Navigating How to Safely Age in Place

 

Alicia Grunes, RN, BSN Lexington Human Services  Nurse

By Alicia Grunes, RN, BSN

Lexington Human Services Nurse

The number of Lexington senior residents choosing to “age in place” is continually increasing. It takes a great deal of work and planning to remain in your own home as you age. Those beautiful area rugs that were passed down from generation to generation are a major tripping hazard. The flight of stairs you used to run up and down without a second thought now take you twice the time to maneuver. Early recognition of the obstacles in your home that could potentially become a health or fall hazard is paramount to aging in place.

As the Human Services Nurse for the Town of Lexington, I get several calls from spouses or children of seniors, the majority of these calls happen after the loved one has fallen. They are in a panic looking for advice on how to make their loved ones’ home safe. While there a number of resources on how to improve the safety of a home, most of these take time. Time is the key word. When someone wants to age in place, there is not always enough time to make the necessary adjustments to the home. Sitting down with your family and creating an aging in place safety plan is something that should be done early, preferably before any falls happen or new conditions are diagnosed.

When should this planning start to take place? One recommendation is to have this discussion while you are sitting down with family talking about your living will, health care proxy and/or power of attorney. The earlier you think about all of these things, the better prepared you will be. Even if you do not take drastic steps such as installing a chair lift or renovating a bathroom, you will at least have a plan of what changes you may need to make to the home.

Preventing falls in the home is the top priority when aging in place, for good reason. According to the Center for Disease Control, falls are the leading cause of injury and death in older Americans. Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths. Suffering from a fall threatens your independence, and ultimately your ability to remain living in your own home. Ask your physician about a falls risk assessment. Not many people ask why they are falling, they assume it is because of old age, which is false. Find out if there are specific ways you can prevent falls from happening.

Besides tripping hazards, there other changes to the home environment that may need to be made that you wouldn’t think of on a daily basis. If you were to be wheelchair bound, are there clear pathways throughout the house? If your dishes are up high in a cabinet, would you safely be able to get them down to eat a meal? Do you wear a personal assistive device that you could push for help should you need it? How about the bathroom – do you have a shower you can walk right into, or do you need to step over a bathtub wall? Going room to room and thinking of worse case scenarios is what will help ensure you make the necessary changes to safely age in place.

If you or a loved one is planning on aging in place, take the time to prepare. Having other people look throughout the home with you to help identify hazards is important. You may not realize the neatly stacked pile of books on the side of the stairs can become a fall hazard. There are clinicians who can come to the home and provide you with a home fall risk assessment. Nurses, Physical Therapists, and Occupational Therapists are all trained in how to identify fall and health hazards throughout a home. Speak to your doctor about your concerns; most insurances will cover a home risk assessment by an skilled professional.

If you decide to age in place, you are joining 80% of seniors in the country who have chosen their home over a facility. There are numerous benefits to remaining in your own home as you age. Aging in place allows you to preserve your independence. Take the necessary steps to safeguard yourself and your home so you can remain there. For more information on how to safely age in place, contact your physician, local home healthcare agency, or Lexington Senior Services at 781-698-4840.

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