Q: My elderly father is struggling on his own, so we're arranging to have him come and live with us. We're even open to remodeling our house if necessary. Can you offer any suggestions to make our home as safe and comfortable as possible for him?
Jim: I'll share what Focus on the Family's advisory Physicians Resource Council has recommended for such situations. Considering the effects of decreased mobility, diminished eyesight or oncoming deafness, even the most comfortable house can become hazardous for an elderly person. This is especially true if the lighting is inadequate, there are many stairs (or staircases that are hard to climb) or the faucets and doorknobs are difficult to use. So even simple changes and minor remodeling can make a big difference in the comfort, convenience and safety of your home from your dad's perspective. Here are some ideas to consider:
Replace steps with ramps. Install ramps over doorsills -- or remove the sills altogether -- for walker or wheelchair accessibility.
Install handrails on both sides of stairs or hallways.
Elevate toilet seats using inserts specially designed for this purpose. Install sturdy grab bars in the bathroom next to the toilet, shower stall and bathtub.
Remove area rugs and runners that slide and create tripping hazards.
Ensure that all electrical cords are out of the flow of traffic. Also, don't run these cords under furniture or carpeting -- that's a fire hazard.
Install nightlights in bedrooms, hallways and bathrooms. Keep charged flashlights beside your dad's bed, near his favorite chair and in other convenient places. Consider buying lamps that turn on and off with a simple touch.
Replace heavy dishes and glasses with lightweight, nonbreakable dishware.
Examine stairways to make sure they're well lighted and equipped with nonslip strips.
Eliminate low furniture that might present a tripping hazard, such as coffee tables.
If you live in a multistory house, you might want to think about rearranging the living environment to allow your father to live on the ground floor. This works best if there's a full bathroom on this level, but there are special chair-lift systems for stairways that can help your dad move from one floor to the other. Some insurance policies cover the cost for these devices. Meanwhile, I'd strongly encourage a physical therapy evaluation to assess your father's mobility and determine the potential need for assistive devices such as canes or walkers. If he does require such tools, keep an extra walker and/or cane on each floor of the house so he can easily access them.
In addition to making physical changes to your home, the whole family can promote safety -- for example, just quickly cleaning up spills on the floor. Make a point of providing physical assistance when he needs to rise from a reclining to a sitting or standing position. Bottom line: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to protecting your father from dangerous falls and injuries.
Finally, take advantage of the resources available from several helpful sources:
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (www.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.
Caregiver Action Network (caregiveraction.org): This organization educates, supports, empowers and speaks up for the more than 65 million Americans who care for loved ones with a chronic illness or disability or the frailties of old age.
Aging Life Care Association (www.aginglifecare.org): An organization of practitioners whose goal is the advancement of expert assistance to the elderly and their families.
I hope these thoughts are helpful. I wish you and your father all the best.
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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