Improve Home Access For Seniors – Tune Up Your Doors

home access for seniors: Creating an accessible home with doors and doorwaysAre the doors in your home sticky, narrow or just plain unwieldy? For most of us, this can be a big annoyance. However, for seniors, it can be a significant impediment to mobility in the home and overall home access for seniors.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to improve the situation and make daily life a little easier.

Here are some ideas:

Door Knobs – Consider replacing door knobs with door levers. These are simply easier for seniors to open than a traditional round door knob. Internal door hardware is affordable and relatively easy to replace. Entry door locksets are more expensive, but won’t necessarily break the bank if you shop around.

Misaligned Doors – When doors are out of alignment, they can rub on the frame and become difficult to open and close. There are a few quick tricks you can try before you resort to re-framing the door.

  • If the problem is very minor, you can sometimes just sand the edge of the door that is rubbing. This is permanent and is not recommended if the problem is seasonal or if too much material must be removed.
  • Use shims to move the upper or lower hinge out from the door frame slightly. While you may be able to use cardboard or washers to accomplish this, it’s probably better to purchase door shims that are specifically designed for this purpose.
  • Another trick is to slightly bend one or both of the door hinge knuckles. Crescent wrenches are frequently used for this, but there are now knuckle bender tools to make it easier.

Narrow Doorways – Some doorways are too narrow to provide access for a walker or wheelchair. You have a few options:

  • ‘Swing clear’ hinges are a great way to improve access. As the name implies, these hinges allow the door to swing completely out of the door opening. In some cases, this can add a couple inches of badly needed clearance.
  • If you don’t need to close that particular door, consider removing the door and hinge altogether. You can also remove the innermost strip of trim that functions as a door stop. If the doorway needs to be even wider, you can try removing the entire door frame and trimming out the opening with thin sheet-rock.
  • Depending on the location in your home and the wall framing surrounding the door, you may be able to replace the existing door with a wider pre-hung door. While this may not be a DIY job, a good contractor can probably do it for a reasonable price.

Garage Doors – Not only can garage doors be difficult to open and close, they can be downright hazardous for some seniors. While most problems with garage doors can be easily fixed, it is recommended that you hire a licensed contractor for significant improvements. Garage door springs are dangerous to work with and some municipalities may even require building permits.

  • If you have a slab garage door, check into getting a roll-up door. These should be much safer and easier for seniors to manage.
  • Remove dirt and debris from the garage door and the areas around it.
  • Lubricate your door hardware. If you are unsure of the best type, look for a lubricant specifically labeled for garage door hardware.
  • Replace your garage door springs. If the springs are old, they may not be functioning as well as they should. They could also be dangerous in the event of a failure.
  • If you don’t have one already, consider purchasing an automatic garage door opener. The quality of these continues to improve and they are more affordable than ever.

Sliding Doors – Sliding doors are inherently more difficult to open than swinging doors and can be even more of a challenge for seniors. These generally require more ongoing maintenance to function smoothly.

  • Clean out the tracks regularly.
  • Lubricate moving parts.
  • Although it can be tricky, many sliding doors have screws to adjust alignment. If needed, replacement parts are generally available as well.
  • Consider replacing a sliding door with a pair of swinging French doors. Because the sliding door opening is typically wide, replacement with French doors is generally easier than many other installations.

Keyless Entry Systems – Some seniors have difficulties when using keys. Door locks with combination buttons and remote key fobs are now available. Some of these can even be activated by other remote devices such as cell phones or security systems.

While these are all great improvements for the doors themselves, don’t forget to address the lighting near your doorways. For example, motion detectors can automatically turn on the lights when approaching the door. This will free up both hands for opening the door, carrying groceries or even stability. Now all you need is a friendly welcome mat!

7 Options For Senior Friendly Bathrooms

senior friendly bathroomFor the elderly, using the bathroom effectively – whether it is the toilet, faucets, or the shower and bathtub – can be difficult. For people who have lost mobility and strength, standing in a shower for a long time isn’t possible, and getting in and out of a bathtub is a risky proposition.

Thankfully there has been progress in bathroom remodeling geared towards helping seniors navigate the bathroom with ease. The remodeling covers a wide range, from something as simple as a sprayer attachment that allows for the person to sit while bathing, to curbless showers that remove the need to step up for access. These changes can help the elderly be more independent in the bathroom, and they also help the elderly caregiver give better care to their loved one.

Options For Senior Friendly Bathrooms:

1. Install lever faucets. Having a lever faucet gets rid of the twisting and turning that can be difficult for the elderly. There are hundreds of different styles to choose from, including foot operated faucets. Installing a new faucet isn’t as difficult as it once was, but anytime you’re dealing with plumbing, it is good to at least talk with a professional before making the change yourself.

2. Get a sprayer attachment for your shower-head. A shower-head that you can detach and hold in your hand makes bathing really easy. It furthermore eliminates the need to stand while showering, certainly a bonus for those who have problems standing for long periods. Being able to sit and shower also means more independence for the elderly.

3. Install grab bars and rails. This is one of the easiest and cost-effective ways to make your bathroom more elderly-friendly. Installing grab bars and rails in the shower, bathtub and near the toilet makes bathing and using the toilet easier not only for the elderly person, but for the caregiver as well. The grab bars and rails can be installed yourself or you can hire someone to do the work.

4. Raise the height of the toilet. Simply raising the toilet’s height as little as three inches can make all the difference for seniors. There are a lot of options for raising the height of the toilet. You can simply raise the height of your existing toilet with a thick toilet seat, or you can replace your old toilet with a “Comfort Height” toilet. Once again, this can be a DIY project, or a project where you call a plumber.

5. Thick rugs for cushioning. This simple and easy addition to the bathroom is for the elderly caregivers that are spending time on their knees bathing someone. Placing a well-padded rug or pillow under your knees can keep your knees from hurting, making the bathing process less of a chore.

6. Non-slip bath mats and rugs. This is another easy way to prevent falls in the bathroom. Placing a non-slip mat in the shower prevents the senior from falling while showering and a non-slip rug on the floor outside the shower prevents any slipping once the senior is out of the shower. Non-slip tape is a lower cost option for shower pans and tub bottoms.

7. Curbless showers and Walk-in bathtubs. For the seniors that can’t lift their legs, putting in a curbless shower can be a lifesaver. A curbless shower can make the transition from wheelchair to shower seat simple and easy for the senior and the caregiver. Walk-in bath tubs are another popular option, as they are much easier to access than traditional tubs and most have a built in seat as well. There are many different options for installing a curbless shower or a walk-in bathtub. You can buy and have installed a pre-fabricated unit, or you can do it yourself. The advantage to having a new unit installed is that they are specifically designed for senior care.

There are twin goals to redoing your bathroom: the first is to increase the independence of your loved one, and the second is to make life easier for you the caregiver.

What changes to your bathroom have you made? What is the most cost-effective way to change your bathroom to suit the elderly?

Safety Bunns Offer Non Skid Pants

Safety Bunns non-slip pantsOne of our members at The Senior List on Facebook submitted an interesting article about her company called; Safety Bunns!  Obviously we had to inquire about them and found a really creative idea that offers seniors a safer seat at the table… This product offers safety grips on the back of the pant legs so a person doesn’t slip out of their wheelchair, dining room chair or any other slippery sitting surface.  This is a product that solves a very common problem… with a very simple solution!  Think of them as studded snow tires vs. snow tires.  Snow tires can do the job… but Studs give you a little bit more grippage, and a lot more confidence… :)  Safety Bunns pants for seniors

Barb Przybylowicz, (a nurse for over 33 years) developed Safety Bunns after caring for her ailing father.  Her many years of serving seniors (as well as her father) led her to identify a need, and she filled it.  Click thru to read more about Safety Bunns.

Caregiving During The Holidays

Caregiving during the holidaysThe year-end holidays are coming, and I want you to think for a moment about your plans to celebrate.  Rather than do your traditional celebrations, please consider alternative plans and reducing the burden to both honor and support your loved one.  People who are dealing with chronic ailments or who are in pain shouldn’t be expected to go through the holidays as they once did.  No matter how much you (or they) may want “the usual traditions”, you need to take into account reduced stamina and increase frailty.

Tips For Caregiving During The Holidays

Be sure you include your loved one in the planning process, this is very important.  They may want to do everything as it’s always been done… So you’ll need to help your loved one understand that there needs to be new traditions started (in order to account for the place you all find yourselves in now).  That’s not to say you can’t or shouldn’t celebrate!  It’s just a way of remembering that whatever you do, you need to take your loved one’s state-of-health into account.

Here are a few examples of how to reduce stress on your loved one:

  • Instead of a day-long cookie-baking extravaganza that will only exhaust mom, why not pre-bake the cookies?  That way mom can join in the shortened party to decorate them.  She’s still participating, but at a level she can handle.
  • Instead of the big traditional holiday dinner, why not down-size to a series of short events with much lighter menus.  A tea-and-cookies event, wine and appetizers, or even a bring your favorite soup party?
  • Folks who are frail and those suffering from dementia can be overwhelmed by even a handful of familiar faces.  It quickly becomes too much information to recall, too much energy to absorb, and your loved one may respond not with enjoyment, but with highly anxious behaviors.  It’s a good reason to keep your gatherings very small, maybe only two or three people at a time.
  • For the elderly, the process of selecting, buying and wrapping gifts may be too taxing.  Instead of doing a gift exchange, what not use the time to pull out the family photo albums, videos or 8 mm movies?  Other alternatives to spending time exchanging gifts would be to play board or card games that your loved one enjoys, or watch holiday-themed videos.  Our family holds a comic movie film fest.  Laughing together really makes for a great holiday mood.

You get the idea—think small and intimate.  You can still do all the holiday decorating, just have mom supervise from her favorite chair.  You can share and enjoy the music and food of the season.  Just keep your loved one’s state of health in mind and then make appropriate plans.

Blessings, Joanne


Caregiving and Nutrition

Caregiving and NutritionOne leg of the “self-care trinity” for caregivers is healthy eating. I don’t know about you, but the combination of those two words makes me think about “sticks and berries” (in other words… food that’s not fun to eat).  Let’s talk about Caregiving and Nutrition.

I’ve got good news for you caregivers:  I’ve discovered some fun food that can help keep you at your best so you can offer your highest level of care!

Healthy Food That’s Fun To Eat:

  • Fruity cocktails may actually be good for us. According to Woman’s Day magazine, research shows that alcohol can increase the level of antioxidants in certain fruits, such as strawberries.  That means one strawberry daiquiri or margarita has health benefits, along with tasting good.
  •  Pizza can be healthy provided you make some changes in preparation: use a whole wheat crust and low-fat cheese (in moderation).  Skip the meats, especially the high fat ones like pepperoni and sausage, and pile on the veggies.
  •  Fruit juice can be healthy as long as it’s 100% fruit juice.  Orange juice, especially, has plenty of fiber and antioxidants.  Some research has shown that daily consumption of 6 to 8 ounces can lower Alzheimer’s risk by as much as 76%… But that’s not a direct correlation.  It’s dependant on other factors as well, the most important one being age.
  •  For women, red wine and dark chocolate are heart-healthy foods, provided they’re eaten in moderation.  One small chocolate (not a box of them) and a glass of red wine can actually have health benefits.  Gentlemen, it’s also been found that a wee bit o dark chocolate is good for your hearts, too.

Moderation and Balance are Key Components of any Healthy Eating Plan – Joanne Reynolds

Caregiving and NutritionAnd that brings me to the closing thought about caregiving and nutrition:  It’s about moderation. TOO MUCH OF ANY ONE THING, whether it’s toffee or tofu, isn’t going to be good for you.  Moderation and balance are key components of any healthy eating plan.  Remember that the goal is to fuel your body well to keep you strong for your caregiving assignment.

Blessings, Joanne

Mesothelioma Caregivers For Seniors

Mesothelioma Caregivers for seniorsWhen a family member is diagnosed with mesothelioma, relatives may take on caregiver roles. Spouses are often primary caregivers, but because mesothelioma disease mostly affects seniors, adult children often take on caregiving responsibilities for their parents.

The roles that a mesothelioma caregiver must play often evolve over the course of their loved one’s disease. The cancer is highly aggressive, and the symptoms intensify rapidly after diagnosis. Chest pain, shortness of breath and extreme fatigue can become so disabling in the later stages of mesothelioma that caregivers must step in and help with daily tasks.

Common Duties of Mesothelioma Caregivers:

• Helping the patient make and get to doctor’s appointments
• Filling and administering the patient’s prescriptions
• Guiding the patient through hygienic activities such as showering and getting dressed
• Assisting the patient with comfortably resting and moving around the house
• Completing basic household duties such as laundry and cooking

In some families, several people pitch in to provide care for the mesothelioma patient. Families also have the option of arranging inpatient health care from a senior caregiving organization if the patient’s condition gets too severe to manage at home. Thankfully, there are many treatment options to reduce or heal symptoms of mesothelioma. From minor surgeries to simple, out-patient procedures performed in a doctor’s office, there are numerous health care options for seniors with mesothelioma.

The process can be difficult – for both the patient and the caregivers – but many patients successfully receive at-home assistance from their loved ones.

How Caregivers’ Coping Mechanisms Impact their Experience

The pressure of providing care to a terminal cancer patient often leads mesothelioma caregivers for seniors to develop coping mechanisms. Many of these habits are mental – and a recent study found that certain negative coping strategies are associated with increased stress and even negative health outcomes.

According to the study, which appears in Supportive Care in Cancer, three negative expectation coping strategies are most associated with emotional and psychological distress: worrying, expecting the worst and getting nervous.

Although caregivers often unconsciously engage in these behaviors, there are easy ways to counteract the detrimental habits.

Coping Strategies for Caregivers:

Focus on the positive. Caregivers who anticipate poor outcomes are only adding to their stress. You may think that you are only being realistic – but even with mesothelioma Caregivers, this is not always the case. Patients are continually sharing stories of how they beat their prognosis by months or even years – sometimes without a scientific explanation. There’s no reason that the next mesothelioma patient to defy expectations couldn’t be your loved one.

Acknowledge – then dismiss – your worries. It’s easy to panic about your loved one’s diagnosis. It’s also easy to worry that you’re not doing enough to help or that you’re abandoning your other duties. However, these worries are often unfounded. Recognize worrisome thoughts as they pop into your head, and employ healthy ways to process them.

Use healthy coping mechanisms to calm your nerves. When fear arises, look for a healthy coping mechanism to dissipate the nervousness. Different techniques may work for different people – don’t fret if one does not work for you! Yoga, meditation, massage therapy, support groups and counseling can all help calm your worries – and provide some valuable personal time in the process.

These strategies can help alleviate psychological distress in caregivers, but they may also enhance the efficacy of clinical interventions. Caregivers can yield “stronger, long-lasting benefits” by redirecting their coping mechanisms – ultimately benefiting both themselves and the patient.

What Is A Caregiver?

what is a caregiverI’ve always thought the word “caregiver” did a good job of describing someone who makes time on a regular basis to care for and support someone who is ill, injured or suffers from a chronic condition.  But there can be issues, even with a word as mundane as this. So what is a caregiver?

In states that have laws allowing for medicinal use of marijuana, the term “caregiver” is one that is defined in those laws.  In order to grow or dispense marijuana, an individual must become licensed or certified by the state as a medical marijuana “caregiver.”

There’s potential for confusion here when I’m talking about people who are givers of care, versus people who are in the medical marijuana business in the states where it is permissible.

Caregivers and Support Partners

I have also noticed a tendency of certain kinds of caregivers to not identify themselves with that word.  It’s especially true for caregivers who are spouses.  I first noticed the shying away from being called a caregiver by spouses of cancer patients.  They see themselves as being in a support role for their loved ones, especially in the initial diagnosis and treatment phase.  The mind-set is that it’s a temporary situation and the word “caregiver” is too fraught with long-term and terminal connotations to be used.

Karen Galloway of the Western Slope Region of the Colorado Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society says they have a similar situation with their clients and their spouses.  “We don’t want to have people stop listening to the advice we have to offer because we use a word they don’t feel applies,” she said.  So instead of using “caregiver” for these spouses and partners, Karen and her colleagues use the term “support partner.”  That seems like a good choice if the person in question feels more comfortable with that descriptor.  Other groups use the term “care partner.”

By the way, caregivers are people who give care to other people.  Caretakers are people who take care of other people’s property.  Just thought you’d like to get that clarified, even if the meaning of “caregiver” isn’t as plain as it used to be.  What terms do you use to describe yourself as a giver of care?  Have you heard of other terms you would prefer?

Blessings, Joanne

Caregiving in America

caregiving in AmericaThe on-going story of the recovery of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has captured us all.  I am fascinated by the way in which her remarkable comeback from the bullet wound to her brain seems to be fueled in equal parts by her determination and by the family and friends who have rallied to her bedside.

It’s an important lesson for all caregivers: your presence, just being there and doing small things, is important in the healing of the patient. The focus of our post today is Caregiving in America.

Let’s be clear that healing doesn’t mean the same thing as cure.  Of course we would cure our loved ones if we could.  We would restore them to their original state of health before they were injured or became ill.  Healing is a different idea, meaning to bring about a wholeness, or a recovery of a portion of the patient’s self.

Congresswoman Giffords will probably carry the physical effects of her wound with her for the rest of her life, but she can heal from the effects of it.  That includes not just the healing of tissue affected by the wound and surgery, but an internal healing as well.  That internal healing is spiritual and emotional, and ultimately leads to acceptance of her life as it will be moving forward.

Patients need a loved one like you to support them, to cheer them on in their healing efforts, and sometimes, they need you just to simply be with them.

ABC Evening News ran a piece last year that looked at the role of loved ones in healing and recovery.  The bottom line is that your presence, love, support and being with the patient, is key to the healing and recovery process.

Bob Woodruff, an ABC correspondent who was critically injured while covering the war in Iraq said that he is sure his remarkably swift recovery was due to the presence of his wife and family at his bedside.  “I wasn’t able to respond, but I knew they were there, whispering in my ear, holding my hand, rubbing my feet,” he said.

I can see why a medical person, who must have measurable outcomes, might balk at the idea that the mere presence of a loved one by a patient’s bed would change anything.  But I’m an experienced caregiver and I know how powerful the presence of a loved one can be, just being there for the patient.

So don’t wonder whether you should take time out of your busy schedule to spend time sitting with your loved one.  Just do it!  Whispered words of affection or forgiveness, a hand held, a song shared—these all are the tools of healing, which we can all use on behalf of our loved ones.

Caring For Someone With Dementia

caring for someone with dementiaThere are times when caring for someone with dementia is the very definition of frustration.

It is so maddening when a loved one repeatedly asks the same question for hours on end, seeming to disregard the answers that you provide.  Or the times when your loved one decides that he or she is going to go—or not go—somewhere, regardless of the reasonableness of that decision?  Trying to get dad off the couch to adult day care so you can go to work can make you want to tear your hair out.  Or convincing mom that her doctor’s appointment is not at midnight on Saturday night can leave you wanting to shut yourself in a closet and scream.

OK.  We’ve all been in these and similar situations, but the question remains how to deal with the frustration that dementia-related behaviors lead to without losing our sense of love and respect for our loved ones.

Writing in The Upper Room in 1991, Donna Dickey Guyer noted that she was able to find a way to remain loving and respectful of her 99-year-old mother (when she herself was 75 years old) by  recalling her mother’s care for her when she was a child.

Ms. Guyer wrote that to her, honor and respect meant that she was to have patience, tolerance and love in difficult days.  To her, it meant doing everything she did for her mother—emptying bedpans, changing sheets, preparing meals that would not be fully eaten– from a place of love, just as her mother had changed her diapers, prepared food for her that she’d rejected, and kept her clean and safe when she was a child.

The frustrating behaviors aren’t going to magically disappear, but what can change is your understanding of them.  Respect comes from a place of love, whether it’s love of a child who’s acting out, or a parent who’s engaged in dementia-fueled behaviors that are frustrating.  When it happens, try to disengage for a moment, take a couple of deep, cleansing breaths, and remind yourself that the behavior isn’t aimed at you.  It’s the result of a brain that’s not working as it once did.  Then see if you can’t deal with what’s happening from a place of loving respect.

Caregiving And Depression

caregiving and depressionIt is becoming widely accepted that the health of the caregiver has a great deal to do with the health of the patient.  If the caregiver is suffering from psychological or physical problems, then the quality of care given declines. Caregiving and depression can go hand in hand at times.

A Link Between Caregiving and Depression

Now there’s a new study that expands that idea as reported in the June 2011 issue of “Health Psychology”, the American Psychological Association’s journal.  The study looked at more than 1,700 couples ranging in age from 76 to 90.  They found a strong correlation between what they describe as depressive symptoms and functional or physical limitations within the couples.  Previous studies had found the linkage in individuals.  This is the first time that it’s been shown to affect partners.

The problem is the “chicken or the egg” issue at its core:  physical limitations such as not being able to shop for groceries and cook meals lead to depressive symptoms such as unhappiness, loneliness and restlessness.  At the same time, depressive symptoms cause individuals to limit their physical activities.  Which comes first?  The answer doesn’t really matter if you are a caregiver.  What is important is the understanding that the physical and emotional state of one partner in a long-term relationship can affect the other partner as well.

            “When people are depressed, they tend to want to stay at home—but that causes a spouse to stay home more too,” one of the researchers said.  “That’s a problem, because when older adults stop being active—going for walks, socializing, shopping—they risk losing that functional ability.  These findings help to illuminate the often vicious cycle between depressive symptoms and our physical abilities.”

If you’re a caregiver experiencing depressive symptoms because of limitations to your physical activity, take action!  Find a way to get out for exercise and socialize on a regular basis.  In addition to being a good way to relieve the effects of stress, you can now see how doing something social or active will help relieve those unhappy feelings that come about because of physical inactivity.

If you’re caring for your parents and see the cycle at work with them, take action!  Find ways to get activity into your parents’ lives.  This may mean a move to a retirement or assisted living community where there are lots of social and physical activities, or it may mean that you’ll have to devise a plan for getting your folks out more often to shop, to exercise, to go to dinner or a movie.

In either case, the solution requires action on the part of the caregiver.  The cycle won’t break itself—it’s up to you.