Wow! I’m here already! The time of my life when I’m raising children AND beginning to need to oversee my parents’ well-being. I’ve heard this scenario is called “The Sandwich Generation”. I’m in my 40’s now (OK, I’ve been in my 40’s for a few years now), and I am feeling the tables turn with my parents. In some ways I don’t like this feeling. I kinda like still being the “kid” and still feeling like my parents are in charge. But the reality is becoming clear that, yes, my parents are aging. Thank God they are still quite functional and look younger than their years, but the fact remains that we can’t stop the hands of time.
Life is about choices. The writing is on the wall. I am making the choice to be proactive about doing my best to assure that both my parents remain as safe, as happy and as independent as possible, for as long as possible! The funny thing is – I’ve been doing this for years with my own patients. As most of you know, I am an Occupational Therapist, and I’ve worked in home health serving patients for the last 5 years. I’ve also performed environmental assessments for the Medicaid Waiver program in Maryland for the last 12 years. Much of my time when working with these patients (who are mostly elderly people) is spent assessing the person’s home environment, taking into consideration any ailments the person has (i.e. decreased vision/hearing/strength/range of motion) and then making recommendations regarding how we can change the environment for optimal safety and independence.
I think most adults who have aging parents could benefit from the following information. First of all, keep in mind that your parents may not be very willing for you to make suggestions about the way their home is set up, or the way they are doing things. Believe me – in working with patients and families this is extremely common and probably half the battle! If you feel that any advice coming from you would create problems, you can throw printed information their way as hints or even talk to your parent’s doctor about your concerns. There are many times that it is appropriate to ask the doctor for occupational and/or physical therapy if your parent is demonstrating a change in function in his/her daily life.
The next thing to take into consideration is – what ailments does your parent have? Even though one can justify ailments as the rite of passage of “getting old”, the fact is that any deficit can be dangerous to your loved one. It’s better to address it now than wait until there is a fall or injury. Is your parent: having a harder time seeing, hearing, keeping his/her balance; having trouble with sensation in his/her hands or feet; becoming weaker; having difficulty with endurance and activity tolerance; having symptoms of dizziness? Obviously, any of the above should be directed to his/her physician for medical attention. But there are so many things you can do on your end to help your parent remain in his/her home safely.
Once you consider what deficits your parent may have, then you can look to his/her environment at home. There are many checklists and assessment tools that can be used to do this. Rebuilding Together has an excellent tool to identify problem areas and potential remedies for increasing safety.
Some of my go-to places to get things such as adaptive equipment (reacher/grabber, sock-aide, long-handled bath sponge, button hook, etc.) and durable medical equipment (shower chair, grab bars, tub rail, elevated toilet, etc.) are: Walmart (good ole Walmart – some of these items can be found near the pharmacy and if you go to walmart.com there are even more products), Gamma Medical here in Frederick, MD, Med One 1 Pharmacy in Middletown, MD and online I love Patterson Medical http://www.pattersonmedical.com/. If grab bars need to be installed, I recommend that they only be installed by an experienced contractor.
This is just a quick and dirty discussion about your options when helping your aging parents “age in place” safely. There is a wealth of great information online and I will leave you with some sites to explore. If you have any personal questions regarding this topic, I will be happy to help steer you in the right direction – just write to me in the “contact us” section of our blog.
Websites on this subject: