Help Your Elderly Parent Age in Place


By Gail McGonigle

Safety and independence in daily activities are factors we often worry most about when we see our parents decline, yet refuse to move out of the comfort and security of their own home. Too often, at this point families step in and insist on moving their loved one to a care facility or other home away from their own home. After all, she (or he) isn't safe at home alone, right? Not necessarily. Instead of fighting with your parent to move them out of their home, consider changing the "alone" part of this dilemma. There are simple modifications and adaptive devices (gadgets) you can provide in the home that will make it easier for your parent to perform those everyday self-care tasks safely and without help. And if their safety cannot be managed by modifications, help can be provided in their home so they are not "alone" during critical times.

It helps to understand the problems that interfere with their safety and independence before making these changes. Physical problems typically associated with aging include:

1. Diminished sensation in the hands and fingers

2. Muscle weakness

3. Poor balance (at risk for falls)

4. Poor coordination or shakiness, and

5. Limitations in joint motions, often caused by stiffness and pain

6. Vision impairments

Any one of these problems will make it difficult for one to take care of themselves. At a minimum, one must be able to do the following self-care tasks independently:

1. Toileting

2. Grooming (brushing teeth, combing hair, washing face and hands)

3. Dressing

4. Eating (feeding themselves and swallowing)

5. Bathing

6. Being mobile (able to move about the house, with or without a walker or wheelchair)

Do a Home Safety and Fall Prevention assessment in the home. There are thorough checklists that can be downloaded online. Check reliable sources such as the website for the American Association of Retired Persons. Do not rely on a friend or an individual's blog; their checklist may be specific only to their situation. Trained health care professionals can also do the task. Contact an agency that provides eldercare services or engage the services of an occupational therapist or a physical therapist. One well-researched checklist can be found in my book. Be sure to keep in mind your parent's limitations. If vision is impaired, for example, you will need to keep that in mind when doing the assessment and making the changes.

There are tons of gadgets available to make it safer and easier to do the self-care tasks mentioned above. Check out, an excellent search tool for equipment keyed to problems and tasks. You type in the problems your parent is having, i.e., "tremors", "blurred vision", and the task you want them to do, such as, "feed themselves". They give a list and show pictures of devices that will help; they do not sell products. One of the many catalogs of useful adaptive devices is, I recommend you hire an occupational therapist to help you determine the problems and select the most appropriate devices.

Several very important safety products for the bathroom, where falls often happen, are considered "durable medical equipment" (DME). As such, they are covered by Medicare and many other insurances. One is a raised toilet seat for a standard toilet if a "comfort-height" or "tall" toilet has not been installed. A grab bar next to the toilet or an arm rest that easily attaches to the toilet makes it easier to sit and stand and will help prevent falls. A shower seat for a stall shower or tub bench that spans over the bathtub allows one to sit while bathing and makes it easier to get in and out of the shower or tub. When sitting, provide a hand-held shower hose so that water can be directed where needed, not in the face.

If being alone is out of the question, help is needed with the above self-care tasks despite the helpful gadgets, or memory or other mentation problems mean safety is in question, then being the caregiver, sharing that duty with other family members, or hiring caregivers with experience in eldercare for those times care is needed, will still allow your parent to remain at home. Yes, indeed, you can help your elderly parent age in place. Their happiness at being at home and your cost (much lower than a care facility) will make you glad you did.

Gail Alcorn McGonigle, author, Dad's Home Alone, Caring For Your Elderly Parent.

As an occupational therapist, I worked with elderly and disabled men and women in hospitals, nursing homes, and private homes. I then cared for my own father as he declined, making modifications and providing care that allowed him to age in comfort in his own home.

Though I was well versed in the how-tos of providing care, that personal experience brought home to me the emotional challenges, as well. After his death at 92, I wrote a book, DAD'S HOME ALONE, Caring For Your Elderly Parent. It provides details and encouragement for others facing the many choices and issues involved in caring for an elderly loved one. The often humorous stories help to exemplify the challenges we all face when caring for our loved ones.

It is available at

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