Preparing Your Home for an Aging Loved One

What do we need to do to make our home as safe and 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. Can you offer any suggestions, especially when it comes to preventing falls?

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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 the stairs are too hard to climb), or the doorknobs and faucets are too 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 a few simple alterations you may want 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.
  • Remove area rugs and runners that slide to avoid tripping.
  • Make sure all lamp, extension and telephone cords are out of the flow of traffic. (Don’t place electrical cords under furniture or carpeting because that 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.

Remember that 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 to a sitting or standing position.

Specially designed hip-protecting pads – a bit like hockey shorts – can also be worn and these greatly reduce the risk of fracture if your mother does fall. 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. This works best, of course, 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.

For more details on how to provide a safe environment for your elderly parent, we recommend that you read Elder Design: Designing and Furnishing a Home for Your Later Years by Rosemary Bakker (Penguin Books, 1997). This book is not available through the ministry of Focus on the Family, but can be ordered from Amazon.com and other online booksellers. You might also want to contact the
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission; their website includes a document entitled “Safety for Older Consumers: Home Safety Checklist.”

For additional help and information on this topic, we’d encourage you to consult the resources and referrals highlighted below. Or if you have relationship concerns and challenges associated with this situation, please don’t hesitate to give our Counseling department a call.

 

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Caring for Your Aging Loved Ones

Complete Guide to Caring for Aging Loved Ones

Referrals
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging

Caregiver Action Network

National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers

Articles
Caring for Ill or Aging Parents

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to Caring for Aging Loved Ones, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2002, Focus on the Family.

This information has been approved by the Physicians Resource Council of Focus on the Family.

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