Q: What do we need to do to make our home as safe and as comfortable as possible for my elderly mom? She's not coping well on her own, so we're arranging to have her come and live with us. We're open to remodeling, if necessary. Can you offer any suggestions?
Jim: I've asked Focus on the Family's advisory Physicians Resource Council for input on this question. Here are some things to consider.
Given the effects of decreased mobility, oncoming deafness or diminished eyesight, even the most comfortable house can become hazardous for an elderly person. This is particularly true if the lighting is inadequate, there are too many stairs (or stairs are hard to climb), or the doorknobs and faucets are difficult to use. Some simple changes and minor remodeling can make a big difference in the safety, comfort and convenience of your home from your aging mother's perspective. Here are some ideas to consider:
-- Replace steps with ramps. Install ramps over doorsills or remove the sills altogether for wheelchair accessibility.
-- Install handrails on both sides of stairs or hallways.
-- Elevate toilet seats using an insert specially designed for this purpose. Install sturdy grab bars in the bathroom by the toilet, shower stall and bathtub.
-- To avoid tripping, remove area rugs and runners that slide.
-- Make sure that all lamp, extension and telephone cords are out of the flow of foot traffic. Incidentally, don't place electrical cords under furniture or carpeting, as this can cause a fire.
-- Check stairways to make sure they are well lighted and equipped with non-slip strips.
-- Install night-lights in bedrooms, bathrooms and hallways. Place flashlights near your mother's favorite chair, beside the bed and in other convenient places. Consider purchasing a lamp that can be turned on and off with a simple touch.
-- Eliminate low furniture such as coffee tables and footstools that may present a tripping hazard.
-- Replace heavy dishes and glasses with lightweight, non-breakable dishware.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to protecting your mother from dangerous falls and injuries. In addition to making physical and structural changes to your home, you can help promote safety by measures as simple as wiping up spills or wet places on the floor; encouraging your mother to have a physical therapy evaluation to assess her gait and determine the potential need for assistive devices such as canes or walkers; and providing her with physical assistance when rising from a reclining or sitting position.
If you live in a two-story house, you might want to think about rearranging the living environment so as to allow your mother to live on the first floor. Of course, this works best if there's a bathroom on this level, but there are special chair lift systems that can be installed on stairways to move your mother from one floor to the other. Some insurance policies cover the cost for these aids.
Finally, take advantage of the resources available from several helpful sources:
-- The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website (cpsc.gov) includes a document entitled "Safety for Older Consumers: Home Safety Checklist."
-- The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a.org) encourages members to help older persons and persons with disabilities live with dignity and choices in their homes and communities for as long as possible.
-- The Caregiver Action Network (caregiveraction.org) educates, supports, empowers and speaks up for the more than 65 million Americans who care for loved ones with a chronic illness, disability or the frailties of old age.
-- The Aging Life Care Association (aginglifecare.org) is an organization of practitioners whose goal is the advancement of expert assistance to the elderly and their families.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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