How to make your home senior citizen friendly?

This post will come as a big blow for anyone who has taken great pains in decorating their home. However, if you are caregivers to the elderly or going to turn into one soon, then it is essential for you to read this post. 

As children, we grow happily under the care of our parents. Their love keeps us safe and secure. Our relationship with our parents goes through so many phases, from a parent, they turn to friends and advisors and then they turn into children themselves.

Yes, there comes a time when we need to care for those who have cared for us all their lives. Our parents gain a new label: Senior Citizen and we get the label of Caregivers.

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Just as you prepare the home for a new baby, the same way you need to prepare the home for Senior Citizen care.

Unfortunately, in India, we don’t have the mindset of realising that Senior Citizens require special care and thus we expect them to blend into the family like sugar does in milk. However, we must realise that our parents have changed and they need special care. You will be surprised to learn that Geriatric Care is one of the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations – that’s how serious the issue really is.

Note of caution before you continue reading: PLEASE don’t make your elderly loved ones feel like they are a burden on you or your family. DON’T make them feel like the whole thing is a great sacrifice on part of you and your family. 

They are your parents or inlaws – used to being in control of their own lives and that of their kids. Sudden loss of control may lead to fragile egos and low self-esteem. So, whatever you are about to read needs to be done in a simple and matter-of-fact manner.

Did you know that the Fear of Falling (FF) is a serious problem in the elderly

If you randomly ask about 10 elders what is their biggest fear, about 8 of them would say, it is the fear of falling. Weak eyesight, creaking bones lead to lack of confidence and thus an unsteady gait, giving them the impression that they will fall. Most of them end up falling and this further adds fuel to their fear.

Why do elders fall
Some reasons for a non-medical fall

How do you ensure that your home minimises the risk of falls?

Remove extra furniture from your home

Get rid of all extra furniture especially the ones that are blocking passages and doorways. Senior citizens use a walking stick, walker or wheelchair and your home must allow them to make movement freely.

Clear the passages, check for any cracks/broken tiles or kids toys that are strewn across the hallway or passages. It is essential that laundry baskets/slippers/shoe cabinets are removed from these spaces so that your loved ones can move around easily.

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Declutter your home

Take a good look at your cupboards, kitchen and storage areas – throw away/give away or sell anything that has not been used for the past 12 months. The logic is that if you haven’t needed it for an entire cycle of a year then you will never need it. Make your shelves easily accessible. Ensure that the important items are easily reachable. Nothing is more frustrating for a senior citizen than a shelf that they cannot reach.

Invest in anti-slip rugs & discard your throw rugs

Many of you (like me) may be in love with throw rugs especially since they look so nice and also trap the stray dust. If you have senior citizens living with you, please ensure that your throw rugs are either taped firmly to the ground or simply discard them. Invest in anti-slip rugs instead – they will minimize the fear of falling.

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Invest in a paint job – get rid of solvent-borne paints

We get our homes done up with a lot of care and over the years, cracks in the paints, leakages and regular wear and tear could take place. Did you know that there are two kinds of paints: solvent-based and water-based? The use of solvent-borne paints can lead to emissions of hazardous pollutants. Ensure that you change the paint to water-based paints and thus minimize health risks.

Ensure there are no leakages in the home

Leakages can cause a risk of falling due to slippery floors. Wet walls and surfaces develop molds that can lead to severe health issues for everyone in the family. Molds can cause nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or, in some cases, skin irritation. Elderly are very sensitive to these and can fall ill often due to this.

Spring clean your home thoroughly

Being Indians, we mop and sweep our homes every single day. Despite that our homes are dirty due to the dust in the Indian air. Ensure that you invest in proper cleaning services to ensure that the smallest cracks and crevices are cleaned thoroughly. You will be surprised at what a professional cleaning service can accomplish vis-a-vis your regular bai or helpers.

Invest in pest control

Rodents, cockroaches, ants, wall insects, termites, bed bugs, dust mites etc. – each of them come with a set of diseases and discomfort. Senior citizens are prone to infections just like little babies and their immunity is diminishing as the years go by. Ensure that your home is free of pests and completely clean so that the risk of infection and discomfort is minimized.

Redo the bedroom for ease of movement

As already mentioned, remove extra furniture from this room. Remember that they will need to move around freely using their walker/stick or wheelchair – they will be extremely guilty and apologetic if anything breaks or gets damaged because of them.  Keep plastic chairs/light chairs that can be easily moved around. Keep pillows of different sizes to ensure you can prop them up to support your loved one to make them comfortable. They are like small children, so on some days a hard pillow is comfortable and on other days, they will demand a fluffy soft pillow. Keep different types of pillows handy. Ensure that the sheets and pillow covers are changed at least twice a week and washed thoroughly with a mild detergent & then disinfected properly.

Redo the kitchen for ease of use

Yes, we are all used to maintaining the kitchen the way we want. Have you considered that the knife you use, the fridge you maintain and the drawers you store stuff could cause discomfort? Ensure that the hinges on all the cupboards in the kitchen move smoothly. Keep the most important things at arm’s length. Change the orientation of the fridge in a way that everything that’s important to your loved one is within easy reach.

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Ensure that the bottles are transparent (plastic or glass is your choice). It should be very easy for them to spot the ingredients. Their weak eyesight sometimes mixes up ajwain and jeera or sugar and rice – give them loads of love and understanding when that happens. In order that the risk is minimized, you can label your bottles with large prints to help them easily identify.

Redo the bathroom and make it senior citizen-friendly

The highest incidents of falls and slippage take place in the bathroom.

Grab bars: Your first step should be installing grab bars so that your loved ones can regain their balance when they slip.

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Anti-slip mats: Secondly, invest in anti-slip mats that will ensure that they don’t slip. Keep one mat at the pot near the feet and another in the bath area.

Shower bench: Senior citizens may not be able to stand and take a bath. Invest in a shower bench that has firm legs that won’t slip on the bathroom floor. One may reason that a simple plastic chair can do the trick, but the reality is that plastic chairs don’t offer the requisite support on slippery floors nor do they have holes for the water to pass.

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Large concave mirrors: Weak eyesight will hamper the vision of the elderly in the bathroom. Please invest in large concave mirrors that are fog-free that way the senior citizens can see clearly while going about their chores in the bathroom.

Adequate lighting: Ensure there are enough lights and more in the bathroom. It will help the elders to see clearly and move around freely with confidence.

Toothpaste & Soap dispenser: A manual one-hand soap dispenser and toothpaste dispenser are good investments that will ensure that they can hold the stick/walker or grab bar while they go about their daily chores in the bathrooms.

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Pot: Check the height of the pot and ensure that it is easy for your loved one to sit and get up with the help of the grab bars that you would have installed at the sides. If the pot is too low then invest in an additional seat that will help them to manoeuvre and use the bathroom easily.

Ensure the crockery and cutlery are easy to use

If you are a lover of fancy, heavy cutlery, then now is the time to break-up! Steel or melamine crockery is best since it is light and easy to hold. Sometimes using the spoon can be a challenge for the elderly, ensure that the spoons are light and have a proper space for a firm grip.

Check if your bottles can be closed and opened easily. If not then please invest in anti-slip bottles that are easy to open. That way they can help themselves to a drink of water without help.

Beds, Mattresses, pillows, bedsheets  – how to ensure comfort?

Bed: Ensure their bed is not too high and not too low. The height of the bed should be perfect so that your loved ones can get up and sit down easily.

Bed prop: Invest in a bed prop that will enable your elderly loved one to sit up with support. It will be extremely useful in cases where the elderly have an unsteady gait and you need to prop them in the middle of the bed or at a position that is far from the headboard.

How to make your home senior citizen friendly
Bed prop will help your loved one to sit up with support even if they are in the middle section of the bed.

Mattress: Most senior citizens have frozen shoulders or backs and thus will need a medium firm support mattress that is specially designed for people with back issues. You can opt for a branded one or a non-branded one – doesn’t really matter. Just ensure that the fabric and material are breathable even when the AC is not on – thus foam mattresses are a strict no-no. Invest in pure cotton pillows that help them to sleep better. You may prefer memory foam in case your loved one suffers from spondylosis or neck problems – invest in breathable memory foam pillows that come covered with cotton fabric to ensure that even when AC is not on.

Bedsheets to cover the body – these must be comfortable and light at the same time. Invest in pure cotton ones for the summers and light flannel blankets for winters. You will be surprised how the elderly feel cold even in the summers and sometimes feel hot in the winters. Ensure that everything is kept handy at all times.

Bedsheets to cover the mattress – Cover your mattress with good quality, cotton mattress protector. If your elderly loved one is suffering from urine or bowel incontinence, please invest in thin plastic sheets that can be placed over the mattress protector. On top of this plastic sheet, please spread pure cotton bed sheets that will allow their skin to breathe and minimize bed sores. Under no circumstances should their skin touch the plastic – as it will not only lead to discomfort but also skin irritation.

Bedtables: Sometimes senior citizens would like to have their food in bed or maybe they are bedridden and unable to move out of the bed. They may also want to watch a movie on the i-pad or phone or simply read a book. A foldable bedtable is extremely useful in this case. Do consider investing in one.

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Cleanliness and hygiene:

Dusting/Mopping: Instruct your maid to clean and dust their room regularly. The mopping must be done with a disinfectant floor cleaner that doesn’t leave a lingering fragrance (the smell can be an irritant).

Sanitisation: Keep a sanitizer handly and invest in alcohol-free bath wipes specially designed for senior citizen care.

Cleaning urine/faeces: Keep disposable surgical gloves handy in case you need to clean their urine or faeces – be gentle when you clean them – please. Keep reassuring them and speaking gently so that they don’t feel worried. Remember, being exposed can make them feel very vulnerable. Use a simple surgical mask that is easily available at the chemist.

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Mattress protector: Avoid using diapers as they cause terrible rashes and bedsores – apart from stripping your loved ones of their self-esteem. Unless absolutely necessary, please avoid diapers. Use a mattress protector instead.

Lights, fans & AC

Lights: Weak eyesight and lack of confidence lead senior citizens to need more and more light around them. Don’t be surprised if they insist on leaving the lights on even during the day time. Ensure that you invest in tube lights/bulbs that give out a lot of light. White light is easier on the eyes than yellow light.

Fans: Ensure that the regulator of the fans works properly. Ensure that you keep the fan on medium or whichever setting is most comfortable. Be ready for surprises like not wanting the fan on an extremely hot day or wanting the AC on a very cold day. Handle these demands with extreme patience and diplomacy. Do what is best for them at that moment.

AC: Ideal AC temperature is 24-26 degrees. Keep the AC remote in easy reach and teach them how to use it.

Panel: You may consider placing a panel of switches near their beds so that they can operate on their own. Ensure you give them space for charging their mobile phones and gadgets too.

CCTV Cameras & monitors

CCTV: Consider placing CCTV cameras at important locations around the house. That way you can monitor their movement even when they are not around. Be sure to discuss this with them else they may feel like you are spying on them.

Monitors: If they are comfortable then use a baby monitor to keep in touch with them when they are sleeping in the other room. Explain to them that there could be certain times when they are unable to dial the mobile phone and urgent help may be required. This one is very tricky so if they are uncomfortable then let it be. You keep several 1 hourly alarms and go and check on them regularly through the night.

REMEMBER: While the physical infrastructure will support their easy manoeuvrability, it is your love, care and support for your loved ones that will ensure that they regain their confidence and adjust to the changes in their lives. It is critical that you give them unconditional love and positive encouragement all the time. 

In my next post, you will read about 9 things that no one tells you about senior citizen care. Do take a look, it will give you an insight into coping strategies for caregivers.

Do let me know what you thought of this post. I welcome your thoughts, suggestions and feedback on the topic.

Penned by:

Mayura Amarkant

Disclaimer: Images are used for representation purposes only. This is not a sponsored post or an endorsement of any kind. The author has written this post through personal experience with her own family members. Feel free to reproduce this post whenever and wherever you want with due credit to Mayura Amarkant. 

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