You’ve Earned It looks at practical steps and resources that can be incorporated into our daily lives in order to make things easier as we grow older
We all know that our physical systems start to deteriorate as we grow older. Our eyesight deteriorates and we become dependent on glasses, our hearing is not what it used to be, we are more stiff in the morning, and somehow our balance does not seem to be what it once was. These are just a few examples of the effects of ageing.
This is reality, but there are many practical tips and resources that we can incorporate into our daily lives to make things easier. We do not hesitate to visit the Optometrist for glasses when our arms are not long enough to read the newspaper, so why don’t we incorporate other assistive devices into our lives that make things simpler and prevent accidents?
As an Occupational Therapist who helped my parents as they aged, I realised there were many little things I could suggest or install that made them less vulnerable to falling, thus making their lives that much easier – and safer.
Firstly, if you are buying a house for the purpose of downscaling, bear in mind the following:
- Forget the bath, eventually you might still get into it, but getting out is going to get more and more impossible. Choose a shower, preferably walk-in, with enough space to have a chair at a later stage.
- Choose a bathroom that IS big enough to swing a cat, because you might need to get a walker or a wheelchair into it later.
- Don’t choose a toilet that is narrow and leaves no space for someone to assist you from the side.
- Avoid passages with sharp right angles, making it impossible to get a stretcher in if you fall and injure yourself. My mother fell twice in her bedroom and broke bones. Because every single main bedroom in the retirement complex had been designed with a right angle into a passage to access the bedroom, the ambulance staff could not get to her with their stretcher.
- Most people believe stairs are a sale-stopper, but these days, chair lifts are relatively easy to install. Read more about chair lifts here.
- If you are one of those people who is going to resist moving to assisted care when the time comes, then you need to imagine the house with a 24-hour carer in it with you. As wonderful as carers are, they are an intrusion in your life and to those who live with you, so ensure that they will have enough space to do their jobs properly, with minimal disruption of your lives.
Then once you have moved in:
- Position professionally-installed chrome grab rails next to the toilet to assist you in standing up and lowering yourself down. The position needs to be tailored to the individual using them, so professional advice is required. They can also be put on the walls in the shower to help if you tend to lose your balance. These are readily available from certain pharmacies or large hardware stores. Do not rely on the toilet roll holder or the towel rail, as they are unlikely to support your weight.
- Install a shower head with an adjustable rose and a hand-held device on a long hose to facilitate showering in a chair.
- If standing in the shower is tiring, or you struggle to reach your feet, there are a variety of specially designed shower chairs available from certain pharmacies and lifestyle companies, but as an interim measure, you can simply use a plastic garden chair. To stop it sliding on the tiles, place a plastic mat under all four legs and make sure the back is against the shower wall, and cannot topple over. Buy the mats used for babies in the bath, with the suction cups on the underside, or a piece of shower matting available from a plastics shop.
- Throw or give away all your scatter rugs that have curled-up edges or corners. They are an accident waiting to happen as they are so easy to trip over. Any scatter rugs that are used should have a non-slip surface painted on the back.
- If there are two or three steps into your front or back door, install a rail to make climbing easier. Make sure that the pathway to the door has no uneven edges, and is preferably made of non-slip material. Similarly, if you are not ready for the chair lift, install a rail alongside any flights of stairs.
- Make sure passageways are well lit and clutter free.
- Those lovely couches and arm chairs that you sink down into are going to become harder and harder to get out of. Thinking ahead, you can place firmer cushions under the present cushions, until such a time as you can afford to replace them with firm, upright furniture.
There are many risk factors with respect to falling, so don’t make it easy for this to happen to you. Tripping over a scatter rug, a telephone cord, or clutter can cause the first fracture and consequent hospitalisation. For many older people, this is the start of a down-hill gradient. Apart from the many medical causes of poor balance and instability, there are some compounding factors that you can so easily prevent:
- Wear appropriate footwear. We all love to wear slip-on, smooth-soled slippers at home, but they are an accident waiting to happen. When balance becomes an issue, lace up shoes with good heel grip become necessary for safety. I broke an ankle going outside after rain in slippers that were loose fitting and had no tread, so avoid at all costs.
- Use a stick or a walker if you are in any way unstable. When at home, position suitable furniture (solid, stable) that you can hold onto as you walk from room to room.
- Never leave items on the floor to trip over.
- Good lighting is important so that you can see items on the floor or uneven surfaces. Make sure the lighting is even with no shadows in all walking areas.
- Avoid chairs and tables on wheels which can easily slide away from beneath you.
- Most falls in the home happen in the kitchen and the bathroom. The combination of water and ceramic tiles can be lethal. The new wood look-alike vinyl tiles not only look good, but are waterproof and less slippery.
- When planning your kitchen cupboards, make sure that the heavy items are closest to waist height and all the items closer to the floor are light and easy to lift, like plastic containers.
When these interim measure are no longer sufficient to maintain independence, you are best advised to consult with an Occupational Therapist with regard to buying equipment that will facilitate your mobility. Many of these are available to purchase or hire. They are, however, expensive, so it is advisable to get assistance with choosing the most appropriate for your needs.
Last but not least, regular exercise will keep you flexible and fit, which will reduce your tendency to fall. So, join an aquacise or pilates class, take up line dancing, or explore exercising in a chair with Ageless Grace.
I would like to thank my friend and fellow Occupational Therapist Hilary Beeton for her assistance with this article.
Article by Hilary Henderson
You’ve Earned It
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