Caregiving is hard, but don’t let your home make it harder.
Bathrooms, dim lighting and even furniture pose risks when taking care of a loved one. But new tools and techniques can improve the safety of a home, making caregiving a bit easier. And it doesn’t need to be complicated in order to be helpful.
“Household items and a home environment, once innocuous, need to be reconsidered through a new lens,” says Monica Moreno, senior director of care and support at the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association, which offers a home safety checklist to help caregivers keep those living with dementia safe and independent as long as possible. AARP’s free Homefit Guide features smart ways to make a home comfortable and a great fit for people of all ages.
Here are nine tools designed to help caregivers ease the burden of daily challenges.
1. Sit-to-stand toilet
Research shows that a quarter of falls take place in the bathroom, so assistive toilet seats with adjustable handlebars and seat heights — for safe and stable toilet transfers — are helpful when dealing with weakness and instability issues.
“It’s common for individuals to easily sit down to go to the bathroom, but then they can’t get off the toilet,” says registered nurse Eboni I. Green, cofounder and CEO of Caregiver Support Services, based in Omaha, Nebraska. “Or if they have the ability to get off, they might grab on to an unsecure towel rack and can easily fall.”
2. Adjustable beds
“These may be costly, but they’re a real investment in helping to adjust comfort levels with the push of a button,” says Green. These beds can help create an upright position for eating and are a good tool for preventing bedsores. They also allow for quicker repositioning, and safer and faster transfers in and out of bed. “These beds are revolutionary,” Green says.
3. Walk-in shower with handrails
Making it easy to shower will make it easier for caregivers to get someone with dementia or other challenges to bathe.
Walk-in showers don’t require high, risky steps and offer more room for a seat or bench and grab bars. Be sure to add anti-slip flooring, and faucets that regulate water flow and temperature to prevent scalding.
Costs vary dramatically depending on size and materials. Those being cared for can contribute to the modification process by choosing the tiling, door style and other features.
4. Motion-sensor lights
As aging adults cope with reduced eyesight and slower reactions, caregivers can help their loved ones find their way around — and reduce tripping hazards — by installing wireless motion-sensor lights that illuminate dim areas such as stairs and long hallways.
These lights come battery-operated, have built-in magnets and double-sided adhesives, and shut off after a short amount of inactive time, usually from 15 to 30 seconds.
5. In-home cameras
From fixed models to those that can swivel, tilt and zoom, indoor surveillance cameras help monitor areas that pose greater hazards for accidents, slips and falls. Cameras can also prevent a loved one from leaving a home or wandering off without a caregiver’s knowledge. Keep in mind that consent before installation may be required for this type of surveillance.
Focus on Wellness for Caregivers
Caregivers need care too.
“A lot of us caregivers hear the mantra ‘take care of yourself’ but we may not know where to start,” says Eboni I. Green, cofounder and CEO of Caregiver Support Services, which offers an “Ask Emma” caregiver wellness tool.
Named after Green’s mother-in-law and created in part from Green’s dissertation on caregiver wellness, Ask Emma guides caregivers through statements designed to offer a status of sorts for psychological wellness, financial wellness, social well-being and spiritual well-being, among other categories.
The “strength-based” tool then points out where the caregiver is doing well before linking to resources to help with an area that could use improvement.
6. GPS trackers
No matter the distance, GPS trackers encourage loved ones to live an independent life while letting caregivers know exactly where they are. This technology allows for real-time tracking, the setup of safe zones and custom alerts to let caregivers know someone has wandered off. Other features often included are two-way communication and the ability to give others, like additional family members, access to the same information.
GPS devices can be worn as a necklace, watch or bracelet — there are even trackers that come in the form of a shoe insert. Keep in mind that GPS devices may have monthly fees associated with them.
7. Monitoring apps
There are a whole host of digital apps that can be used as monitors, reminders and providers of useful information. The Hero app, when used with a medication dispensing system, tracks refills, adherence and up-to-date information about each prescription. PainScale tracks pain, treatments, medication, activity, mood and sleep. Caring Village stores important documents, personalized to-do lists, daily or weekly schedules of care, and a wellness journal to keep others updated, among other features.
8. Customizable digital clocks
Look for clocks with big, easy-to-read displays or voice capabilities. Some clocks display the time, date and day of the week and allow caregivers to set reminders such as “It is now Saturday afternoon.” Caregivers can program alarms, events, birthdays and holidays. These clocks can mount to the wall or sit on a tabletop.
Models with personalized voice reminders — for medication, appointments and tasks — let the person being cared for hear the comforting voice of the caregiver.
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9. Erasable whiteboards and calendars
Place these in commonly frequented areas of the house such as the kitchen and family room, suggests Moreno.
“Larger whiteboards and calendars tend to be easier to use and more legible for people with dementia,” she says.
Robin L. Flanigan is a contributing writer who writes about mental health, education and human-interest stories and her work has appeared in People, USA Today and Education Week. She is the author of the children’s book M Is for Mindful.