Look at just about any advertisement anywhere, in print, on-line, on TV and it is trying to sell you something to make you look younger, reverse the look of aging, preserve what youth you may still radiate. Not much for anyone who wants to healthfully embrace aging. And not too much concern or conversation about it either. I remember my own Grandmother’s 80 birthday party. I was about 30. She whispered to me that “you will feel old for a lot longer than you ever felt young, so learn not to fight with it.” She aged beautifully. I myself have merely aged. And she was right about feeling old a lot longer than feeling young, especially if you have been injured or you simply live as long as she did. She was almost 93 when she died. On my 50th birthday, my grown kids and I did a Class 5, white-water river rafting trip on the Cache la Poudre. For my 60th, we are going to celebrate with a more mellow, water-based family weekend. There are two babies in our family that need to ripen more before we ever subject them to that extreme level of adventure. The key word here is ripen. I am just ripening too. I don’t want to fight aging. I want to gradually mellow into what nature intended all along, an older me. The wrinkles show more when I laugh than when I keep a straight face but I would much rather laugh than not. The body parts I accidentally wounded and injured over the past 60 years sometimes remind me very loudly of how many miles they have taken me. We have a truce about how to keep adding more miles. My knee doctor told me it was my choice, I could play really hard for a little while longer or I could walk really well for a whole lot longer. I like walking just fine. I plan to mellow to a ripe old age. I am going for a walk…
With the aging of “Boomers” (those born between 1946 and 1964/ A.K.A. the Silver Tsunami) the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease is expected to almost triple. (13.8 million by 2050) The fifth-leading killer of aging Americans; it destroys brain cells; affecting memory, language, reasoning and behavior. (approximately 5 million Americans every year.) Those are the numbers that are reported. Some familiies hide their ‘problems’ and this area is no different. Excuses are endless. (“senior moment”) Facing this complicated reality is often ignored. My step-dad, Tom started presenting signs of dementia after a stroke. Mom became the brains of their partnership. Against my adamant advice, they embarked on a Baltic cruise in May of 2013. Mom was his ‘keeper’, but she became deathly ill at sea and required immediate hospitalization. The cruise ship was diverted to Stockholm. They were officially disembarked and transported by ambulance to St. Joran’s Hospital. The compassionate doctors were so concerned about Tom literally getting lost without mom, they admitted him to the hospital for ‘safe-keeping’ where he stayed in a bed next to hers. (His own Americian doctor didn’t want to tell him he had Alzheimer’s.) At 7 a.m. on May 27th, I received a phone call from Emma, the Port Agent for the Cruise Lines asking me to come to Sweden and take custody of Tom. After a 4 day stay to stabilze mom, they flew home with a Medical Escort. (Thank goodness for trip insurance!) Mom died March 10, 2014, about 10 months after the cruise. Tom now lives in a ‘Retirement Center.’ I went to visit him yesterday; I go at least once a week. He told me that he had signed some papers that morning. I called my step-sister to ask her what he was talking about. She explained that she had sold mom and Tom’s house. The closing was yesterday. Try to talk to Tom; after a few minutes, you will realize he has some form of dementia. How can anyone with dementia or Alzheimer’s sign a binding legal document? Let’s hope more effective prevention and treatment methods are discovered for Alzheimers! At least 30 state legislatures have adopted plans or task forces to address the disease. “We’re being proactive here in Connecticut,” says Representative Joseph Serra, co-chair of the state’s newly established Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. “I believe we need to get a handle on it before it’s an even bigger problem.” The problems surrounding aging are very complicated with cascading effects. It can unravel families. Start the dialouge with your grown children. Be proactive about your own destiny.
Simple principles can be utilized to modify an existing home and create a more effective space for aging in place. Though these concepts will reduce risk factors for any occupant, they’re particularly relevant for an elder resident’s safety. Enabling dignified self-sufficiency and functional independence are the desired outcomes.
Lighting- Vision gets worse over time. If I could reverse one thing about my own aging process, this would be it. (I am not a candidate for corrective surgery.) Providing proper lighting is not difficult. The lack of it, makes activities of daily living more difficult. The entire space should be well lit. I have several Ott-Lites that I rely upon, one by my couch, another on my bedside table and one in my office. Illuminated rocker switches are better/easier to see and use than traditional toggle light switches. If you can increase natural lighting, this has multiple health benefits; pets and plants require sunlight. Balance the quest for more light against the problem of unwanted glare.
Doors- Replace doorknobs with lever-style hardware. Turning knobs can become painful and frustrating with stiff joints and loss of grip that often develops over time. Make sure the locking mechanism functions smoothly; update/upgrade if necessary. Trying to force open a difficult lock will annoy almost anyone but can become a real nightmare for a locked-out elder. Duplicate keys should be given to trusted neighbors; just in case. Consider a lighted key-chain for the front door key. (AARP sent one when I enrolled) Also investigate Security Door-Viewers; confidence is empowering. Check out Lowe’s $20 Giant-Screen version. In fact, Lowe’s has an entire department dedicated to the Accessible Home.
Floors – All floors must be slip-resistant. Get rid of area rugs. Install nonskid tape under rugs that you cannot part with. Optimum Technologies Lok Lift Rug Gripper for Runners, 4-Inch by 25-Feet runs around $10. Eliminate slip/trip points like thresholds wherever possible, or reduce their height. For those who use walkers or canes, low-pile carpeting is safest so the device doesn’t catch and cause a fall.
Stairs- For those living on more than one level, stairs can be especially dangerous. Install skid-resistant carpet treads. Sturdy handrails on both sides of the staircase, if possible are mandatory. Clearly defined steps that indicate where the edge of the tread is, will help prevent falls. 3M has a complete product line.
Entryways – Juggling keys, packages, and mail can unbalance someone entering or exiting. Have a chair, table, bench, or other flat surface for setting things down. Hang an accessible key-hook rack. In addition, provide bright lighting at entryways. Home Depot and Lowe’s both have a wide array of motion detector outdoor lighting. Solar pathway lights should be installed and can also be used in an emergency to provide lighting for nighttime power failures. Homebrite Solar 3 Way LED Path Lights, set of 4, $50 is a wise buy.
Bathroom – The best return-on-investment!
A no-threshold shower (walk-in/step-in) with canted floor (very gradual slope to drain) and well placed grab bars are essential to make bathing safer. These must be strategically installed so they are structurally sound and can handle weight. Put grab bars in the shower, by the toilet and sink and other areas in the room where you may need to steady someone or help support a wet, slippery, full-sized human. A single-handled faucet control reduces the chance of scalding at the sink, and a pressure-balanced control does the same in the shower. A hand-held shower head (Home Depot’s $50.00 Waterpic with 5′ hose) was extremely helpful to me when I was recovering from knee surgery. An accident and subsequent operation gave me first-hand experience with mobility challenges. Last, but not least, the $50 Lowe’s hand-held toilet bidet sprayer helps promote personal hygiene and preserve dignity.
Sidewalks- Streets made safer with adequate sidewalks are better for everyone; people walking to work, a parent pushing a stroller, a child riding a bicycle to school. The shared space created by a neighborhood sidewalk encourages community. City officials need time to honor this concept. Begin the process now.