My parents are adamant they want to remain living within their own home that they’ve owned for over thirty-five years. It was the perfect home for a growing family of four. A split level that has one set of stairs going to the main level and another set of stairs going to the basement. There is another set of stairs that lead to a living room. Back then with thirty-five less years under all our belts, the stairs were nothing more than a minor annoyance when carrying groceries inside.
Today, my 77 year-old mother faces the six stairs going up and seven stairs going down like she is facing a climb up the back of a mountain.
My mother’s age isn’t significant factor. People in their nineties and even hundreds use stairs everyday without a second thought. My mother’s age along with a degenerative hip deterioration is the game changer for her.
Fifteen years ago ended her days of power walking along the streets when her hip joints started to crumble making every step put a grimace on her face. Surgery? The doctors told her it would likely fix her problem. Likely. The trouble is my mother has never had a day of surgery in her life and even with a crumbling hip and decreased mobility and pain growing more intense every-day, can’t convince herself.
Maybe it was also seeing her father die three days after his hip replacement surgery at age 81.
For my mom’s desire to remain in her house of stairs has become a daily challenge. To watch television the walk down the stairs on bad days made it impossible, so the television was brought up to her main floor. Walking down the two flights of stairs to the laundry room changed to doing laundry twice a month from every week. And her bedroom was moved from the lower level to the main floor as well. Getting into her raised bed is another issue within itself.
In our first article we discussed care-giver burnout. This is the emotional and physical impact adult children experience care providing for their aged parents and who often reside in their own homes.
If you’ve become one of these adult children with stubborn, determined parents to remain within their own home that now pose significant safety and mobility risks, this article is to help steer you in the right direction.
So mom and dad buck every request and concern that they down size the 2,000 square foot two story home for a condominium or apartment.
For starters think back when you had your first child. You scrutinized everything within your own home that you could conceive could hurt your child. Well, now you have to do that same scrutiny for mom and dad.
Without even us getting into disease, let’s talk about general age decline with vision, touch, smell, hearing and bone density. Toss in balance and gait and memory. All of these functions that have served us well and kept us safe for seven decades suddenly become our downfall and in some cases our demise.
As our eyes age they take longer to adjust from dark to light, a decline in depth perception to judge distances. Colors and contrasts become more difficult. Translation. Dad who usually wakes up in the middle of the night for a drink of water is at risk in the dark to trip on carpet, misjudge a stair or thinking he is taking the blue pill for heartburn is taking another dose of his Dilantin pill for seizures.
A decrease in touch makes it difficult to determine the bath water they are pouring is scalding. A diminished sense of smell reduces the ability to smell smoke from a fire or pot of food over boiling or food that has spoiled. Reduction in hearing prevents hearing a smoke detector, door-bell or telephone.
Balance becomes reduced and impaired from many means as we age. One of the greatest risks of injury or death is falls. 85% of senior injury-related hospitalizations are from falls. Worse, one third of admissions to long-term care facilities after release from hospital are begun because of a fall. An impairment in balance makes it difficult to maintain or recovery from a momentary loss of balance, a minor trip or slip becomes a deadly fall. Not convinced yet how dangerous loss of balance is consider falls are responsibly for 95% of all hip fractures and leading cause of death 20% of times. How troubling is it to know that your mom or your dad or both have a 20%-30% chance of a fall EACH YEAR.
Memory impairment issues has multiple consequences in remembering appointments such as with your doctor, to take prescribed medication or a daily insulin injection, how long to properly cook a meal.
Products and services have increased dramatically in the last 10 years to address many of the issues we’ve mentioned in this article. If mom and dad insist at remaining at home under their own care, you’re role as their care providing children are to sift through the services and products and implement them to keep mom and dad safe. You’ll never ensure 100% safety, but if understanding the aging process helps you realize a simple night light in the hallway will keep dad from turning to his right into the kitchen for his glass of water rather then left and down the stair case, you’ll have served your parents well.
Remember, what we take for granted becomes insidiously dangerous for our folks without the right mechanisms in place. Medication mismanagement poisons hundreds of thousands each year by over-using or under-using prescription medication. Considering that every senior is prescribed a pharmacy of medications to self-manage – this one on an empty stomach, this one with food, this one 4 times a day, this one twice a day but not with grapefruit juice. The average senior has over nine prescription medications prescribed to them at any one time to take on a daily basis. Many of these medications produce nasty side effects and contradictions between one another. Ensuring all of these medications is taken on time every time as prescribed is difficult even for the most alert and organized individual. Toss in the deterioration of aging, unsafe practices and cognitive impairments and you can quickly see how non-compliance becomes counter productive or even lethal. Medication mismanagement leads to psychosis, hallucinations, drowsiness, stupor, dizziness, respiratory failure. Do you see the connections on these effects to the dangers we spoke about earlier – balance, falls, memory, poor choices and reduced awareness. You and I might know instantly when we dip our toe into water that is much to hot for a bath – mom won’t have that feeling that is numbed because she mistakenly took three tablets of zoplicone instead of the prescribed one.
We’ll be discussing in upcoming posts on what to look for to keep parents safer within their own homes, strategies to mitigate risks of overdoses, falls and burns. We’ll peel back the world of home care supplies such as grab bars that can mean the difference of maintaining safe independence versus a hip replacement surgery from a fall.
Becoming an adult care provider for our aging parents is a crash course in educating ourselves about the deterioration of our human bodies and it’s inability to navigate safely the same square footage it had done for thirty years with ease. We jump into a swimming pool of health care aids and products we never gave a second thought would matter in our own lives.
It’s not easy and that’s where we come into your lives to assist with the navigation. This is part of the role of a care provider and that is finding resources and using what is at your disposal to become more effective without facing burnout.
Take comfort. You are not in this alone.
John is also one of the partners of CaregivingCompass.com.