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A Balancing Act: Simple Steps to Help
Seniors See the Need for Home Modifications
By Mary Becker-Omvig, MS, OTR/Lfa
There are questions caregivers face
on a daily basis. How do we balance between too much and
too little care? How do we balance what we think needs
to be done with what might be most helpful?
Sadly, family members and other caregivers often
sabotage well-intended efforts to help their loved ones
simply because they haven’t thought about answers to
basic questions. And when it comes to recommending
changes in someone’s home, the balancing act can be
particularly acute. This is a place where someone has
lived all his life, where she feels comfortable, where
he feels safe. The fact is, however, that while most
people say they want to live in their homes as long as
possible, most are not designed to allow them to age
successfully in place.
It’s not just the ill, but the “well elderly” who
experience the effects of aging. Aging affects vision,
mobility, dexterity and endurance. Arthritis or other
degenerative diseases may make it difficult to do the
things one used to do. This usually translates into some
very real and practical problems at home. The three most
common problems are: getting in and out of the house;
using the bathroom; and going up and down the stairs.
Because most people are unaware that simple home
modifications can alleviate these problems, many develop
coping strategies to stay in their homes, but put them
at risk for accidents or injury.
While approaching the possibility of home modifications
can be sensitive, the right preparation and
understanding can make all the difference. It’s a fact
of life. As people age, their bodies change and they may
have difficulty performing certain daily activities
because of physical and cognitive limitations. So the
house that was once perfect for them may not be anymore.
Consider this, when couples have their first child they
make changes around the home. But very few realize that
as they get older they also need to make changes to make
the home more appropriate for this stage as well.
As an occupational therapist who works in a county
office in aging, I see attempts at this balancing act on
a daily basis. Some successful. Some not. But all well
intended. While an occupational therapist has
specialized skills and expertise to match an environment
to a person’s abilities, there are simple steps family
caregivers can use.
1. Investigate and Raise Awareness
The best first step, even before you raise the home
modification issue with your loved one, is to build a
list of helpful resources for yourself. If you’ve ever
tried to find particular products or home contractors
for general work, you know how difficult this process
can be. Who do you trust? What is the right price? Who
have others used before?