Thanksgiving along with all the end of year holidays are great times when all the adult children of older parents get together to have the kids send time with the grandparents. It may also be the time when the adult children who may not live in their childhood communities or may just live in another suburb get their first real chance in a while to check in on mom or dad. As caregivers we may come with something of a “to do” list, and for some of us, it is a chance to sit with our parents to take stock of just how they are doing. In this first of two postings on the “holiday wellness check,” I am going to offer some suggested items to have on your checklist as ways to make sure home is still as safe for your older loved ones as it can be. In the second, I will offer some mental and physical wellness suggestions to have on hand for your holiday trip.
A home wellness checklist is mostly about preventing falls. Each year about one in three 65+ year olds will fall and half of those over 80 years old will take a tumble. Here is a short checklist to help protect your loved one:
- Front Door/Back Door – If your older loved one has developed more of a shuffle from what used to be a brisk stride, take a close look at the steps leading into the house. At the very least make sure the step[s have non-skid strips or other surfaces for sure footing, and also make sure they are well lit at night by considering installing motion sensors that trigger them in low light situations.
- Halls/Floors – At the very least get rid of an scatter rugs and replace them with nonskid mats or rugs. Look for heavily worn carpeting as another risk for falls. After sundown check for how well the edges and corners of halls are illuminated as older vision has greater difficulty gauging surfaces in low light or twilight. Handrails on halls and stairs are a plus!
- Kitchens – Even for older adults who may not use assistive devices like canes, walkers or wheelchairs, it is harder to reach those high shelves or stoop low enough to load a conventional dishwasher. If the kitchen is ready for an updating anyway, these can be useful upgrades.
- Baths – Grip bars and bath tubs than are easier to get in and out are great preventive improvements. The combination of the potentially slippery and hard surfaces of a bathroom conspire to make this room a real accident waiting to happen.
- Accessible Switches – With older finger joints, the old switches can be harder to manage and you may consider rocker switches for wall switches. All switches should be about 16″-40″ off the floor. For the bedroom make sure that a light switch is within easy reach of the bed so that your older loved one is not trying to get out of bed in the dark at night.
- Declutter – Beware of the fall hazards that accumulations of newspapers, magazines or books can represent. Also important will be the lamps or other appliances whose cords may clutter walkways.
Now that you have gone through the checklist, you and your older loved one will have a happier holiday and a safer new year!