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Making Home a Safer Place for an Older Adult

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Everyone’s abilities and needs change as they age, but home may still be the same physical space it was twenty or more years ago. It’s important not to wait until there is an accident to make changes that can help accommodate an older person’s changing needs. It is easy to get ahead of where you need to be by presuming that the decision is about whether the best place for a loved one is home or an assisted living facility, a skilled nursing facility or some other new residence. I wrote in my last blog about the basic categories of “activities of daily living” (ADLs) that help us evaluate how a person is caring for themselves. The ADLs are hygiene, continence, toileting, dressing, eating and transferring. As a GCM, I often do what you might call an audit of the older adult’s home while they are there. In that audit I look for signs of what they can and cannot do for themselves and what may pose hazards given their abilities.

Take for example, hygiene. Even a cursory observation can tell you if the older person has bathed or shaved recently, if their clothes are clean, etc. It can be as easy as securing the services a home care aid who can be present in the mornings or evenings or even just a few times a week to help with personal grooming or showering. Dressing is linked to this, and it may be that more frequent visits may prove necessary, because the older individual’s range of motion may be limited making it difficult to get easily in or out of clothes.

With continence, it may be the family who may notice that there has been “an accident.” Remember, however, that this is highly embarrassing to the older adult. They may even be embarrassed to purchase adult diapers at a store. The fix may be as simple as making the purchases discreetly for them. Toileting itself may become difficult owing to diminished dexterity. Grip bars in the bathroom as well as an elevated seat for the commode may be in order. You can also assess how well the older adult is able to feed themselves by either seeing them at the dining table or just look at the front of their clothes for evidence of spills. Or are they not eating or losing weight? They may need someone to prepare nutritious meals, because it is a real pain to cook only for one.

Finally, if just getting around the house has become a challenge to the older adult, watch their gait. Do they shuffle or are they unsteady? Get rid of scatter rugs in the house; they are a fall waiting to happen. Consider grip rails along hallways or a walker for getting around. I have an 84 year old client who had broken a hip, made it through rehab, but did not want to be seen using a walker. What won her over was finding a sleek machine in hot red that looked like it belonged in the Tour de France. She is not using a walker now; she is showing off.

We have resources listed on our site, but think about calling on a local home care agency for personal care, Meals on Wheels for food preparation or look for a durable medical equipment distributor for a walker. Hire a handyman to refit the bathroom or halls with grip bars, put bigger handles on kitchen cabinets, build a ramp for the stairs and more. You don’t hire a Geriatric Care Manager to do this, but we can spot solutions to needs you may not see and know the resources that you may not know.

Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families throughout metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to Charlotte Bishop.

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