As the child of aging parents, each passing year has probably brought more and more worries about the challenges and limitations your folks have to confront with increasing frequency. So many seemingly small and inconsequential actions of everyday living require a level of physical or mental ability that they may no longer possess. Even simple routines — like fetching the mail from the curbside box, clearing the front steps of snow, remembering to take medications, or letting the dog out — can become ordeals if an elderly loved one is experiencing declining health. Sometimes, an aging parent’s lifestyle can change overnight, leaving you with the responsibility of creating workarounds, finding in-home help, or exploring a move into an assisted living facility.
Here are a few areas that commonly require changes in the lives of aging parents.
1. Buying Groceries and Preparing Meals
The ability to shop for groceries, safely prepare a meal, and store leftovers properly becomes a concern for those over 65 who are at increased risk for foodborne illnesses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautions, “Older adults must be especially vigilant when handling, preparing, and consuming foods.” Chronic health conditions and medications can weaken the immune system, making the elderly more susceptible to foodborne illnesses. Seniors are also more likely to require hospitalization and suffer serious side effects from these illnesses.
If your parents are no longer able to provide sound nutrition for themselves, whether due to lack of mobility, dementia, or some other impairment that makes cooking unsafe, their lifestyle and living arrangements change dramatically. If cooking is still possible, you still may want to consider having the kitchen reconfigured to feature mostly under-counter cabinets or open, freestanding storage shelves so that your parents can easily reach commonly used items.
2. Getting Around at Home
Can Mom safely get in and out of bed with the existing flooring? Is it free of clutter and dangerous area rugs? Is the hallway path to the bathroom well-lit at night? Is an entry ramp needed so that your parents don’t have to climb steps, navigate uneven lawns, or walk over crumbling asphalt? These are all issues that you must consider.
If there is a chance that wheelchair access may be a future consideration, a ramp is a wise investment. You’ll also need to take steps to minimize tripping risks and other hazards.
Older adults can have particular trouble navigating safely in an existing bathroom if they are experiencing declining psychical or mental health. Homebound elderly are especially prone to falls that result in hip fractures or broken bones. In general, you may need to retrofit your parents’ bathroom, swapping out slippery ceramic tiles for a slip-resistant alternative, raising the toilet seat, installing grab bars, and providing an automatic night light that activates at dusk.
If your parent is particularly unsteady, you may want to consider purchasing an inexpensive transfer bench if the home has a tub with an overhead shower, which would allow your parent to slide over the tub’s edge instead of climbing over, or having a walk-in shower installed, outfitted with a handheld unit and a bench to sit on in the stall. Visually code the hot and cold faucets and make sure to lower water heat to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent scalding.
3. Managing Necessary Tasks
While your parents may not be able to get around as well as they used to, home maintenance, landscaping, and other housekeeping tasks still need to be completed.
Sit down and figure out how you can help with these chores. Your parents will still need their lawn cut in the summer, leaves raked in the fall, and snow shoveled during the winter. What about things like changing light bulbs or dusting the tops of shelves? Are you willing to take on those tasks or should you be looking into housekeeping and home maintenance companies that can relieve your parents of these small jobs around the property. Having a capable housekeeper or handyman on call can be a great help to your aging parents and can go a long way in easing your mind.