Is Living at Home a Safe Choice for Your Loved One?
Deciding where to live is an important part of planning for our senior years. Should we stay in our own home? Live with other family members? Move to a retirement community, assisted living or other supportive environment?
Sometimes the answer is obvious: If we develop a serious physical disability and our home cannot be adapted for accessible living, the best choice may be to move to an environment that is best-suited to our needs and anticipated future care requirements. On the other hand, if we are in good health, if our current home is appropriate for our needs and we are able to maintain the home, we might live independently at home for years.
Many seniors eventually find themselves in a grey area: They would prefer to stay home, but the changes of aging present challenges. Arthritis makes it hard to navigate stairs … vision loss cuts back on the ability to cook and clean … Alzheimer's disease gradually erodes the ability to live independently. If your family is unsure whether a senior loved one is safe living at home, here are some yes-or-no questions to ask:
- Is the home physically safe for your loved one? If there are stairs, can your loved one safely negotiate them? Does he or she remember to lock doors and secure windows? If your loved one has experienced falls in the home, that may indicate unsafe conditions.
- Is the home clean and in good repair? Clutter, dirt or loose boards on the front steps might mean that keeping up the house is too much for your loved one.
- Can your loved one get around? If he or she is still driving, is that safe? If your loved one no longer drives, is there someone who provides regular transportation, or can your loved one ride the bus or access alternative transportation?
- Can your loved one manage his or her health conditions? Does he regularly keep doctor appointments, manage medications and follow the healthcare provider's instructions?
- Does your loved one's routine include adequate physical activity? Lack of exercise leads to a decline in physical, mental and emotional well-being.
- Can your loved one prepare nutritious meals, and is it safe to cook? Be alert for "red flags" such as cupboards full of prepackaged junk food and the stove left on.
- Does your loved one spend enough time with others? Does he or she have opportunities for social connections through clubs, senior centers, a faith community or other sources? Social isolation can creep up on seniors, increasing the risk of depression and health problems.
- Can your loved one keep up with personal hygiene? Infrequent bathing, shaving and oral care, and wearing soiled clothing in need of repair are signs that your loved one needs help.
- Are family members confident that the home is a good living choice? Even when seniors insist they are just fine at home, if family members are fretting and losing sleep at night, that suggests that their concerns should be addressed.
If you answered no to some of the questions above, it's time to have a family meeting with your elder relative and other family members to discuss living options. Even if you have answered no to several of the questions, a move to a senior living community isn't the only solution. Unsafe or inconvenient features of the home can be improved with home modifications such as improved lighting, a wheelchair ramp and accessible bathroom and kitchen fixtures. Support services are available for home-dwelling older adults — for example, senior centers, adult day health services and special transportation. Many services can be provided in the person's own home: meal delivery ("meals on wheels"), skilled nursing and rehabilitation services, even medical house calls.
For many families whose loved one lives at home, professional in-home care helps turn many of these no answers into a yes. In-home care supports many healthy aging needs:
Home safety and maintenance. In-home caregivers provide light housekeeping, remove clutter inside and out to reduce the risk of falls, and can do laundry.
Personal care. In-home caregivers assist with shaving, grooming, dressing and other hygiene tasks.
Transportation. In-home caregivers keep senior clients active in the community by providing transportation or accompanying clients on public transit.
Healthcare and medication management. Caregivers transport senior clients to medical appointments and to the pharmacy, provide medication reminders and supervise clients in following the healthcare provider's recommendations.
Good nutrition. In-home caregivers go to the grocery store, prepare nutritious meals according to clients' tastes and prescribed diet, provide companionship (which has been shown to improve the appetite) and clean up afterwards.
Exercise. In-home caregivers accompany senior clients on walks, help with home exercise routines, transport clients to exercise classes at the senior center, and provide the confidence for all-around increased activity.
Socialization. In-home caregivers transport senior clients to favorite events and to visit friends, and help clients host friends at home. A professional home care agency will do their homework to select a caregiver with whom the client "clicks," which ensures their hours together are marked by pleasant companionship.
Family caregiver support. This is an important one! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that more than half of family caregivers report a decrease in health because they miss doctor appointments, neglect their own exercise and nutrition and put the care recipient's needs above their own. Professional in-home caregivers pick up the slack for these stressed-out people, and family rest easier knowing their loved one has help when it is needed.
Even if you answered yes to all the questions at the beginning of this article, it's important to consider the future. The normal changes of aging, a sudden illness that causes incapacity, or Alzheimer's disease or other memory loss can all make a senior's living situation less ideal. Creating a plan and keeping the plan flexible will help you meet challenges that come and will reduce concern for everyone in the family.
For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.