It’s the little things that matter most.
Our family home is 57 years old; maintenance and modifications that allow mom to stay in her home are a part of her health care investment. (Jump to Lessons Learned)
Modifications allowing your parents to age-in-place are not always big, expensive projects. My father, whom I fondly called MacGyver, was a master at inventing little things to make life better. For example, he installed a piece of wood behind the bedroom door that prevents it from swinging all the way open and throwing mom off balance as she navigates into the room.
Some modifications require more planning and resources. Over the years my parents wisely made modifications to their home so they could age-in-place. In their bathroom, the tub was taken out and a walk in shower with a tiled seat and hand held shower head was installed. The bathroom vanity is higher than normal so it is easier to use standing up. Grab bars were installed beside the shower and toilet. Rugs have rubberized backing to stop them from moving. (I check them for wear and tear.) I made the final modification, installing a 17” elongated toilet which makes it easier for mom to get up using the grab bar.
In the kitchen, spot lights and direct overhead lighting can be found above all the counters, sink, and stove to give mom enough light to see. Kitchen chairs are on rollers so she can move from sink, to stove, to counter without having to stand. To reduce trips to the basement, I added storage to the garage and converted a coat closet into a pantry.
The driveway, walkway and entrance have excellent lighting. Some lights are on motion detector; others are on a timer. Even in the winter when dark comes early there is enough light for mom. A metal pathway ramp is installed in the front of the house and is bolted into the concrete for stability. The angle for our stairs is steep, so the handles on both sides of the ramp are critical. The ramp ends at a landing, leaving Mom one tiny step into the house that mom is still able to navigate. We find ourselves chanting “one, two, three” together, bracing for that step. I know at some point we will need to put a threshold wheelchair and accessibility ramp around that step.
Beginning to oversee home modifications can seem overwhelming. Observing and asking questions will go a long way to help keep your parents in their home. Experts have found that it is usually the little things (being able to shower, navigate steps, use kitchen utensils like a can opener) that end up being the reason someone cannot live independently.
Here are some simple tactics and conversation suggestions to help your parents age-in-place. When visiting, don’t automatically take over cooking or cleaning. Yes, you can do it faster, but take time to observe your parent’s ability to perform simple tasks. In the healthcare industry, “Activities of Daily Living” (ADL’s), refer to things we normally do for ourselves: feed ourselves; get in and out of bed; bath; dress; take care of personal and toilet hygiene. Are your parents having trouble completing any of these activities of daily living? Is one of your parents becoming more and more responsible for the other? Is it too much for them?
And along with observing, ask your parents, “What do you need to be able to do in this house to live here comfortably?” If the answer is bathe, then be prepared to modify the bathroom as my parents did. If taking the tub out is not an option, there are transition chairs that help eliminate the risk of a fall getting in and out of the tub. Make sure there is a shower seat, it does not have to be built in. (And a lawn chair does not count as a shower seat!) Without these modifications, our parents resort to taking “birdbaths”, standing at the sink and washing what they can reach. This type of hygiene can eventually have medical consequences. (Source: Forbes.com: How Can We Keep Seniors in Their Homes as Long as Possible?.
- One of the outgrowths of the American Disability Act (ADA) is a host of products that comply with ADA standards. When my mother mentioned how it was becoming more difficult to get up from the toilet, I started researching. Toilets that measure between 17 and 19 inches in height from the floor to the top of the seat are considered Comfort Height toilets, whereas traditional toilets measure below 17 inches in height. What I learned: when purchasing a toilet that is 16 or 16.5 inches high, you reach 17-17.5 inches with the toilet seat installed. It is easy to find 16 – 16.5 inch toilets in places like Home Depot and Loews. Just search on comfort height toilets. Since most chairs are 17 inches high, I decided on a little test. I had mom sit on a dining room chair and tell me how easy it was to get up. You can also purchase toilets that are higher than 17 inches but they are significantly more expensive. And I was concerned that a 19-inch toilet leave my mother’s feet dangling on the floor! (Affiliated links: Homedepot.com: ADA-Compliant Toilets OR Lowes.com: Comfort Height Toilets
- If remodeling a bathroom is not possible, there are a host of disability aids for that room alone. For example: transfer benches to get into a tub; grab bars that fit around, or bolt onto a toilet; installing a special seat to raise the height of a toilet. Just google “disability aids for bathroom”. When researching be aware of weight limits and product dimensions to ensure they will work in your parents’ home.
- The products listed above are not considered Durable Medical Equipment (DME), so Medicare will not pay for them. If you have secondary insurance, check to see if they will reimburse.
- If you live in New Jersey, you have a terrific alternative. The Goodwill Home Medical Equipment has affordable, refurbished home medical equipment for sale for tremendous cost savings. Note that Goodwill Home Medical Equipment has CHAP (Community Health Accreditation Partner), accreditation under the CHAP Standards of Excellence in the durable medical equipment category. The bathroom accessories listed above are available to purchase from them. For more information about Goodwill Home Medical Equipment click here: Goodwill Home Medical Equipment.
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.