In situations where aging is complicated by a diagnosis, adult children often find it’s time to look to the safety and comfort of the family home. Here, Rick Bayless shares what to consider when needs change.
November is the season for family gatherings, celebrations, and expressions of gratitude. We reconnect with loved ones, share stories and meals around the dining table, and make new memories for the coming year.
However, the holiday season is also the time when we notice changes in the health and wellness needs of parents, grandparents or extended family members. Age catches up with all of us, and in situations where aging is complicated by a diagnosis, adult children often find it’s time to evaluate the safety and comfort of the family home.
The environmental health and physical safety aspects of the home are a primary concern when determining whether the care goals for disabled, elderly, or chronically ill persons are supported in the home. According to the National Association of Home Care and Hospice, 90 percent of Americans want to age in place – or remain at home – as they enter their golden years. Later, as care becomes necessary, home care becomes the preferred method of health care delivery among more than 5 million disabled, elderly, and chronically ill persons each year. These trends suggest that the need to address the healthiness of the family home is a major concern when it comes to aging in place, and to create a plan for maintaining the home for optimum wellness.
Evaluate the Home’s Physical Safety
Here are common safety considerations to evaluate with an aging family member before it’s time to make a move:
1. Preventing Trips and Falls
Will stairs and “split levels” pose a problem for persons as they age? Remember that falls are the number one cause of preventable hospitalizations for senior citizens, and look at that quirky staircase you’ve always liked with a more critical eye. Check door jambs and thresholds for anything that could create a trip and fall hazard. Watch for slippery floors, loose flooring and the like.
2. Check for Ease of Use and Access
Check for adequate lighting inside and outside the home to improve navigation. While you’re at it, think about access. Are doorways wide enough to allow for use of a wheelchair if that becomes necessary? How difficult is it to get from the street to the front door?
Ease of use is also a concern. Will the bathtub need to be replaced with a walk-in shower, or does a slippery surface get a new treatment? Is the toilet the right height if a wheelchair is needed? What about the kitchen countertops and appliances? Access and ease of use can make all the difference if an aging family member wants to remain in their home.
3. Clear the Clutter
For an aging adult who likes to hold onto “memories,” excessive clutter can be a real nemesis. But ultimately, safety and wellness must win the day. Clutter can harbor pests, reduce indoor air quality, increase the likelihood of falls, limit mobility, or inhibit fire safety. It can also hide problems with home maintenance, such as faulty wiring or plumbing.
Correcting these aspects of the home increases the likelihood that your aging family member will be safe, happy and well at home. However, environmental conditions in the home can also support or deplete an individual’s health resources, particularly in cases where there are already healthiness concerns. That’s why you also evaluate the home’s environmental status when making decisions.
Evaluate the Home’s Environmental Status
Evaluating the home’s environmental status requires a realistic look at the systems of the house and a determination about whether the house can adequately support the person’s wellness or care goals.
1. Maintenance Is More Than Repairs
In some situations, the long-time family home sometimes requires more maintenance than one would imagine. Regular maintenance, such as cleaning out gutters or changing out air filters, may have been overlooked as the senior’s physical capabilities decline. But those overflowing gutters can result in increased dampness and a humid basement or crawl space. Thanks to those clogged air filters, the home’s systems may not be working together properly. Too often, maintenance slips behind schedule, which can negatively affect the home’s healthiness as well as its value. Plus, new construction or paving in the area may have changed the water ecology, causing additional areas of concern.
2. Lookout for Sick House Syndrome
Oversights like these may put the family and home at risk of “sick house syndrome,” which occurs when the conditions of the home compromise immunity and the ability to fight off disease or infection for its residents. In these cases, careful observation and testing makes it possible to work backward from symptoms to address the underlying causes of illness.
3. Work Backward from the Diagnosis
Seniors with existing, life altering conditions or diagnoses will also find that the underlying conditions in their home, like mold or mildew, can exacerbate their own existing health concerns. When there is already a diagnosis, we find that an EnviroVention™ is often warranted. In this case, healthiness examiner evaluates the status of the home through the lens of the disease, with a shared goal of decreased symptoms and increased comfort.
Evaluating your loved one’s physical and environmental health and wellness for the future can be a gift beyond measure, improving quality of life, quality of care, and making it possible for each day to be lived as fully as possible.
This year, as you gather with those you love most and offer gratitude in the tradition of Thanksgiving, know you and your family are in our thoughts.