Many seniors prefer to spend their golden years living in the same home they’ve always lived in. Aging in place, as it’s called, is a growing trend. For their adult children, though, it also prompts questions about home safety for seniors.
How can you ensure your aging parents’ home is ready for their changing needs? And what should those in the “sandwich generation” – who caring for their children and looking out for their aging parents – do to make sure their parents are safe at home?
It’s an important question worth asking sooner rather than later, says Berge Avesian, director of technology, operations and solutions for LifeChoice Solutions, a division of EHM Senior Solutions. The company, which has offices in Saline and Farmington Hills, handles in-home modifications for seniors across metro Detroit.
The best time to address home safety for seniors is “before they desperately need it,” Avesian says.
“There is a whole host of things that can be done for relatively minor expense that can stave off a lot of heartache and future difficulties,” he says.
“Unfortunately, I would say 60 to 70 percent of people I work with are in a dire straits scenario,” he adds, such as a recent fall that might have been prevented with simple modifications like grab bars. “Simple things can help and go a long way.”
First things first: Think about the basics. To keep seniors safe in their homes, all trip hazards must be removed. This includes clutter around the house and even improperly placed rugs.
“A lot of times people have throw rugs in places (where) they really shouldn’t have throw rugs,” for example, he says.
Make sure there’s proper lighting throughout the home, including hallways and entryways, and ensure all railings are secure. If the home has steps without a railing, one should be installed.
Having a handyman you can trust is key.
“As you get older, moving around, ambulating, is harder,” Avesian explains. “They can’t lift their feet as much as they used to.”
Keep a first aid kit within easy reach, cover sharp furniture edges with corner pads, and make sure there’s a cordless phone or cell phone in the home. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should be regularly inspected, and even standard door knobs should be looked at for replacement to levers.
“Manipulating a door knob is a lot harder than pressing down on a lever,” he says.
Bathrooms are a common place where falls can occur. Seniors may need a place to sit down in the bathtub or shower, and grab bars should be installed.
Keep in mind that safety measures can be modified for the individual home and based on the senior’s needs.
“We go into so many homes that are older homes where the bathrooms are smaller or the doorways are narrow. They weren’t built with the idea that people were going to age in them the way they are,” Avesian says. “There are options.”
Remodeling may be a good option in some cases, but since many seniors can’t afford a big project, a combination of grab bars, toilet rails and other modifications can usually make the bathroom accessible for the senior.
Once the physical modifications are covered, it’s time to think about technology, Avesian says. “This is when you get the (adult) kids involved,” he says.
Passive sensors can monitor a senior’s welfare by letting their children know whether mom or dad are taking their medication, how often they open the refrigerator and when they leave the house.
“A lot of things can be done, technology-wise,” says Avesian. “We try to make it as unobtrusive and innocuous as possible. It’s peace of mind for the adult children in a lot of cases.”
Fall detection monitors and GPS tracking are also available when needed. Though seniors may feel that these tracking devices mean they’re giving up some of their independence, it’s really the opposite.
“We always try and stress when we talk about technology that this is the technology that will help you (stay independent),” he says. “That way we can feel secure when you’re alone in the house.”
The importance of planning
Another way to help your aging parents who live at home is to keep a list of their medications and health conditions on hand. A copy should be readily available in the senior’s home, such as on their refrigerator.
“It’s about having a plan,” Avesian says. “It’s never too early to discuss making a plan and putting a plan in place.
“We’re always happy to talk to people about that. And doing it now, before you really need it.”