Is someone in your family having difficulty managing day-to-day tasks that only a few months ago, they were able to perform with seeming ease?
Unfortunately, not everyone is able to continue living independently when this happens, but there are some things you can do to help them stay in their own home as long as possible.
My mother, who lived into her early nineties, was determined to stay in her own home and, although we had a few reservations, we were able, with a few adjustments, to make it possible for her to do so. You may be able to do the same if you have an elderly relative of your own.
1. Install Lots of Handrails.
Even if there are only a few steps up to the front door, install a short handrail. It makes a big difference to someone who may already be a bit unsteady on their feet to have the added safety. Remember, older bones break easier than younger ones and take a lot longer to heal, too.
Inside, if there is a step down into a sunken living area, or if they have basement steps, install handrails. Lots of modern homes are built with a few stairs up to a landing and then a few more stairs. Don’t be fooled by the fact that there are only a few steps each time. An older person needs a handrail. To offer even more protection, put a handrail on each side.
We used to host a Bible Study for older people in our home, and after I tripped going down our outside stairs, my husband installed a short handrail. I was amazed at how many members of the Bible Study group commented on how much safer they felt after the handrail was installed. They aren’t very expensive, and it is much better to be safe than sorry.
Install a handrail in your loved one’s bathtub or shower enclosure and remind them to use it to avoid slipping when getting in or out.
2. Fill Cupboards with Lots and Lots of Microwave Mixes and Easy to Cook Food.
A lot of seniors are injured trying cook complicated meals. Although you can’t be there all the time to guard against such accidents, making sure they have lots of easy-to-prepare things to eat may at least help.
Pick them up often for dinner at your house or a lunch out on the town. If they are heating with wood, see if you can re-fit their home with a less dangerous heating system.
3. Replace Standard Size Toilets with Taller Ones.
Maybe you’ve already noticed that it isn’t as easy as it used to be to get up from a couch or easy chair. The same goes for getting off the standard size toilet-especially for people who suffer from arthritis or other crippling disabilities.
We recently exchanged our old 15-inch high stained, etched, toilet for a shiny white 17-inch one and you wouldn’t believe the difference. If extensive remodeling like this is out of your budget, at least make sure there is one of those handrails I mentioned before on the wall by the toilet for your loved one to grab for help in getting up and down.
(An elderly lady I know visited us and used our new “high-rise” the other day. She swears she is asking for a new 17-incher for their 60th wedding anniversary, a couple of months from now.)
4. Arrange for Some Weekly Household Help.
Most older people don’t like to admit they may need a little help and prefer to struggle along doing whatever they can and letting the rest go.
One thing I have noticed is that the jobs older people cut back on first are those that take bending or stooping, and jobs that require reaching up high or climbing on something to accomplish.
Talk to all the members of your family and see if you can arrange for several of them to take turns showing up once a week, preferably on the same day of each week and at approximately the same time, to do a bit of general cleaning. Concentrate on jobs you can see they are not doing for themselves. Maybe you can bring some sandwiches and drinks along and have them set up a picnic lunch while you take care of mopping, scrubbing the bathtub, etc. If you have any teens, include them in this cleaning rotation. It will be good for them, and good for the grandparents to keep in touch with the younger generation.
If no one in the family can take part in the day a week rotation, take up a collection and hire a professional maid service to come in, instead.
5. Buy an Alert Button and Make Sure Your Loved One Learns How to Use It.
Anyone who lives alone, not just the elderly, should have this type of security, but because falls are so common among the elderly, it is doubly important for them.
Divided among several concerned family members, the cost should be reasonable for the peace of mind such a device would provide. If such a service isn’t available in your area, work out a check in system with your loved one, instead. Tell them to call your number before 10 a.m. each day, not to visit, but just to leave a message on your answering machine saying, “Just checking in for today,” or something similar to that. If the deadline passes, and you haven’t heard from then, give them a call to make sure everything is okay.
Of course, the five ways I described above for making Grandma’s or Grandpa’s life better are not the only ways, but they can go a long way toward making the difference in whether or not your elderly loved one can safely remain in their own home. Even if these measures only prolong the time before you need to consider nursing home care, or combining your household with theirs, the pleasure these adjustments provide will make the effort well worthwhile.