October 29th, 2010 at 2:11 am
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Home Safety: Looking at the Bigger Picture

by Kathryn Kilpatrick, M.A. CCC/SLP

Once a loved one is showing early signs of poor judgment, decreased orientation to time and place, anxiety and/or confusion, the environment in which they are living may need some adaptions while everyone is trying to figure out the best next step.

It is never too soon to start those sometimes difficult conversations about moving closer to family or to a smaller home in the same area, perhaps with all the rooms on one floor. Maybe it is time to talk about bringing in additional help or looking at an independent or assisted living residence. Postponing these discussions can only increase the safety issues where an older adult is currently living, especially if the person is living alone.

I was grateful that my mom chose to move into an apartment after forty years in the home where I grew up. That last evening before the move took place, I remember reminiscing about the memories in our home, room by room. She had many years in her new apartment without the hassle of yard work or repairs. The move to an assisted living was a proactive one, not one she was too excited about. Eventually she even admitted it was really the best thing to do in the long run. Mom was able to enjoy more than two years in an environment that was not only lovely but allowed her options when she chose to stop driving and also after she fell and broke her hip.

My move will be coming in the next few years. Leaving a space I love and adore where the outside views of nature, lots of trees and many deer visiting on a daily basis is going to be hard but I know it is the smart thing to do. Hopefully I will not face any major challenges but doing home health care for more than three decades, I have seen it all and need to “practice what I preach” to my aging clients and their adult children.

Over the years I have seen patients who had strokes or other physical limitations and the only way they could get out of their homes for medical appointments was by ambulance. One home was built on a hill and there were over thirty steps to the front door and the back had a pathway with a very steep incline. In this case, the family had to immediately start looking for a place to move their parents, who were in their eighties. Like so many, this couple just never wanted to leave their home where they raised their children. In some cases, I have seen homes where the older adult was able to stay, at least for a few years more. There was a bathroom on the first floor, they made the dining room the bedroom and had a wheelchair lift installed outside so they could get out of the home more easily. Others have installed a chair lift to be able to get upstairs and in some cases another one to be able to get to the basement.

One of my friends recently built a home and knew that the stairs would be problem for her aging parents when they visited, so they installed an elevator. She was also looking ahead since this was a home she hoped to be able to live in once she was retired. What will you look at as you approach those retirement years? One family built a new home on one floor and added a section for their aging parents who lived out of town but wanted to be closer to the grandchildren. This is a plan that began as a discussion many years ago when a set of possibilities were put on the table. As the health status of one of the parents changed, it was easier to put the plan that best fit the situation into action.

Safety isn’t expensive, it is priceless.” Author Unknown

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