The swiftest and surest way to become an “Accidental Family Caregiver” is ignoring the call to make an elderly loved one’s home safe. Hospitals and rehabilitation facilities are filled with patients who have fallen and suffered an injury. It could be a broken hip, a compression fracture, a broken arm or worse; a brain injury. As we age, muscle mass declines (unless someone actually works out); our bones thin; and our stability suffers as a result of this. For some, cognitive impairment impedes an elder’s ability to make good decisions about safety. It’s rare that an elderly person does not suffer from at least one of these conditions. It’s easy to ignore or put off for another day that which needs to be done in order to keep someone safe in his/her home, and help that person remain independent. Safety and independence go hand-in-hand, but because we are so busy living our lives and the thought of doing just ONE MORE THING is too much to think about; we simply don’t do it. The reality is that 95% of all safety measures are taken after an accident happens. The importance of taking precautionary steps cannot be over-emphasized. A safe home is one of the most important steps you can take to help off set accidental falls and thus, trips to the hospital. Once a serious fall occurs, life seldom returns to normal.
The most common reasons for not making an elderly loved one’s home safe are fear and apprehension. It’s a fact that most people are afraid to discuss subjects about making life changes with the person who needs the most care. This is true about health issues, legal and financial issues, driving concerns and now safety. So we go blindly along hoping that nothing is going to happen. It’s time to change this story. It’s time to become Empowered in the role of helping ensure that your elderly loved ones are safe and living as independently as possible. It’s okay if you don’t know what to do. It’s also okay to feel apprehension, especially when it’s your parents. All of this is okay. What’s not okay is doing nothing! If you do nothing, it’s almost guaranteed that something is going to happen, and then you will be left with few options.
There is a shift happening in this country and it has its pros and cons. Many families are exploring multi-generational living. It’s a concept that our country embraced years ago and it helped families stay strong. For some reason, we decided that this was no longer a good idea and we began moving seniors into their own self-contained communities. Times are once again changing. Families are seeing the financial and emotional benefit of living under one roof. It can work, and beautifully or it can be wrought with problems. It all depends on how you set it up. If a parent or parents are moving in with you; you will need to make your house safe. Whatever your living situation is, the same physical challenges apply and you want to avert potential accidents. The good news is that you can get started making a home safe immediately.
It all begins with a conversation and you need to initiate it. It’s highly unlikely that your parents will talk to you about making their home safe. This is usually where paralysis sets in. “What do you mean I have to talk to my father about this?” This is a common response I often hear from many families. “He’s so stubborn. He won’t make any changes. He’s just going to yell at me.” And I always reply, “Of course he is. So what?” The goal is to keep him safe and independent and keep him out of hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. Isn’t it worth having a conversation or two about this? The outcome is meant to be a good one and not a disruption in someone’s life. Often parents live in complete chaos because of all the accumulated stuff!
Make an appointment with your loved one. Most elderly people respect the importance of appointments. Set a time that’s convenient; when there are no distractions. Explain to your loved one that you have a lot of friends whose mother/father have taken a fall and ended up in the hospital with a broken hip (or something), and that these incidents got you thinking about taking some precautions to make his/her home safe so he/she can continue to live independently.” Continue by saying, “I know that’s what you want and I want you to be happy and safe because I love you.” This is your mantra. Do not deviate. Do not yell. If you’re met with resistance and feel frustration coming on; leave and try again later. You have a goal and must achieve the outcome.
There are rare instances when nothing you say or do is going to work. But if this happens, you have a couple of options. You can hire an outside person to come in and try and get this task accomplished or you can say something calmly and with total respect such as, “I hear you and I understand. And I just want you to know that I respect your decision to do nothing. I also need for you to respect my life and understand that if you are not willing to help yourself, then you cannot count on me to take care of everything should an accident occur.” I know. This is unthinkable and it really feels harsh, but think of your mother/father as a defiant teenager. How would you handle a teenager? Sometimes, you have to spell it out. If you say this, it will get a conversation started. Be advised: this is a last resort conversation. Caregiving is serious business, especially if you become an Accidental Caregiver. Assuming you have had a positive outcome to your conversation, let’s make the home safe.
Danger looms everywhere in an elderly person’s home usually because of years of accumulating things. Where clutter once represented a sentimental accumulation of stuff; the same stuff now has the potential to be dangerous. Some of the most obvious and easy fixes are often the ones that are most often overlooked. One in three seniors over the age of 65 falls each year.
•Throw rugs pose a huge problem, because seniors trip over them. If possible remove them completely or secure them so they are immovable. I say “if possible”, because most seniors are married to their throw rugs and don’t want to remove them.
•Glass tabletops are hazardous for falls or even bumping into sharp corners. They can easily cut the elder’s fragile skin.
•Heavy objects stored on the top of bookshelves or cabinets. Remove heavy objects and clean out cupboards. In the event of a fall, you don’t want items hitting your loved one’s head.
•Toxic Cleaning Supplies – Get rid of them and replace with non-toxic “green” cleaning supplies.
•Obstructed Walkways – Clear any and all walkways.
•Electrical Cords – Organize all electrical cords and cables. Tripping over electrical cords is a very common occurrence.
•Medicine Cabinet – Most medicine cabinets have not been cleaned out for years. Get rid of any old medications; organize it and keep only items like toothpaste, band-aids, and any other non-toxic item in the cabinet.
•Emergency Equipment – Make sure that there is emergency equipment in the home. First aid kit, fire extinguisher, smoke alarms, CO2 detector (this is a new law), flashlights in every room and nightlights.
This is only the beginning of making a home safe. You will have to make changes in most of the rooms, and you will need to install some items to modify the home for improved accessibility and independence. One of the most common concerns seniors have about this process is that their home will begin to resemble a commercial facility and that nothing will be modified with sensitivity to the look and feel of the home. You need to be cognizant of this and make sure that you make modifications that are functional and elegant. There are companies that can do this for you. If you decide to use a company to modify the home, make sure that you are using one that is certified. This is a specialized industry and you don’t want to be cutting corners just to save a few dollars. Depending upon the seriousness of the elder’s needs, consider hiring a Certified Environmental Access Consultant (C.E.A.C.) contractor to do the installation. If the modifications are minor, you can purchase the items yourself and hire a “handyperson” to do the installation. Whichever route you choose to take, you need to be present for the installation. Seniors become nervous when strangers are in their homes. The Care Company has created a downloadable Elder-proof Your Home Scavenger Hunt, which provides a room-by-room guide so you know exactly what you need. You don’t want to invest in items that are not going to be used. Simply visit The Care Company at http://www.thecarecompany.biz and you’ll find the free guide. Remember that a safe home is a safer senior.