Aging In Place Safely

January 2, 2014
BY Elaine Kitt

Aging in place is a term used by people who work with seniors. It’s a catchy phrase, but what does it really mean?

Simply put, aging in place for a senior means being able to live where and how he/she wants in the setting of his/her choosing, safely and independently, and being able to make decisions for himself/herself for as long as possible. If you ask them, most older adults say this is exactly what they want.

However, sometimes there are obstacles that can interfere with achieving this goal. I would like to offer some tips that can help.

Just as we regularly assess other aspects of our lives (for example, by doing a financial/retirement checkup and having a yearly physical exam), an assessment of our home situation is also in order. It’s a good idea to check the physical layout of our home to ensure that we can still safely and easily move around in it. For example, scatter rugs, although decorative, are not our friends as we age and move about with the help of a walker, cane or even particular types of soled shoes. Consider removing or relocating pieces of furniture, decorations or tchotchkes that inhibit clear paths.

Consider keeping a few cordless phones throughout the home to be able to answer or place calls without having to rush to a corded line. Be sure there are no wires of any kind (phone or electrical) lying across your walking paths.

You might consider an emergency response system, such as in the TV commercial that goes, “Help, I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.” The commercial may seem contrived, but that simple system adds a tremendous sense of confidence and security to many people who live alone, as well as to their families who may not be close by.

Rearrange items that you regularly use so that it’s no longer necessary to bend over, reach up or climb on stools. This might include food items, pots and pans, medications and other household and personal supplies.

One of the biggest challenges as we age is recognizing the need for assistance and seeking it. If housekeeping, lawn care or other home maintenance becomes difficult or unsafe, ask others to help out; they may not do the work exactly as you would, but try to keep in mind that your home will be clean, and you’ll be safe and able to enjoy it.

If taking a shower or bath becomes frightening or worrisome rather than enjoyable, it may be time to get some help for that too. All seniors should look into installing safety equipment, such as grip bars around the tub/shower walls and even a shower bench or chair. Another idea is a shower head with an extended hand-held hose that can make bathing safer. Sometimes, additional support is needed, and bathing requires the help of another person. Certainly it’s hard to let someone help us with such a personal task, but remember, safety is the key.

We love our homes, and we want to live in them for as long as possible. We also want to make as many decisions on our own as possible. Consider talking to family, friends and perhaps trained professionals, who can help you with ways to keep your home safe and pleasant.

To learn more about Jewish Community Services’ resources for seniors and their families, click here or call 410-466-9200.

Elaine Kitt, LCSW-C, is senior manager for service coordination at Jewish Community Services.

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