Advice from local professionals on how to make your home more safe and comfortable during your senior years
Nova Scotians are living longer than ever before. The first of the Baby Boomers are hitting retirement age and fewer seniors are spending their golden years in long-term care facilities, preferring instead to live in their own homes. But while seniors may be living longer – and better – than ever before, they often need assistance to help them with day-to-day living.
And they aren’t the only ones in need of assistance. The adult children of these seniors, often referred to as the “sandwich generation”, take on the care of their parents, children and sometimes even grandchildren.
“One of the greatest challenges I see is these adult children trying to deal effectively with an aging parent who wants to remain in the home, but the home presents barriers that create safety concerns,” says Suzanne Wamboldt, a certified aging-in-place specialist (CAPS) with uberHome Care Solutions, a division of uberHome.
Perhaps one of the biggest ways to keep seniors safe and functioning in their own home is the use of computers and the Internet. “Technology has already adapted to address solutions that encourage independent living,” notes Wamboldt. “Many of the aging-in-place platforms are based on home automation and security that has been around for decades.
For example, uberHome offers GrandCare, a communication and monitoring system for active, independent seniors and their caregivers. This system uses existing Internet and television in conjunction with home automation technology and discrete sensors. With the system seniors can access emails, videos, pictures or messages through an auxiliary channel on their television or via a dedicated touch panel.
For tracking activity, sensors placed around the home monitor the senior’s normal daily routine. Any abnormalities in that routine are reported to a caregiver via email, text or phone call. The system can also help monitor medical management and preventative medicine, for example, to see if a pill drawer has been accessed. And Bluetooth is used to check on the senior’s blood pressure, glucose, weight and heart rate, all of which are recorded, archived for use by a doctor.
“All of the monitoring is passive, meaning that there is no interaction required from the senior, “ Wamboldt says. “They are able to go about their normal activities throughout the day and if there is a situation that is of concern or something happening in the home environment that is out of the ordinary, then a caregiver will be alerted.”
The seniors themselves don’t have to be computer savvy to use these systems, although the caregivers should have some computer knowledge. Like with any other system or product, a home assessment is needed to see what kind of system will work best in a senior’s home and structural changes to the home are typically minimal. All together, Wamboldt says such systems can offer seniors and their caregivers peace of mind.
But changes to the structure and physical components of the house still are often needed to make life easier and more accessible to a senior. Peter Briand, owner of Econo Renovations, says the structural changes to a home can range from everything to a ramp for wheelchair accessibility to widening the doorways. He says more and more people are deciding on staying in their homes.
“As long as it’s a healthy house, we encourage it,” Briand says. “They need that sense of self-worth, and by staying in their own homes, that helps.”
Older homes are trickier to accommodate, although not impossible. He says many newer homes include wider entrances and hallways that will often accommodate those with mobility challenges. And he suggests that seniors often think ahead to what other changes they may need in the future, such as lowering counters or modifying bathrooms.
Ron Swan, owner of Home Safe Living, agrees. His business revolves around making homes safer for seniors or people with disabilities, and he suggests they plan ahead on what they will need to make their home life more accessible and comfortable, whether that be as simple as handrails or installing an elevator. He also suggests an accessibility assessment that involves not only the person living in the home, but the extended family, too, since they are often the ones keeping an eye out.
“You want to make sure everyone is on the same page.”
Once the assessment takes place and the company understands how the home is constructed and laid out, they consider the particular abilities and needs of the person living there.
Some options are more cost-effective than others, but Swan is seeing that many homeowners are willing to make the investment to create a home that works for them. The changes are typically very specific to each clients particular wants and needs.
“One of our clients refused to use a walker, so she decided to have handrails and grab bars installed around her home.”
Many changes are often not noticeable or even considered by homeowners, such as making a bathroom door swing outward instead of inward. That way if a senior falls while in the bathroom, a caregiver can easily get inside to help.
“It’s a small thing, but a big thing.”
But whatever the changes, they often don’t happen overnight. Swan recommends that seniors and their families do lots of research and have conversations to find what works best for them.
“It’s an education process that has to happen over time,” he says.