April is National Volunteer Month and Forever Active are doing their part. I’ve had the pleasure of volunteering at the Convalescent Aid Society (CAS) since beginning of March. I first found out about CAS when I met Dan, CAS’ Executive Director, at a networking meeting in Pasadena. I was instantly drawn to this organization. I have been in the medical equipment business for over 15 years and I have never encountered an organization that loans medical equipment to anyone that needs it, and for FREE.
“The Convalescent Aid Society is an 87-year-old non-profit organization in continuous operation since 1923, dedicated to improving the quality of life through the free loan of medical equipment for in-home use. Over the years, we have gladly expanded our service area from Pasadena to the wider San Gabriel Valley, plus Glendale, Burbank and parts of Los Angeles.
CAS is funded entirely by private donations, bequests and endowments which allows us to provide our services at absolutely no cost.”
I strongly urge everyone to check out their website and do what you can whether by donating money, equipment or time.
Additionally, April is also National Rebuilding Month and our Rebuilding Together affiliate (Central San Gabriel Valley) will be remodeling the American Legion Post in El Monte. On April 28, join us at the post to help us sand, paint and do what you can do to make this facility a place where Veterans can meet and support their community.
Preparing for your parent or other older adult’s arrival
If you’ve decided to move your parent or any family member into your home, it’s time to think about the specifics. Start big — where will they sleep, how will they get around — then tackle the details of making your home a comfortable and safe place for them to spend their time.
Just as you’d baby-proof to make your home safer for young children, it’s a smart move to “elder-proof” your house to make it safer for an aging adult. Not only can taking these steps prevent nasty accidents, it will also make life a lot easier and more comfortable for them.
- Initial changes Some fixes are easy and inexpensive — grab bars in the bathroom and nonslip mats under throw rugs, for example. If the person is less mobile and your home has stairs, you may decide to put in a more expensive ramp or stair lift. And all sorts of devices — from easy-opening door handles to walk-in bathtubs — are available to make the person’s life in your home much more manageable.
- Ground rules If you live on one level, you’re in luck. For older adults, a one-story home is ideal. If your home has more than one story, it’s easiest and safest if the bedroom and bathroom are on the first floor, along with the kitchen, so they won’t have to negotiate stairs.
- Getting around It’s also preferable to have no steps or raised thresholds between one room and the next. These potential falling hazards create barriers that can be difficult to negotiate for someone who’s frail.
Making it just like home
- If possible, bring some of the older adult’s furniture into your home, like a favorite couch or recliner. Even if it doesn’t fit with your decor, this touch of home will help them feel more at ease from the beginning.
- If they have a pet, try to make room for it in your house. Giving up a pet could be very difficult, and having a beloved animal will help lessen the loneliness they may feel while getting used to their new environment. Of course, you’ll have to consider whether their pet can get along with your pets and children. You may also need to make some changes to your home and yard (such as fencing it in) to accommodate a dog.
- Get them a cell phone to give a greater sense of independence and help them feel connected to the outside world. This will make it easier for their friends to call them directly, without bothering other family members. And it’s a good way for to get help in an emergency. An extra line with its own number will cost as little as $10 a month if you already have a cell phone plan. If they aren’t adept with cell phones, the handset could be programmed so they only have to touch one key (say, the 1 key) to call you and a different key to call the local police department.
As people age, they need more lighting, and obstacles or hazards should be cleared out of their way or made safe. Falls can be very dangerous for older adults and can result in a major injury. Some steps to take to keep an older adult safe:
- Anti-slip mats. These mats, often made of rubber or a similar material, fit under throw rugs to increase traction, greatly decreasing the chances of a fall. Of course, you can also solve the problem by simply removing throw rugs — as long as you don’t have slick, waxed wood floors, which also can be a hazard.
- Furniture bumpers. Clear plastic bumpers fit over sharp furniture corners to soften the edges. Alternatively, remove sharp-edged furniture from the room. Unsteady chairs should be replaced as well.
- Bins for obstacles. If you’re used to leaving toys and other objects lying on the floor, you’ll need to start picking them up. Pick a spot that’s out of the way and set up a large basket to serve as a catchall for things that tend to end up on the floor.
- Good lighting. Not just the rooms in your house need to be well lit: Make sure walkways, hallways, and entryways are illuminated, too. Lighting should be bright but not harsh or blinding.
- Modifications for a wheelchair. If your new housemate uses a wheelchair (or may need one soon), check that the doorways and hallways of your home will be wide enough for them to get around. Wheelchairs require a minimum of 32 inches — 36 inches is recommended. Hallways should be at least 36 inches wide. If possible, there should be extra floor space so a wheelchair can turn around. It takes about 60 inches (5 feet) of space for someone in a wheelchair to make a 180-degree turn.
- Door and window sensors. If they have Alzheimer’s and tend to wander off, you may need either special door locks that will keep doors shut or chimes to alert you at their attempts to leave the house. Window sensors with remote alarms are also available.
- Special doorknobs and window pulls. Older adults may not have the hand or arm strength to open a door using a regular knob. Arthritis can rob even a relatively strong person of the ability to grasp something hard enough to turn it. Consider replacing conventional knobs with easier-to-use lever door handles — or look into an automatic door opener that opens and closes with the touch of a button or by voice activation (around $1,500). Search the Internet by typing automatic door opener. You can also find products that make opening windows easier.
- Accessible shelving. As people get older, the simple act of bending down or reaching up can become an ordeal. If possible, put extra shelves in closets, pantries, or cabinets at heights an older adult can reach without a struggle. If they’re in a wheelchair, or you anticipate they may be soon, adjustable brackets will enable you to change the height as needed.
Outside the house and between stories
- Ramps. If there are steps leading to the entrance to your home, can they handle them? If not, you may need to put in a ramp. Portable Aluminum Ramps are a great option.
- Stair Lifts. If you can’t put them on the first floor and they don’t do well with stairs, consider a stair lift. Another option is a home elevator or a Vertical Platform Lift to take them up and down. The cost of home elevators varies widely, but you can expect to pay $15,000 or more.
In the bathroom
- Grab bars and adhesive strips. Grab Bars in the tub or shower and beside the toilet will help to lift and lower themselves. These are inexpensive and they’re potential lifesavers when it comes to preventing falls. Low-cost no-slip adhesive strips decrease the risk of slippery bathroom areas and steps. Other bathroom additions to consider:
- Walk-in bathtub. These roundish tubs have a door that opens so they don’t t have to step over the side to get into the tub.
- Bath lift. A person sits in this tub-level chair and uses a waterproof remote to lower themselves into the tub. The chair then raises them back up after the bath. Some models recline and have other features.
- Anti-scalding devices. These inexpensive devices automatically turn off the water if it gets too hot. They can easily be installed in the bathroom sink, shower, tub, or kitchen sink. An alternative solution: Turn down the thermostat on your hot-water heater so the water never gets above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.