As your parents grow older, you start to worry about them. You certainly don’t want to encourage them to enter a nursing home, but you want to acknowledge that they’re getting older. Perhaps they’re not as fit as they used to be, or maybe they’re a bit more forgetful, and that old home they bought 40 years ago is becoming more work than it’s worth. You might be trying to figure out how to help them while not infringing on their need to maintain independence.
For today’s seniors, there are a variety of options that make living independently easier to do than it was even 10 years ago. Some seniors opt to move into retirement communities, condos, apartments or smaller homes that are a better fit for their lifestyle. Aging-in-place is also a possibility, depending on whether their home can be modified to accommodate their mobility and senses as both start to fade. Regardless of which option is best for your senior parent, you can help them find the best living situation that enables them to stay independent as long as possible.
Helping With Mobility
When planning on the mobility of a senior, you can’t just think of how things are right now. You have to anticipate future scenarios and needs. That means planning for walkers, wheelchairs, or general problems getting around.
Take a good look at the floors in the house. If there are any throw rugs, either remove them or make sure they’re securely attached to the floor, especially around the edges. Likewise, make sure carpeting is properly installed.
Hallways and doorways should be at least 36” wide to accommodate most walkers and wheelchairs. It might not be possible to widen a hall, but you can either find an alternate path through the house or you can look into buying a new home. Homes in Pennsburg currently have a median listing price of $260,000.
If you and your parent opt to look at a new living space, keep a checklist of accessibility needs now and in the future. In addition, if downsizing becomes the main goal, look into best practices for minimizing possessions and simplifying their living situation. Having a home that’s easier to manage will enable your senior parent to spend more time doing the things they love.
Two Special Cases: Bathrooms And Kitchens
Regardless of where your senior decides to live, safety is crucial. When it comes to hazards in the home, there are two rooms that stand out for seniors: the bathroom and the kitchen. Both can be problematic, and they deserve special attention:
For the bathroom:
- Make sure the entry doorway is wide enough.
- Install grab bars and maybe a bench in the shower.
- Keep shelving at arm’s level.
- Install another grab bar by the toilet.
- Consider an elevated, padded toilet seat.
- Make sure the lighting is bright without being overly glaring.
For the kitchen:
- Replace tile flooring with something softer like wood, cork, or linoleum.
- Add places that make it easy to prep food while sitting.
- Use contrasting colors for countertops, especially around the edges.
- Don’t use an over-the-oven microwave that requires lifting plates of hot food.
- Use lighting under cabinets to limit glare.
- Install cabinet shelving that pulls out for easily reaching pots and pans.
Building Their Independence
Helping seniors stay independent involves more than a new living space or remodeling a home. It also means changing lifestyles and activities.
One way to help is to research different services in the area. These days, you can get much more than pizza delivered. Pharmacies, grocery stores, dog walkers (an hour-long walk can cost up to $27), and cleaners are just a few of the services that will come right to your front door. While there’s usually a fee, it’s a small price to pay to help a senior remain in control of their life. And, if your senior parent is tech savvy, they can do a lot of this through their smartphone.
Doctor visits and medications also play an increasingly important and common role in many seniors’ lives. That’s why you should speak to their physicians and make sure you’re listed as another contact. Also, check to see if your parent’s medications are clearly explained and labeled. Many pharmacies can use large print or color-coding to make drug identification easier. There are also mobile and smart health monitors so seniors can keep track of their own medical needs.
While helping your senior parent find the best way to enjoy their independence, it doesn’t hurt to make sure they have an estate plan in place. Have a conversation to find out whether they have a will, a plan for end-of-life care, funeral arrangement preferences, where they store important papers, and whether they need to give you or another relative power of attorney. Having these plans in place will give your senior parent, and you, peace of mind should anything happen.
It’s not easy to watch your parents age, especially when their limitations become more apparent. Help your senior parent maintain their independence by discussing which lifestyle choices will serve them best in the coming years. Is it a new living space or home modifications? Maybe it’s finding new ways to shop for groceries or get help with their dog. Or maybe it’s helping them finally put that estate plan in place so they can sleep better at night. Whatever it is, by offering the support and reassurance they need, you can help them stay independent for years to come.
Guest post by Karen Weeks: Karen created Elder Wellness as a resource for seniors who wish to keep their minds, bodies, and spirits well.
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