The comfort, safety and familiarity of home is something we all value. However, as we experience changes to our physical or cognitive functioning, remaining in our home can become challenging. Aging in Place is a concept that describes managing age-related changes, while remaining safe and independent in your home. If you have concerns about your own, or your loved one’s ability to physically and mentally manage independent living, occupational therapy can assist you to navigate Aging in Place through the following strategies:
Harm Reduction for Falls Risk
Harm reduction is the concept of acknowledging the risks we take in our everyday lives, while also considering ways to limit these risks. For example, we take the risk of sustaining injury every time we drive a car. However, we use the harm reduction approach of wearing seatbelts and following traffic signals to mitigate this risk.
Often, as people age, we begin to discourage them from accepting risk into their lives. For instance, we all assume a degree of risk while maneuvering stairs or going for a walk around our community. Yet, as people experience age-related changes, they are often denied of these risks. The assumed risks of independent living often outweigh a person’s desire to remain independent. Despite feeling the need to rescue our aging loved ones, or prevent any challenges they may face, it’s critical to consider their desire to remain in their home and support them in mitigating, rather than eliminating the risks.
One of the most common risks associated with Aging in Place is the risk of a fall. Falling could result in a fracture, head injury and/or pain, but when living independently, a fall may also lead to extended periods of isolation. Luckily, there are many harm reduction strategies your occupational therapist (OT) can provide to mitigate the risk of falls in the home. Your OT can introduce you to an emergency alert system, including medical alert pendants and smart home devices which allow you to call for help immediately if you have experienced a fall. Further, your OT can provide education around how to fall “safely” and limit the risk of injury. In addition, your OT can help you to develop strategies to reduce isolation times after experiencing a fall, including having a neighbour check-in daily, or ensuring there is an accessible phone in each room.
The bathroom is a common place for slips and falls to occur in the home. Your OT can provide suggestions for adaptive equipment to promote your safety while in the bathroom. Commonly, physical challenges occur when stepping into and out of the tub. Equipment like grab bars, tub transfer benches and bath seats can ensure your safety and comfort while bathing. In addition, equipment including toilet commodes or raised toilet seats can ease physical challenges experienced when sitting or standing from the toilet. Your OT can also support you in ensuring there is adequate lighting in your bathroom, limited clutter and non-slip flooring to promote bathroom safety.
Independence in cooking can be limited by both physical and cognitive challenges. Your OT can support you in modifying your kitchen environment to make it as easily accessible as possible. For instance, your kitchen cupboards can be arranged for ease of access and a place to sit can be made available for long cooking tasks. In addition, visual and auditory reminders can be made to help you remember to turn off your oven and stove. Your OT can also introduce you to many exercises you can perform at your kitchen sink to increase balance, strength and overall mobility.
Getting in and out of bed, as well as dressing tasks, can become increasingly challenging with age. Your OT can introduce you to adaptive equipment, including bed rails, transfer poles and sliding sheets, to make bed mobility as manageable as possible. In addition, your OT can provide suggestions for positioning and adaptive equipment, including shoehorns, reachers, button hooks and zipper aids, to assist in dressing.
General Home Mobility
Regardless of the task at hand, simply maneuvering around your home can often become challenging with age. Stairs can be especially difficult to navigate. Your OT can introduce you to home modifications, including stair lifts and ramps, to mitigate these challenges or assist you in reorganizing your home to ensure stair use is limited. Your OT can also make suggestions for mobility aids, like canes and walkers, which can compensate for limited balance or coordination.
Community Mobility & Engagement
Aging in Place not only considers the ability to remain in the home, but also to remain an active member of the community. Your OT can support community mobility by making recommendations for mobility equipment, including manual wheelchairs or scooters. Your OT can also support connecting with neighbors, community programs and local services to ensure your safety, independence and quality of life while Aging in Place.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Lauren Macartney, Occupational Therapist, MScOT