progressively. Sensor wall mount lighting, set at different heights, enhance depth perception.
If at all possible, try to arrange living space so senior family members don’t have to negotiate stairs. If stair travel is inevitable, stack the deck in favor of safety by continuing to place light strips up and along each step. Use grip tape on front edges, and custom cut nonslip tread mats for the tops if slippage is a concern.
Got extra grip tape? No harm in wrapping an additional layer around stair handrails for added protection.
Keep It Clean
When it comes to senior care, there is not a single bathroom adaptation that can be overrated. Each action you take to ensure your loved one’s safety while bathing and attending to her toiletry is a step towards continued dignity.
Add an ADA — Americans with Disabilities Act — compliant shower seat, and make sure hand-held shower head coils are within easy reach. If you’ve got a bit of cash to invest, consider altering your current bathroom configuration to incorporate a walk-in tub. Reasonable models start at $2,000 and may be eligible for health or location-specific rebates.
Support bars and grip rails around tub, sink and dressing areas are an absolute must. Order an elevated toilet seat, preferably with handles, and hang a basket of washable grip-bottomed slippers by the door for interchangeable use.
Toss and Turn
Comfortable bed rest can be elusive if mobility is limited. No matter how many pillows and physical therapy wedges you may have, nothing encourages nighttime independence and the ability to self-soothe more than a sturdy set of bed rails.
Affixed between mattress and box spring, various models come with pocket holders for eyeglasses and the remote, reading light attachment clips and even extenders for smartphone charging.
Whatever model you choose, it’s advisable to place rails on both sides of the bed so sleep repositioning is enhanced equally.
With so many precautions to adhere to, at least you won’t have to worry about maintaining a comfortable indoor climate if you install a programmable thermostat. Keep your loved one’s living area cooler at night when she is under wraps and cozy during the day with automatic regulation.
Many thermostat programs include smartphone access for remote monitoring. Future models are even slated to intuit temperature change based on past programming preference.
Reorganizing and simplifying the everyday items that lie around your home, as well as rearranging pivotal furnishings, make a world of difference to a senior’s independence of function.
Is it possible to change the location of sturdy pieces so your loved one can hold on to something as she moves about continuously? Are there any piles of paperwork that can easily be toppled or fragile breakables on low shelves? Consider rearranging cabinets so routinely used objects are up front and within easy reach.
Don’t be surprised if these senior adaptations end up streamlining your daily routine as well. Most importantly, household modifications made to accommodate your loved one’s safety and self-sufficiency offer valuable opportunity to share one other worthy hallmark together — peace of mind.