En español | Nine out of 10 people say they would want to stay at home if they had a serious health problem. And many do: About 85 percent of family caregivers are caring for someone who lives in their own home or who is sharing a home with them. Some homes are well-suited for aging and providing care, but many require modifications.
I learned quickly when my parents needed 24-hour care and moved in with me. We didn't have the budget to build an addition or completely remodel bathrooms, but with some research and advice from a certified aging-in-place specialist, I found ways to make the home safe and navigable. And I continue to adapt as needs change.
You can start with a home assessment by an occupational therapist, physical therapist, geriatric care manager (aging life care specialist), certified aging-in-place specialist or qualified professional via the area agency on aging or Department of Veterans Affairs. (I recently completed training and certification as an aging-in-place specialist myself.)
Some tips to get you started:
1. Make basic home modifications. I like to think about "universal design" — how the home can be stylish, comfortable and safe for anyone who lives there or visits. Make any modifications easily adaptable as needs and abilities change over time. Consider things like:
- Zero-threshold entry to the house (helpful for wheelchairs and walkers, as well as carrying groceries and suitcases inside).
- Wide doorways and halls. I installed offset door hinges, allowing more room for passage.
- Controls and switches that are reachable from a wheelchair.
- Variable countertop heights (so people can stand up without straining their backs to bend over, or sit at them in a wheelchair).
- Easy-to-use handles and doorknobs; lever handles are best.
- A raised toilet and grab bars in the bathroom.
2. Keep safety a top priority. Every year, 1 in 3 adults over the age of 65 fall, so fall prevention is paramount. It may be as simple as brighter lighting around stairs, removing throw rugs or moving laundry facilities to the first floor. Recently, I took off the wheels on my dad's chair so it won't move when he stands up. And because we have a sunken living room, I was concerned he might not see that step down, so I lined up furniture along the edges.
Monitors and alerts can be a big help when someone has dementia and wandering is a concern. You can place a motion sensor in areas that will sound an alarm or a floor mat with an alarm that goes off when stepped on.
3. Look into home-based services. Investigate what assistance might be available via your area agency on aging, Veterans Affairs or other community-based organizations. Physical, occupational, speech and music therapy can be provided at home. Other useful services for home-based care include mobile doctors and lab tests, home health aides to help with things like bathing, and meal delivery.
4. Do your homework when hiring paid caregivers. It's wonderful to have help, and there are many caring and dedicated people willing to provide it. But, of course, there are others who are not so reliable: My mom had several falls due to untrained paid caregivers, and one even stole her jewelry. When hiring paid caregivers, be sure to do background checks and get references, and carefully monitor their work. Stop by — preferably at unexpected times — to check in on any professionals or volunteers going to the home.
You'll find more great tips in AARP's care guide, "Help Caring for a Loved One at Home." My book, AARP's Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving , includes a chapter on the subject.