Whether it’s due to a stroke, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, low vision or simply old age, eventually everyone reaches a point in their lives when they must rely on someone to help them with activities of daily living (ADLs). Depending on a person’s specific situation, that could mean it is time to move into a senior living community or move in with a family member. Both options involve big changes for the senior, but when an aging parent moves in with you, it can be a stressful change for both parties.
Multi-Generational Living vs. Senior Housing
Most family caregivers care deeply for their aging loved ones. We want to make sure our elders are taken care of, and if that means that Mom and/or Dad must move in with us, then so be it. Many people don’t consider assisted living or a skilled nursing home to be an option for an elder who can no longer live alone safely. In their minds, senior living communities are pricey and conjure up images of seniors watching daytime television and consuming Jell-O by the gallon. Yes, long-term care is costly, but these stereotypical notions about senior living communities are largely exaggerated and outdated.
Still, many adult children do not consider senior housing to be the best option for their elderly parents. This is when the idea of multi-generational living usually pops up. As long as you have a spare bedroom or adequate space you can repurpose for a loved one’s quarters, it doesn’t seem like such a big change at first glance, right? Not so fast. This is a decision that should be carefully thought through and discussed at length with everyone involved. The reality of moving one or both aging parents in with you is that your routines, your family dynamic and your home environment will change significantly.
Of course, the extent of these changes depends on the nature of your relationship with your loved one and the level of care they require (which will increase). In addition to weighing the emotional implications of this decision, it’s important to consider the logistical details of the transition as well. Most seniors do not want to be a burden on their loved ones. They wish to adhere to their daily routines with as little assistance as possible. Furthermore, as a person with your own life outside of caregiving, it is unrealistic to assume you will be available 24/7 to provide a helping hand. For these reasons, adapting your home to maximize your loved one’s safety and independence is paramount.
Fortunately, manufacturers of independent living products are constantly developing items and equipment that are beneficial to both seniors and their caregivers. Products that allow seniors to safely handle activities of daily living with little or no assistance are also being redesigned to look less clinical and function more efficiently without permanent installation. Using independent living products to adapt your home will allow your aging loved one to maintain an independent and safe lifestyle, helping you feel less burdened and enabling your house to retain its normal appearance.
Bathroom Modifications to Improve Senior Safety
As we get older and our strength and balance wane, bathrooms often become the most dangerous rooms in the house. This area of the home combines moisture and hard, slick surfaces—conditions that increase the risk of falls and provide no forgiving areas for a senior to land. Simple tasks like getting on and off the toilet or stepping in and out of the shower can be very risky for older adults.
Grab bars are an essential addition for helping a senior handle personal care tasks like bathing and toileting safely and independently. When most people think of bathroom grab bars, the first things that come to mind are a handyman, a big power drill and permanent holes in your marble or tile. While this may not be the most attractive long-term option, permanent grab bars installed into wall studs are the safest way of providing elders with extra support and stability in the bathroom.
Read: Grab Bar Safety Tips
An alternative to permanent grab bars is portable suction grab bars. These temporary grab bars secure to completely smooth surfaces using twin suction cups with over 160 pounds of force. Simply clean the surface, apply the suction cups firmly and flip the levers on the back of each cup. While these should not be trusted to support a senior’s weight, they will provide a safe, reliable grip to prevent falls. Prices and sizes of portable grab bars may vary, but it’s best to select quality products and avoid cheap, faulty equipment that can wind up causing accidents instead of preventing them.
If a senior struggles with transfering to and from the toilet, occupational therapists recommend installing an elevated toilet seat with arms. While there are models that can be clamped in place and do not require any hardware, they are typically not very sturdy, especially if the person using it is particularly unsteady on their feet or overweight. A safer alternative is a toilet seat riser that attaches to the toilet using two bolts once the existing seat is removed. It slides and locks into place on the bracket and can be removed for cleaning or to be attached to a standalone bedside commode frame.
Mobility Aids and Products for Safe Transfers
If your home features a few steps or thresholds at the front door or leading into various rooms throughout your house, these obstacles can make it difficult for your aging loved one to get around. A threshold ramp is the easiest, safest and most cost effective solution. Threshold ramps come in many different materials, configurations, and sizes and can be a permanent fixture or a portable accessibility feature.
Achy joints and decreased muscle mass can make getting in and out of a recliner or living room chair difficult for many seniors. Rather than risking injury to yourself and your loved one by assisting with these transfers, consider a lift chair that will enable them to sit down and stand up with ease. At first glance, these products appear to be standard recliners, but with the flip of a switch, the chair’s powerful integrated motor comfortably reclines the chair or lifts the occupant to a gradual standing position. Look for a model with a quiet motor, smooth operation and an optional backup battery for power outages. Lift chairs are available in an assortment of styles, fabrics and colors so they can match virtually any room design and can fit people of most sizes.
Bedroom Products to Help Keep the Elderly Safe
Everyone loves their privacy, but if your elderly loved one needs help getting in and out of bed or is difficult to wake up in the mornings, personal space can become a thing of the past. With the right independent living products, however, seniors can go about their normal morning and evening routines with little help.
For elders who need some extra support getting in and out of bed, two bed rails are available that are easy to install and very versatile. The BedCane Bed Rail features a padded, cane-shaped top attached to a board that slides between the mattress and box spring. A strap then attaches to the bed frame to hold the board in place. An included four-pocket organizer keeps useful items closeby at the top of the railing. The HealthCraft Smart-Rail installs on the bed in a similar fashion but also features two legs that rest on the floor for additional support. The padded handle can be kept parallel to the bed to assist with adjustments and sitting up or it can be rotated outwards at any angle to make getting in and standing up from the bed easier. Unlike other rails of this nature that swing at set increments, the Smart Rail’s unlimited rotating ability ensures that your loved one gets the ideal angle for support without putting too much strain on their wrist.
If a senior is a heavy sleeper or suffers from hearing loss, chances are that a gentle knock at their door or a typical alarm clock will probably not wake them. The Sonic Boom alarm clock series features products in a variety of styles with features designed to keep a senior from sleeping through their alarm. Each one includes flashing lights and a bed shaker, which is placed under the mattress and vibrates to wake up the user. The alarm volume can be adjusted between “subtle” and “wake the neighbors.” The Sonic Boom line of alarm clocks also features a backup battery for power outages, a snooze button and large digital displays. Some of the clocks are also designed to work with other Sonic Alert devices to notify deaf or hard of hearing seniors when the phone or doorbell rings and can use a flashing lamp as a signal.
Independent Living Products Provide Peace of Mind
Having the right supportive equipment on hand and doing your best to modify your home before an aging parent moves in will help the transition go smoothly. Obviously, you may not be aware of some challenges that Mom or Dad has until they move into their new space, so you’ll need to communicate openly about how they’re adjusting and be proactive about working together to solve any issues as they arise. Elder care products can help you both adapt your daily routines and continue to live as independently and safely as possible.
Visit the AgingCare Senior Care Products Guide for more information on these products and to explore other assistive devices.