Elder Proofing the Home

By Dr. Marion, www.drmarion.org

Elderly lady walking down stairs

Not long ago, I was contacted by a young woman (okay, she was 47, but that’s young to me!) who was terrified that her 93-year-old aunt was going to set her own house on fire. This aunt had lived alone for 15 years since her husband passed away, and she was still mentally sharp. Her niece asked me to come in and investigate how her home could be made safer.

I knew two things: that the niece meant well, and that you can’t just barge into someone’s home domain and start making changes. Even if these changes have to be made, it’s imperative to get the other person’s permission. After speaking with the aunt, I realized that she had no idea why any changes needed to be made. She was especially stubborn when it came to her prized collection of lamps, each of which had a unique story that was very important to her. So, I brought her one of her lamps and showed her the frayed wires, the dirty connections, and explained the real-world safety hazards. Once she realized that we only wanted to make her safer, she agreed to let me do my thing.

We brought in an electrician so he could repair and upgrade the overall situation. In less than four days, he increased the conductivity of her electrical supply, added a few outlets, and fixed all of her lamps. Since the aunt wanted to live at home as long as possible, the electrician also installed a stronger power supply that could support an electric chair for her stairway in case she ever needed one.

There are other ways you can make your elder’s home safer. One of the first things I do after meeting a new client is visit the home and eliminate all potential hazards so the environment is safer. I call it elder proofing. No matter how clean or organized they may be, there are almost always safety or hygiene issues that need to be addressed. Many elderly are victims of accidents in their own homes, and most of these accidents can be avoided with a few common sense steps. Some basic steps include removing throw rugs, affixing non-slip surfaces to the shower floor, removing clutter, and making sure all smoke/carbon monoxide detectors work.

Back to the niece and her aunt: Once we communicated what the goal was – to make her home a safer environment – the conflict and strain between them melted away. The aunt was no longer afraid that her niece was going to remove prized possessions and replace them with modern things she might dislike. After the work was completed, the aunt whispered in my ear, “I lived in dread that I was going to set the house on fire, but I was afraid to tell my niece since she might put me in a nursing home.” The aunt lived happily in her safer home environment until she passed away six years later. And all the while, her niece felt good since she kept her promise to her uncle that would never place her aunt in a nursing home.

About the author: A recognized visionary and thought leader in the elder field, Dr. Marion (Marion Somers, Ph.D.) has more than 40 years of experience as a geriatric care manager, caregiver, author, speaker, and teacher of all things elder and eldercare.

After decades of working directly with seniors and their caregivers, Dr. Marion launched a public effort to provide practical tools, solutions, and advice to those struggling to care for our aging population. She has helped millions of Americans through her book, “Elder Care Made Easier: Doctor Marion’s 10 Steps to Help You Care for an Aging Loved One,” and her web site, www.drmarion.org, as well as cross-country speaking tours, syndicated column, national media appearances, and more.
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