Aging in place. What does that mean? What challenges await those of us who wish (or need) to remain independent, living in our own homes? As our lives and needs change as the years go by, how can we best adapt to these changing conditions?
As with any things, the ability to age in place in our own homes begins with a plan. A plan that recognizes physical changes WILL happen to each of us as the years go by as well as mental challenges that MAY happen as well. As much as possible, such a plan should be realistic yet as simple as possible. It needs to recognize the strengths we already have in place to help us cope with life challenges ahead yet also realistically recognizes our weaknesses which need to be addressed.
Begin by looking at your home and imagining what it would be like to live there if you lost the ability to safely walk around. What would you do? How would you do it? What would have to be changes or adapted? What new “tools” would you need to accomplish necessary daily living activities?
Fortunately, more people have been studying this problem recently and more devices have recently come on the market to help with this challenge. Some items have been available for many years, but some new ideas have recently emerged that are worth consideration. Listed below are some ideas to consider.
- Begin this process as soon as possible. Most homes go through various repair and remodel projects as the years go by. If you are planning on doing a large repair or remodel project, think long term! If replacing a door anyway, replace it with one that is extra wide (especially an entry door, a bedroom door or a bathroom door). If fixing up or remodeling a shower, think about how you might adapt the shower to one that is accessible via a rolling shower chair. If replacing a toilet, consider getting a replacement unit that is taller than standard (and therefore easier to use by a person who does “bend” very well in the later years of life). If fixing up a tub/shower combination, do away with any glass door entry and replace it with a shower curtain system (therefore much easier to access if specialty shower equipment is needed). If replacing steps leading into the home, consider installing a ramp system instead (easy to use by anybody, yet a HUGE benefit for someone in a wheelchair). By thinking ahead, and planning well, costs related to making a home more handicap accessible can often be greatly reduced.
- Improved mobility aids. Most of us have seen ads on TV from various companies about how “easy” it is to get a power scooter or power wheelchair provided from, and paid for, by the Medicare program. This is simply not true. Medicare does sometimes pay for these products but a very demanding documentation of medical necessity process must be completed prior to providing such products. Most people who want these products will not qualify for them under current Medicare guidelines. However, that does not mean that these products are not a worthwhile investment! These products, individually chosen for each person’s unique set of circumstances, can be a HUGE aid in allowing a person to remain independent. They can allow a person to safely access all necessary areas of their home as well as function as an outside (within reason) method of transportation. They can prevent falls, which is the most common source of injuries within the home, by removing many challenges of getting around the house. When comparing the cost of such products vs the benefits of safety and independence, they can be an incredible value even if private payment is required.
- Bathroom safety devices. So important, yet so inexpensive. The bathroom is statistically the most dangerous room in the house. Easy to understand as this area is often wet and slippery. A proper shower chair and a few well placed grab bars can be so helpful in reducing the chance of hurting oneself in the bathroom. New types of grab bars are now available which do not require drilling into walls for installation and can easily be moved if needed. Extra long shower hoses can be installed (when using a shower chair) that make cleaning and proper hygiene easy and enjoyable.
These are just a few ideas of what a person needs to think about in order to create a safe, long term home situation. Many more ideas are out there, but everything starts with a goal and a plan. Start early on such an idea and save yourself a lot of time, money and energy. Do it right and you may create a situation where you can stay at home and remain independent far into the future.
Written by Paul Gammie, Gammie HomeCare