Mom or Dad or Auntie still lives at home on their own. However, you see them slowing down. They can’t get up and down the stairs like they used to.
In these situations, you may not think that your senior loved one has declined enough to worry about. However, this would be the best time to investigate and evaluate their home and how to make it safe for them when they do become less able to care for themselves.
Remember that as you age, your physiological systems slow down. The effects are not only to your physical systems, but also to your mental systems. This makes sense. Your brain is part of your body. Why wouldn’t it be affected by aging just like your heart or your bones?
Senior loved ones will most likely not want to tell you that they are not getting along as well as they once did. They may even insist that they are doing things as well or better than they used to. This is natural. They are the parent. You are the kid. The last thing that they want is their children to be the “parent” and they, the “children”. Mom and Dad won’t want to lose their pride, their independence or their driver’s license.
Mom or Dad may drive when they can hardly see. Unexplained dents and dings in the car are signs that you may want to investigate whether Mom or Dad are safe to continue driving.
Visit Mom or Dad at different times of the day and night. Talk to Mom or Dad about “some day” that they may need help. What are their wishes? It is easier to talk to Mom or Dad about “some day” in the future than when they need help today. It also gets them used to the idea of assistance with assistants.
Make notes about some suggestions that you might have to make the home safe and make their home life and daily living less challenging for them. For example, remove throw rugs that might slide. Move or remove furniture with sharp edges or is a challenge to get in or out of. Maybe it is time to get chairs with arms and high, firm seats.
Turn the water heater down so that they won’t scald themselves. Make sure that all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in place and operating properly.
The bathroom is a room that you should carefully inspect to make sure it is safe. There are hard surfaces that can get very slippery. Grab bars by the toilet and shower will help prevent falls. A non-skid shower mat and stool or chair are also very helpful.
How many stairs does Mom or Dad have to negotiate to get in and out and around the house? Do you have to put in ramps? If Mom or Dad can’t negotiate stairs, you might have to do some remodeling such as adding a bedroom and/or a handicap accessible bathroom on the first floor, or a chair lift up to the second floor.
Examine the lighting in all of the rooms. The lights should be easily accessible and bright enough so that Mom or Dad can easily see. You may need to replace light bulbs with higher wattage bulbs. This is easier to do today with LEDs, otherwise you would need to replace fixtures with higher wattage units.
As Mom or Dad get older, their circulation is going to be poorer than it was in their younger years. They will want to kick up the heat and air conditioning because it is too cold. It is not uncommon for them to set the temperature in the high 70s or low 80s. It is going to be difficult for them to get comfortable and they are going to want to increase or decrease the temperature for their comfort. For you or I, it feels like going into a sauna when you go over to their home.
Do not be surprised when Mom or Dad constantly wants to play with the thermostat. You may want to replace their fancy-dancy electronic thermostat that has energy saving rollbacks, tiny little displays and lots of buttons to one that is simpler that just has a manual temperature adjustment.
Investigate home care services and agencies before you need them. What services do they offer? What are their costs? Are they medical? Are they non-medical? Do you need a doctor’s prescription? Will Mom or Dad’s health insurance or long-term care insurance cover the costs? Was Mom or Dad a veteran during wartime and qualifies for Aid and Attendance Pension to pay for this care? These are all questions that now is the time to answer before you need it.
Do not wait until Mom or Dad has that fall and you need somebody in the home. In that event, the likelihood is that you are not going to have the time to investigate all of your options as thoroughly as you can now. Then, you will be more concerned about just getting the care that Mom or Dad needs.
Do your homework now when there is no urgency. Keep a file of your observations, contacts and investigations. When the time comes you will have a plan. You will be prepared to make Mom or Dad’s house safe and you will have a better chance to hire caregivers which may be a good fit for Mom or Dad’s needs. You would be able to keep Mom or Dad longer in their own home, which is what most everybody wants.
By Matthew M. Wallace, CPA, JD
Published edited October 15, 2017 in The Times Herald newspaper Port Huron, Michigan as: Keeping senior loved ones safe at home