senior man in wheelchair enjoying listening to music as he looks at his smartphone
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When Living at Home Gets to be Too Tough

Aging in Place

I recently presented at a retirement community in Tucson on the topic “When Living at Home Gets to be Too Tough”.   The presentation was well-attended, but the organizers noticed something about the audience that they mentioned to me afterward, “The audience was much older than we typically see at our events.”

Most people, me included, do not want to think about getting older and all of the implications of aging.  The active, healthy 60- and 70-year-olds living in this retirement community did not want to think about the next stages of their life, or at least, didn’t want to take time away from golf, tennis, or socializing on that day to hear about it.  A few days ago, I met a couple (Carolyn and Don) in their seventies that wanted to meet with me to talk about how they could establish service for their potential future needs.   Unfortunately, these kinds of conversations are rare.

This is an important topic because nearly 80% of people want to remain in their own home.    Remaining in your home requires some planning for future needs.  Planning for the future includes considerations around finances, home safety and adaptations, mobility and transportation, and lifestyle choices.  With some planning and an acceptance of the need for help when the time comes, most people can remain in their homes for an extended period of time as they age.

As one of our clients, Thomas likes to say, “You want to avoid the big stuff”.  It is the big stuff that interrupts life plans in very consequential ways.  The “big stuff” are things like falls and chronic disease.  Avoiding these things, or at least minimizing their impact on your life, is very often the difference between remaining at home vs. going into an assisted living facility or nursing home.

Making proactive changes to our home is one of the smartest things we can do for our older self.  The first consideration is the outside entry to the home.  Are there steps to the door? There should be handrails or handholds.  Ramps are relatively easy to add – to both the front door and the back door.  Is it easy to get through the door and into the home with a walker or a wheelchair?

The most important inside area of the home is the bathroom.  Making sure that the shower is accessible to people with limited mobility, especially to walkers and wheelchairs, is critically important.  Grab bars and shower benches/chairs are a necessity.  The shower must be safe and accessible.  Preventing falls is an absolute must.

Toilets are not well-designed for elderly or disabled people. They are too low, and they do not provide any support to get to a standing position.  Simple accommodations include seat raisers and surround supports that can be purchased at a local pharmacy.  And just like showers, there should be grab bars on the wall around the toilet.

Another major area of adaptation for aging in place is the width of doorways.  Unfortunately, this was not a consideration years ago.  Many homes have doors, particularly bathroom doors that might not be wide enough for some wheelchairs. In most cases, widening a door from 28 or 30 inches to 32 inches is not a major construction project.

Due to financial or physical constraints, it may not always be possible to make the ideal changes to your home.   In these circumstances, a caregiver can help make aging in place safer.  We have many clients who start service for just a few days per week to help with showering and housekeeping tasks that are more difficult (e.g. laundry, cleaning the bathroom, etc.).   Home care is a more affordable option than assisted living facilities.

Home care is designed to help people age safely in their home.   A caregiver can assist with a variety of daily activities and more importantly, help elderly people avoid “the big stuff” that causes people to abruptly change their life plans.

Caregivers provide safety supervision and assistance for showering/bathing.  Caregivers assist with transferring to and from the toilet.  Caregivers provide medication reminders to help keep health conditions in check. Caregivers prepare healthy, nutritious meals – to be eaten at that time or reheated later.  Caregivers provide hands-on assistance going up and down stairs.  Caregivers provide a safe environment for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s.  Caregivers provide transportation to medical appointments or run errands.  There are literally hundreds of different things that a caregiver can do to help a senior remain safely at home and improve their quality of life.

Carolyn and Don, the couple I met who wanted to prepare for future needs, were motivated by the sudden change in her sister and brother-in-law’s situation.  It was their wish to remain in their home, but that was no longer possible. Their health deteriorated because nobody was checking in on them.  They had to be admitted to an assisted living facility.