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Posted: July 31, 2008

When Mom or Dad Moves In

A Checklist for Parent-Proofing Your Home

Whether it's for a short-term stay after an illness or surgery or a long-term living arrangement, bringing a disabled or frail elderly loved one into your home requires some advance preparation.

Before you start, it’s important to take a walk through your home as if you were seeing it for the first time. Try to identify places and objects that could present a problem for an elderly person who may not see as clearly as you do, be unsteady walking, or use a bulky walker or wheelchair to get around.

I realize that about 90% of preparing your home for an elderly person will be common sense, but I’ll give you a heads-up about the other 10% here. In general, you can use this heads-up as a safety and comfort checklist by focusing on the most important sections of your home for Mom or Dad.

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Most importantly, your parent will need a bedroom on the ground floor. Unless your home has an elevator or an electric stair lift, going up and down the stairs is not something a frail older person needs to be doing. A bathroom near your parent's room is also very important.

Ask yourself these questions:

For Your Parent's Room

  • Can the bedroom be illuminated by a switch at the door? Most bedrooms have at least one outlet that can be controlled from a wall switch if there is no overhead light.

  • Is there a stable, easy-to-reach light by the bed that is easy to turn on and off? If switches will be difficult to use because of arthritis or other disability, consider a touch light.

  • Is there an easy-to-reach and use telephone by the bed? If your senior has poor vision or is confused, consider a picture phone with important numbers pre-programmed.

  • Is there a night light that will illuminate the path from the bed to the bathroom? Place the nightlight so it will not shine directly into the eyes of someone sleeping.

  • Is the path from the bed to the bathroom completely clear of all obstructions, including furniture that may partially obstruct paths? Remove all throw rugs, chairs, stools, wastebaskets, floor lamps and other items that stand between bed and door or bed and closet.

  • Is there a wireless intercom, baby monitor, or some other system so you can hear your elder if a problem arises?

  • Is the bed too low, making standing up difficult? Place sturdy risers under the bed to elevate it. Consider a hospital bed if your parent will need care while in bed. (If your elder's doctor believes they are medically necessary, standard Medicare will cover 80% of the cost of a hospital bed and a bedside commode [see below], as well as a wheelchair and walker. Supplemental insurance, if available, will cover the remaining 20%.)

  • If reaching the bathroom in the middle of the night may be difficult, consider a bedside commode for tse mid-night needs. Place the commode so it does not block the walking path to the door.

  • For Your Parent's Bathroom

  • Is the door wide enough to pass through while using a walker or a wheelchair? If not, consider using offset hinges to add an extra inch or more to the door width. If mobility devices are necessary and the door is too narrow, using the bathroom independently will be impossible for your senior.

  • Is the bathroom itself wide enough to accommodate any necessary mobility devices, such as a walker or a wheelchair? Could a wheelchair turn around if necessary? If not, and if your parent will be living in your home permanently, you may want to consider remodeling a bathroom for handicapped accessibility.

  • Have you removed decorative items that could be bumped or cause a tripping hazard? Hampers, baskets, shelf units and throw rugs can all be tripping hazards.

  • Are grab bars installed in the tub or shower so there is something sturdy to grip while entering and exiting?

  • Do you have a shower chair or stool so your parent can bathe sitting down? Bathing while sitting on the floor of the tub can be dangerous because getting out can be difficult.

  • If your parent is of at least average height, installing a raised toilet seat and either a grab bar on the wall or arms on the toilet will increase safety and comfort.

  • Is the bottom surface of the tub or shower non-skid? If not, install non-skid strips.

  • Is there a night light in the bathroom so no one will be stumbling around in the dark?
  • For Common or Shared Areas

  • Are paths through and between rooms extra wide and completely free of furniture, wires and cords, or other items that could be bumped or tripped over?

  • Is there at least one firm but comfortable chair or seat, preferably with arms, where your older loved one will be comfortable sitting?

  • Are rooms brightly lit, but without glare, both during the day and at night?

  • Are doors and windows easy to open, yet easily locked and secured?

  • Do all chairs and seats stand firmly on the floor, without rollers or slides that could make them move unexpectedly?

  • Have you either removed or firmly taped down ALL throw rugs and the corners of area rugs, including the mat by the front door?

  • General Senior Safety at Home
  • Do you have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, if your home uses gas for any appliance?

  • If your senior will be home alone, have you considered subscribing to a personal alarm system so help can be called even if the phone is out of reach?

  • While this inventory of your home may seem overwhelming at first, most of these suggestions merely require that you re-arrange and de-clutter. Your bathroom will probably need the most work, particularly if you need to install grab bars or widen doorways.

    Just keep in mind that one fractured hip will cost far more in physical and emotional pain and suffering, as well as financially, than making these safety improvements before your parent moves in or as soon thereafter as you can.

    Also, as outlined above, remember that Medicare and supplemental insurance can help offset costs in some cases. Before you purchase, check with the hospital social worker or your elder's doctor regarding necessity and possible coverage. If your parent has a Medicare Advantage or other "special" Medicare insurance, check with the insurance company before you buy.

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    Molly Shomer is a family caregiving specialist and licensed geriatric care manager. She is a nationally recognized expert on eldercare issues and the author of The Insider's Guide to Assisted Living. Her website is www.eldercareteam.com, and she can be reached at molly@eldercareteam.com.

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