Caregiving in Your Home
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— and safely — in your later years
The majority of older people remain independent well into later life.
Most seniors want to remain in their own homes, a goal that’s easier
to accomplish if they adapt their lives and homes to accommodate their
aging bodies. Some tips for independent living include:
Redecorate. The average home is riddled with obstacles
that older eyes and feet might not be able to maneuver around. Removing
slippery throw rugs, using night lights, putting nonskid mats in the
bathroom and kitchen, not using high-gloss floor polishes, and installing
handrails that extend beyond the bottom stair can all help. You can often
fit your bathrooms with items like walk-in showers, grab bars, and higher
toilet seats. Ramps, elevators, and other devices can help you handle
stairs. Keep often-needed items in the handiest cabinets and use a grasping
tool to get things that are out of reach instead of climbing on a chair
Lifestyle changes. Wearing rubber-soled shoes and getting
regular exercise can help keep you upright. Activities like tai chi or
yoga especially help since they work on balance and strength, and are
not jarring on muscles or bones. Limit your alcohol intake and learn
whether any of your medications might cause dizziness or affect your
Seek helping hands. Shopping for groceries and other
essentials can be accomplished over the phone and via the Internet these
days. Meal preparation, transportation, home repair, housecleaning, and
help with financial or personal tasks such as paying bills and bathing
might be hired out if you can afford it, shared among friends and family,
or included in the repertoire of elder services offered in your community
or through insurance.
Plan for emergencies. Who can check in on you regularly?
Whom can you call in an emergency? What would happen if you fell and
couldn’t reach the phone? Keep emergency numbers near each phone
or, better still, on speed dial. Carry a cell phone or consider investing
in a personal alarm system, if necessary. Look into companionship services
or simple visits and phone checks from a local agency on aging or religious
group. To find agencies near you, call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116
or visit their web site at www.aoa.dhhs.gov/elderpage/locator.html.
October 2002 Update
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Home visitation program improve seniors' lives
Though many countries have nationalized home visitation programs for
the elderly, controversy exists over whether they actually help improve
the quality of participants' lives. A group of researchers recently analyzed
much of the published data to try to put the subject to rest, and the
news is favorable. The meta-analysis, published in the Feb. 27, 2002,
issue of the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), focused
on 18 trials that included over 13,000 participants.
As part of each program studied, elderly people received visits from
health care workers who tried to help them prevent functional impairment
and admission into nursing homes. The workers asked about health care
issues like immunization and exercise, looked for untreated health problems,
and reviewed the proper use of any medications the patient was taking.
Programs that evaluated many aspects of the senior's life (medical,
functional, psychological, social situation, safety of the home) and
included follow-up visits seem to be the most beneficial, according to
the analysis. Participants in this type of program kept their independence
the longest, remaining able to perform acts like dressing themselves
and going to the bathroom without assistance. All types of programs appear
to reduce mortality, but the older the patient, the less impact any program
has on death rates. Short-term visitation programs had no significant
effects on nursing home admissions. However, the rate of admission was
significantly lower in people whose program included nine or more visits
over a two- to three-year period.
Though the authors of the JAMA study admit that it has its limits because
the comparisons made in any meta-analysis must be confirmed by other
studies, they do believe it has important policy implications. They recommend
that countries with home visit programs in place analyze them to see
if they include the components the researchers found to be effective.
They also suggest that countries that do not have such programs, like
the United States, consider implementing them.
April 2002 Update
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