Recently one of our home health aides called our office to speak to our nursing director about her client Jean. She reported that ever since Jean hurt her leg in a fall, she has been having pain when walking. Her doctor had examined Jean and found no sign of injury, but she was less comfortable, less confident, and less mobile than she had been prior to the fall.
The RN, Theresa, suggested a follow-up visit to the client’s MD, but she also made the following
recommendations to the client’s husband:
- With her doctor’s agreement, Jean should start both physical and occupational therapy
to improve her strength and functionality in the home
- Since the leg pain was making Jean more unsteady, it was now very important to install grab bars in the bathroom
- In addition, it would be safer to have her sit for her shower, so a shower bench and handheld shower should be installed
- She might want to switch from a regular walker to a rolling walker with a “seat bench” so she can stop and sit whenever she is feeling weak or unsteady
This is the kind of problem solving we do every day to help our clients achieve their goal of remaining in their homes even as they face the challenges of aging.
It’s called “aging in place,” and the online health and wellness platform ShareCare reports that most seniors say it is a very important goal to them: In fact, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 89 percent of people 50+ wish to remain in their own homes indefinitely.
In addition, in their study Aging in Place in America, Clarity and The EAR Foundation found that seniors fear moving into a nursing home and losing their independence more than they fear death: Eighty-nine percent want to age in place but are concerned about their ability to do so.
Aging in place difficulties
Unfortunately, aging in place isn’t always an easy prospect. Many older adults face several issues – such as physical limitations or changing social and emotional needs – that can make staying in one place difficult without the appropriate accommodations.
The key is to start planning as early as possible – in fact, some individuals start making modifications as early as their mid-40s!
While it can be difficult to plan that far in advance (because you never know how your needs might change) there are many adjustments that can be made which are useful in almost all situations.
Here are some changes you can make now to help your loved one remain comfortably in their home well into the future:
Most older adults will experience some sort of physical limitation eventually: From poorer eyesight to decreased muscle strength, the elderly can face diminished capacities in a number of different ways.
How can we help make their homes safe despite any potential health or safety concerns? There are several modifications which are almost universally useful:
- Ramps: a ramp at the entrance to the house can help older loved ones avoid trips and falls trying to navigate the steps
- Grab bars: grab bars are useful in the tub or shower, where slippery floors can become an issue, but they can be installed anywhere there is a change in elevation (like a step down from the house to the garage)
- Multi-level lighting: as they age, seniors’ eyes don’t adjust to changes in light as quickly and they have a more difficult time seeing low-light environments. Multi-level lighting can help alleviate many of those issues.
- Toilets: adding “comfort height” toilets can make it easier for elderly adults to use the facilities without having to bend too much
- Non-skid floors: Non-carpeted floors, such as those in a kitchen or bathroom, can be slippery and slick. Adding non-skid mats can help dangerous slips and falls.
Invest in technology
New technologies come out every day that make aging in place much more feasible. Some of the best innovations include:
- Sensors: Activity-based sensors around the home can sense a loved one’s movements and let you know what they’re up to (many people also use these to monitor children or pets left home alone). Sensors can be placed around the house in strategic locations and will let you know if a loved one is doing (or not doing) something that they should. For instance, if sensors haven’t detected movement for more than three hours in the middle of the day, a designated caregiver can be alerted, and someone can go to check on your older adult.
- Fall detection: We all remember the “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” commercial from the 90s. Well, emergency pendants have come a long way since then! Today, with just the click of a button, emergency responders can be alerted that a fall has occurred. Many pendants offer two-way communication or even come with “fall detection” technology, so caregivers can be notified even if the senior isn’t able to press a button.
- Medication reminders: Many solutions exist today to help seniors remember if and when they last took their medication. In addition to reminders, many products also dispense the necessary dose. This can eliminate many dangerous problems such as forgetting to take a medication or, potentially worse, taking it twice.
Set up a support network
Staying in place is always easier when your loved one (and you!) has a support network lined up far in advance. These days, you can get almost any type of help you can think of in your home, from on-call doctors to mobile nail salons. Some of the most common types of help are:
- Meals: Friends and loved ones, community organizations, church groups, and non-profits like Meals on Wheels can all be called on to deliver hot meals to homebound adults. If your loved one still enjoys cooking, but simply can’t drive to the store, a grocery delivery service might help.
- Household chores: Many older adults have issues with common household chores such as dusting high shelves and taking the trash to the curb. Get help lined up now in the form of friends and loved ones or a paid house cleaning service (at least for the more strenuous chores).
- Money Management: Many older adults no longer understand where their money comes from or where it goes and need a trusted advisor to help them make sound financial decisions. In addition, elder financial abuse is a growing problem in the United States and with the prevalence of online banking, it’s only going to get worse.
- Home health aides: Sometimes, despite the best laid plans, the elderly just can’t be alone all the time. A home health aide can help with everyday tasks and chores that have become too difficult for your loved one, as well as providing some much-needed company.
With some careful planning (and a great support network!), there is a good chance that your older loved one will be able to age in one place. For more information on what you can do (and how you can do it), see the National Institute on Aging.