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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

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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? 


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