I was recently commissioned by Premier Care to give my thoughts on home adaptations.
Those of us with elderly parents on the one hand and children at home on the other are often referred to as the ‘sandwich generation’ and it is easy to see why. We have so many people relying on us, don’t we?
It is often difficult to address the challenges your parents may be facing without causing hurt feelings. Nobody wants to acknowledge the fact that they are no longer coping but the thought of a care home is beyond the pale for many – and it is certainly I hope I don’t even have to contemplate for many years to come.
Mum fell and broke her hip last year which means she is decidedly less mobile these days. Although her hip has healed and she did not need a hip replacement, she still requires some assistance around the house.
So we have started a gradual program of home renovations to make her life a little easier – and safer for my dad too as mum celebrated her 80th last January and dad has his in September.
The trick is, I think, to introduce changes slowly whilst allowing your relative to get used to each one. This obviously depends on their level of health and how much help they have around the home.
Here’s what we have done so far.
Safety rails along the side of the drive
My parents have a sloped paved driveway which is dangerous in icy weather and steps down to the front door.
We have put metal railings down the length of the drive and the steps.
These were relatively quick and easy to install.
A ramp up to the front door
Steps at any level can be tricky for someone with limited mobility so a basic wooden ramp has been installed.
An additional bannister for the stairs
If you are unsteady on your feet, having a sturdy wooden bannister on both sides of the stairs can be reassuring. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough room to install a stairlift and mum wouldn’t want one in any case. It is important that she keeps moving as much as possible.
A lower bed
Climbing in and out of a high bed can be an ordeal and there is also the risk of falling out of bed and sustaining another fracture – the last thing we would want for mum.
When making adaptations to the house, it is just as important to consider the wishes of the carer – in this case, my dad. It is a delicate balance because you don’t want to imply that things might be too much for the carer whilst acknowledging that they too may have their own health issues.
A walk-in bath
One of the biggest challenges, we found, was bathing and keeping clean in general. After a hip operation or a hip replacement, the NHS advises that you avoid having a bath and shower for the first two weeks following your operation in order to keep the wound and dressing dry.
Thereafter, bathing can be a challenge because you will likely need assistance getting in and out of the water. We currently have an extra grab rail installed but this isn’t ideal.
One of the things next on our list is the installation of a walk-in bath. These offer low-level entry (no high stepping required) and easy access for the carer, as well as grab rails, slip-resistant surfaces and thermostatic bath fillers.
The risk of getting into scalding hot water is very real, particularly where your relative suffers from occasional confusion.
Today’s walk-in baths are certainly not spartan affairs, boasting sleek design and some pretty nifty spa features and some styles combine both a bath and a shower in one unit.
Some have reclining seats and some have power-lifted seats for those with more limited mobility.
I particularly like the idea of the combined bath and shower as so many of us prefer to wash our hair in the shower, or at least use a shower attachment to rinse off the shampoo.
Of course, it is not just indoors that changes are needed. Although there is a wide range of options for outdoor mobility, walking sticks are not always accepted and wheelchairs even less so.
Again, it is balancing the needs of your relative with that of the rest of the family. On bright sunny days, it would be great to take the whole family out but if your relative can’t walk very far, this often does not happen.
The same thing applies to changes around the house. Open communication and a gentle approach are needed, no matter how frustrating it can be to see how much of a difference for the better some simple adaptations can make.