Coping with the emotional and logistical challenges of caregiving at home for an aging parent can become a lot easier with the right amount of planning.
This two-part blog post series offers some helpful guidelines for making the transition as smooth and stress-free as possible. First up: A look at how to create a physical space in your home where Mom or Dad will feel safe and comfortable.
Decide on the best space solution
Will you remodel or repurpose an existing room to accommodate your new housemate, or will you build an addition? The right answer will depend on the size and configuration of your home, your budget, your parent’s degree of independence—both how much they desire and how much they can handle—and any special medical needs they may have.
Have a family discussion to figure out the most feasible solution. It might be an extra bedroom, a shared bedroom or a converted family room, garage or basement. If new construction is in order, you’ll need to decide whether an attached or detached suite will work best.
Take a home inventory
If the parent will be sharing your home’s existing space, do a thorough assessment of its current levels of comfort, safety and accessibility.
For example, check whether any entry doors, steps or hallways present barriers. Are there safety risks caused by poor lighting, slippery floors or furniture placement?
If you need a hospital bed, where will it fit, and where will you put other personal and healthcare equipment your parent might require?
Is there adequate space for mom or dad and everyone else in the household to have enough privacy?
Install features to make the space more livable
Fairly simple home modifications include things like ramps, additional lighting, grab bars and door handles that are easier to grip. Other changes, such as widening doorways to accommodate a wheelchair user, involve more complex construction projects. As noted in a Caring.com article by Mard Naman, wheelchairs need clearance of at least 32 inches wide, preferably 36 inches.
If your parent can’t be on the first floor, you might consider installing a stair lift.
The Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, has links to a couple of very comprehensive home safety checklists.
Catch any fall hazards
A National Council on Aging blog post highlights several steps you can take to both prevent falls and respond to them more quickly when they happen.
Adequate lighting is essential. Pay special attention to the top and bottom of stairways, and the paths mom or dad will take for those middle-of-the-night bathroom trips. Also recommended: sturdy handrails on both sides of stairs and a shower chair with hand-held shower head, so the senior won’t have to stand on a slippery surface. Using non-slip pads or tape to secure area rugs is another good idea.
To make sure you can reach mom or dad right away in case of a fall, consider getting a medical alert device to which you can add a fall detection feature. A mobile waterproof medical alert device can go anywhere with your parent – even the shower.
Planning a great physical space for mom or dad to move into is a good start, but it’s just part of the challenge. For advice on handling the emotional transition, click here.