I’m sure you’d rather be planning your menu – or figuring out what you’re going to wear, or buying presents, or decorating your home – but even if it’s not the most fun activity of the season, making sure that your house will not cause any obstacles or dangers to your aging relatives is also a crucial element to a happy holiday.
In the best case scenario, your extended family will be explicit about their current needs – and then your only task is making your house compliant. But more often, you will not hear that information from them directly – perhaps from an aide, but more likely, you’re flying a little blind.
Still, from one visit to the next, even if you get together fairly frequently and all the more so if you don’t, you may be unaware of whether your loved ones have changed in terms of their physical or mental agility.
If you are aware, you have an easier time because you may be able to address the matter head on and find out how best to accommodate any new requirements that they may have.
The tricky part is when there has been change. You surely want to establish a “no-harm-zone,” where no one who enters your home house is at risk, and all your guests just enjoy themselves. That takes some careful planning and may entail a little guesswork.
What to Notice: Taking Care throughout the House
First and foremost, make sure your house is tidy. Even if you usually tolerate a certain amount of “lived in” look, now is the time to eliminate clutter. What usually gives a cozy feeling may now be an obstacle course for someone ill-equipped to conquer one.
Is your house well-lit? If so, is that accomplished by overhead lighting, or a lot of standing lamps with cords and therefore the potential to trip? Do you have nightlights to help someone unfamiliar with the layout of your home navigate it in the wee hours, if need be?
Are your floors slippery or carpeted? If you use area rugs, are they secure, or could someone trip on the edge? Could the unlikely scenario of sliding down a hall on a carpet runner come to pass? Don’t forget the bathrooms and their tile and bath mats.
What about your temperature control? If you keep your house economically and environmentally chilly during the winter months, consider raising that temperature by a few degrees to make elderly relatives comfortable.
Food can become a brave new world, as every ingestible must be weighed against the medicinal properties of regular medications that counteract with whichever food. Less sophisticated, but still important: if your loved ones have dentures, be considerate in your choice of menu so as not to tempt them to eat that which might damage them (translation: no caramel).
IN THE BATHROOM
If your guest is able to use the toilet independently, you are set, though you may want to consider installing a grab bar for support. If you know there is an issue of incontinence, make sure to provide supplies and an easy means of disposing of them.
Now, in the shower or bath that’s where you really want that grab bar to support your guest. Someone who isn’t entirely comfortable with his or her balance will very much appreciate this.
IN THE BEDROOM
All of the other issues pertain here – from the lighting to the floors to the temperature control – but also check whether your beds are high off the floor. For someone with diminished agility, you may want to provide a step stool.
From the moment you bring your loved one to your house: is the access to your house clear of obstacles? If you have stairs, are they clear of all and any debris? If you have a yard, patio or deck, make sure the walking path is clear and that there are handholds where needed (particularly on the stairs). If your guest is using a cane or walker, make sure that there’s real access to everywhere the party will be.
Supply yourself with all of your usual cleansers, just in case – dish soap, laundry soap, antiseptic cleanser. Make sure that your smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and any fire extinguishers are functioning. You may you not need to use any of them, but in the event that you would, you want to be absolutely certain that your safety devices are available.
Have a safe and festive holiday!