Ask the Expert: Making Our Home Safe for Dad

Q. We just found out that my father, Barry, will be moving in with us in the new year. He is in his 70’s, has Parkinson’s, arthritis, and is in a wheelchair a lot of the time. We don’t have much money to renovate, but we want to make sure our home is safe and comfortable for him. Being in our home with his grandchildren is where he is the happiest, and quality of life for my dad is of utmost importance to us. I am most worried about him falling. What small adjustments can you recommend to make our home safe and livable for him, so he can stay as long as possible? Also, if it is too much for us to handle alone, who can we call for assistance?

A. There are lots of simple modifications you can do to make your home safer for your father that don’t cost a lot or are completely free. By making some minor adjustments, your father can move into your home and hopefully live safely, comfortably, and independently, among his loved ones.

As you mentioned, falls are certainly a cause for concern, as they are the leading cause of home injury among seniors. Falls can result in hip fractures, broken bones, head injuries, and significant loss of independence. Those over age 75 who fall are four times more likely to be admitted to a skilled nursing facility. The good news about falls is that most of them can be prevented.

The following are a few simple modifications from the AARP Home Fit Guide, that will help to decrease the likelihood of falls and to make your home all-around more accessible for your father:

  • Pick up any clutter that can cause your father to trip, such as newspapers, books, shoes, clothes, electrical cords, and phone cords.
  • If you have throw rugs, remove them or use double-sided tape or non-slip pads underneath to secure them.
  • If you have stairs, consider installing handrails on both sides.
  • Add lamps, light fixtures, and night lights where needed to improve visibility. Consider installing motion sensor lights outside the front and back doors and in the driveway.
  • Get some non-skid bath rugs for the bathroom floors, put a non-slip rubber mat or self-stick strips on the floor of the tub/shower and install grab bars inside the tub/shower.  Consider getting a hand-held adjustable shower head installed and purchasing a shower or bathtub seat so your father can shower from a safe seated position.
  • Organize your kitchen cabinets so things are within easy reach. Make your cabinets and pantry easier to access by installing pullout shelves or lazy susans.
  • Since your father uses a wheelchair, adapt your home by installing ramps on entrance steps, and mini-ramps to go over high entrance thresholds. You can even widen the doorways an additional two inches by installing “swing clear” offset door hinges.
  • To make things more comfortable, since he has arthritis, replace round doorknobs with lever handles, round bathroom faucets with lever faucet handles, and knobs on cabinets with pull handles.

If you are not handy or need professional guidance to make your home accessible for your father, please consider the following:

  • Think about hiring a Professional Organizer to help you organize and declutter, making rooms less crowded and therefore less of a fall hazard. You can find a directory of Certified Professional Organizers (CPO) by visiting the website http://www.certifiedprofessionalorganizers.org.
  • Find an Aging in Place Specialist to make your home accessible. You can find a directory of Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) by visiting the website of the certifying organization – the National Association of Home Builders, at http://www.nahb.org.
  • All the help available to seniors may in itself be overwhelming. How do seniors choose the right service provider for their needs? If you live in Northern Virginia, be sure to check out the Trusted Referrals listed on The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. website.

It is always a good idea to plan for the future, just in case your father needs more adaptations and assistance than you can provide. Nursing homes in Northern Virginia cost $9,000 – $12,000 per month (less in Fredericksburg). Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting your father from having to go broke paying for nursing home care, while also helping ensure that he gets the best possible care and maintains the highest possible quality of life, whether at your home or, in the future, in an assisted living facility or nursing home. Learn more at http://www.VirginiaElderLaw.com and call us at our Virginia Elder Law Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Elder Law Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation.

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