She knows that the most common response of aging parents to their children’s concerns is, “I’m fine” when they insist, “You’re not fine.” She’s found that things usually can work out if the parties are willing to meet in the middle.
“Spend a few days in the house with your parents, watch how they get around and identify changes that can make things safer and easier,” Ms. Shrager suggests. “It’s a win-win situation to make the home safe and parents can stay there. Then everyone’s happy.”
Her book navigates the aging person’s dwelling room by room, starting with how the home is entered and ending with the basement, and for each offers many tips on issues that often put seniors at risk and how to orchestrate the needed adjustments.
Ms. Shrager, who lives in Slingerlands, N.Y., outside of Albany, is well aware of weather-related hazards like snow and ice, which may make it difficult to pick up the mail or get to the street for a ride. The entryway, for example, may need a resurfaced path to reduce trip hazards, improved lighting, railings on the stairs, or a ramp and wider doorway for a wheelchair.
Once inside, is the furniture designed and situated to accommodate someone with mobility issues? Identify trip hazards like wires on the floor or furniture legs that protrude, even pets with a habit of lying on the stairs or in the middle of the floor. Get rid of items long unused, piles of magazines and other forms of clutter, a problem I desperately need to tackle myself. Clutter collects dust, creates stress, and takes up space better used, say, to place a phone or a hot pot.
I plan to use Ms. Shrager’s approach: “Categorize items into five groups: (1) keep, (2) give away, (3) sell or garage sale potential, (4) charitable donations, and of course (5) the all-important throwaway pile.” There is no “maybe” pile, no postponing a decision for any item. To avoid feeling overwhelmed by this task, tackle it piecemeal, a room, closet, shelf, drawer at a time.
Kitchens are a special challenge for seniors with physical issues. When mine was built 50 years ago, I was nearly three inches taller and my husband (now deceased) was a foot taller than I. We wisely had cabinets built with pullout drawers. I store most-used items on lower shelves, but now reaching even the bottom shelf of some cabinets is a challenge for me. I often use a grabber, but sometimes I need a stool. Ms. Shrager suggests one with wide steps and treads and perhaps even a safety bar handrail. “Avoid folding stools that have the potential to collapse,” she warns.