Keeping Mom and Dad Safe at Home

Elderly parents generally prefer to remain living in their own homes as long as possible. However, remaining in their homes becomes a concern when children see their parents slowing down or starting to have trouble with handling stairs and doing general daily activities.

This is the time to evaluate the home to make it safe and secure for your loved ones — now and in the near future — in anticipation of age-related disabilities that may occur. Help and support are available. The nation as a whole is more aware of elderly needs and services and products are becoming available at an accelerating pace.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states:

“Employment of personal and home care aides is projected to grow by 51 percent between 2006 and 2016, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. The expected growth is due, in large part, to the projected rise in the number of elderly people, an age group that often has mounting health problems and that needs some assistance with daily activities.”

Bureau of labor Statistics – Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition.

This growing need for aides and home services also includes related services such as:

• home remodeling services — making a home more serviceable to the elderly;
• safety alert systems and technology;
• motion sensors to monitor movement;
• telehealth services — using home-based computer systems to monitor vital signs;
• pill dispensers that notify when it is time to take medication.

If you have an aging parent still living at home, where do you begin to make sure your elderly family member is safe and managing well in his or her home?

Visit often and at different times of the day and night. Make note of daily activities that appear challenging and where changes might be made to add safety and convenience. Remove rugs that slide — creating a fall risk — and move furniture with sharp edges. Be sure smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are in place.

Bathrooms can be a hazardous area for the elderly. Set the water heater at a lower temperature to protect skin from scalds and burns. Grab bars by the toilet and shower are a must to help prevent falls. Another important item is a shower stool or chair.

If you’re not sure what needs to be done, consider hiring a professional. There are dozens of Geriatric Care Managers in our area who can do a home safety evaluation and make recommendations. There are also home remodeling contractors that specialize in retrofitting homes to add special safety and convenience features for seniors so they can age in place. The National Association of Home Builders even bestow a CAPS designation to home remodeling companies that have met the criteria to become a Certified Aging in Place Specialist.

Home safety or medical alert companies provide GPS-based bracelets or pendants to track those who tend to wander – a common side-effect of Alzheimer’s disease. Numerous companies provide alarm devices such as pendants and bracelets that allow the elderly to alert someone if there has been a fall or a sudden health-related attack. In the event an alarm has been triggered, a 24-hour monitoring service will alert the family or medical emergency services or call a neighbor depending on previous instructions. In addition, there are companies that will install motion sensors in the home to monitor the elderly on a 24 hour basis.

Don’t forget your parents’ community as a valuable resource for helping them stay in their home. Many elders are able to stay in their homes longer with the help of their local senior services.
Neighbors, local church groups, senior centers and city centers are some places to look for assistance. Most of the time there is little or no cost for these services.

For Virginians, the easiest way to find senior assistance services is the the Senior Navigator at A quick search of the word “home” in my zipcode results in numerous assistance services designed to help seniors stay in their homes, including:

• Home Delivered Meals: Meals for homebound persons sometimes called “meals on wheels”
• Home Health Care: Certified skilled nursing care such as IV therapy or wound management provided in the home and coordinated with a physician’s direction. Services may also include therapy for physical, occupational or speech improvements by certified therapists
• Home Modification & Safety: Modifications and repairs done to make homes safer and more accessible
• Medical Equipment and Supplies: Equipment and supplies for medical, functional and mobility needs
• Medication Management: Assistance with taking medications properly including assessments and reminders
• Chore Services: Programs that provide assistance in performing routine household and yard activities
• Assistive Technology: Also referred to as adaptive technology it includes programs, devices and resources that help individuals with disabilities
• Household Organizing: Services that provide or coordinate the organization of households items for an individual or family
• Companion Services: Services that assist adults in the community including telephone reassurance, friendly visitors and companionship
• Personal Care: In-home assistance with activities of daily living such bathing, grooming, toileting and mobility support that is provided by paraprofessionals. Food preparation & housekeeping services may or may not be provided by personal care assistants
• Geriatric Care Management: Assessment of needs and coordination of services for seniors provided by a social worker, certified geriatric care manager or other professional

A few thoughts on hiring home care aides or live-in care givers:

The classifieds are filled with people looking for work as aides to the elderly. Many of these aides are well-qualified, honest people who will do a good job; however, there will be some not so reputable. If you are looking to directly hire an individual, be sure you interview and check references and qualifications. You will also be responsible for scheduling that person and doing payroll and taxes and insurance, including worker’s compensation insurance in case the person is injured on the job, although there are tax services that can assist you with the required tax payments and filings. Be very sure you hire someone trustworthy, as the elderly often develop trust in these helpers beyond what they should, and therefore can easily be taken advantage of.

A professional home care service will eliminate most of these concerns. Professionally-provided aides are usually insured and bonded, and substitute aides can be provided in the event that the primary aide becomes unavailable. Home care companies take care of the scheduling and payment of their employees. Home care companies cater to the elderly in their homes by offering a variety of services.

These providers represent a rapidly growing trend to allow people needing help with long term care to remain in their home or in the community instead of going to a care facility. The services offered may include:

• companionship
• grooming and dressing
• recreational activities
• incontinent care
• handyman services
• teeth brushing
• medication reminders
• bathing or showering
• light housekeeping
• meal preparation
• respite for family caregivers
• errands and shopping
• reading email or letters
• overseeing home deliveries
• dealing with vendors
• transportation services
• changing linens
• laundry and ironing
• organizing closets
• care of house plants
• 24-hour emergency response
• family counseling
• phone call checks and much more.

Unfortunately, many people fail to think about the issue of long-term until an emergency occurs, at which point there may be fewer options for care and care in a facility may be the only choice. Additionally, as I mentioned in an article in July – Putting Home Care in Perspective – lack of significant wealth and lack of pre-planning means that most people do not have the luxury of remaining in their homes when the time comes.

Fortunately, Medicaid is available to pay for nursing home care to finish out the rest of their lives. Every day, our firm helps families with loves ones needing nursing home care protect significant assets and still qualify for Medicaid. Please call us if we can assist you or your family with your long-term care planning.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.