Remember when you were young and your parents were superheroes? They were the strongest, bravest people that you knew. They protected you from danger and made sure that you were safe and comfortable in your house, prepped you healthy meals, and ensured that you were educated and made it to school on time. Mom and Dad were your biggest fans when you were little, your champions.
And then came adulthood. Suddenly you aren’t the kid anymore; you are the grown-up and your parents are the elders. It seemed to happen overnight, didn’t it? One moment they’re cheering you on at your soccer competitions and urging you to brush your teeth — and the next moment, you are the one reminding them to take care of themselves and escorting them to and from doctor’s appointments. The song from The Lion King is right: It’s the circle of life.
As you and your siblings adjust to being adults and helping your aging parents, you might find yourself worried about the state of their house. How safe is it for elderly adults to live alone? Do you feel completely comfortable leaving them without fear that they will get hurt somehow? If the answer is no, it’s time to make some changes. Have a family meeting and discuss the ways that you can make their home safer as your parents get older. If you’re unsure where to start, we have a list all ready to go for you.
1. Replace Area Rugs with Carpeting
Bare flooring is a hazard in and of itself. Hardwood or tile floors have no traction, which is why area rugs are so helpful. Not only do they allow you to grip the floor a little bit easier, but they also provide warmth. On the flip side, though, area rugs can be very dangerous too.
How many times have you had a slip and fall accident on your own, tripping over a slippery area rug that doesn’t grip the floor? Rugs that move around and have no backing can present a serious slip and fall hazard not just for elderly folks, for all people. You could always buy some of that grippy rubber to try and keep the rugs in place. Another solution? Remove the rugs entirely and replace the whole room with carpet.
Although it’s an expense (and carpet harbors more bacteria than hard flooring), using carpet in your parents’ home instead of rugs can be a literal lifesaver. You and your siblings can rest easy knowing that there is a lesser chance of Mom and Dad slipping and hurting themselves on a stray area rug. Plus, updated flooring can be a great tidbit to add to a real estate listing, should they sell down the road.
2. Have the Electrical System Inspected
You can only flip the breaker switch so many times before you realize that the wiring system in Mom and Dad’s house needs a professional to look it over, not an amateur. If the house hasn’t been rewired since 1989, it’s probably a safe bet that it is no longer up to code. Warning signs of an improperly installed or outdated wiring system include popping, sparking, and a hot electrical smell.
Even if the house is not showing any warning signs, it’s just good sense to hire an electrician if it’s been a while since the last inspection. These are state-certified professionals whose business is reconfiguring fuse boxes and making wires connect properly. If nothing else, it’s worth having somebody come to the house simply to give it a safety inspection.
3. Make Their House Smarter
Smart house features are highly convenient for anybody and are a good way to keep tabs on what’s happening inside of the home. Even if your parents are not the most tech-savvy humans in the world, smart technology is easy to learn and you can show them how it is used. With their permission, you can even install the app on your phone and keep track of the smart tech in the house.
Some of our favorite smart house features include:
- Security systems and cameras. Bad guys love to take advantage of the vulnerable, and your elderly parents are about as vulnerable as they come. Have a security system installed on the house to protect them against intruders, and place a few cameras in prime locations so that you can catch anyone if they do happen to try something unsavory.
- The heating and cooling system. Did you know that you can control the house’s temperature from your phone? Technologies like the Nest system allow you to see what the current temperature is, adjust it however you want, and even set timers (heat from 5:00 AM to 8:00 AM, etc). The interface is user-friendly and easy to navigate, making it convenient for your parents to control their house from their phones.
- Door locking mechanisms. Another great safety feature, electrical doors require no key to get inside; you can either use your phone to unlock the door, or enter a special key code on the pad. This is a great technology for people who are constantly losing their keys or simply don’t want the responsibility of carrying a set of house keys.
Introducing Mom and Dad to smart tech might scare them a little bit, but once you show them house easy it is, they might change their minds. So long as you have everything connected to the proper server and can access the internet, then you have all you need to control the house in the palm of your hand. If they prefer, you can be the one to control the tech by installing the apps on your phone.
4. Set Up a Water Purifier
Tainted drinking water might seem like something that is far off in a third-world country, but the very scary reality is that there are plenty of places in the United States with unsafe water. Just look at the Flint, Michigan water crisis; like it or not, your water might not be as pure as you think it is. Now imagine your already aging parents with their own medical problems drinking water that might contain lead.
If you would like to see what kind of water that is being ingested, you can easily purchase a testing kit from any big-name hardware store. They range in price from $30 to over $100, but what is the price of your health and that of your loved ones? If you can avoid long-term issues in the future by being prepared today, then you could easily be adding years to Mom and Dad’s life spans.
Part of proper water treatment is investing in a quality water purifying system. This can be as simple as a portable Brita water bottle, an attachment to the faucet, or a full-fledged filter going directly from the well to the faucet. However you choose to filter the water, it is the right way; any kind of filter is better than no filter at all.
5. Renovate the Bathroom for Accessibility
One of the highest-risk places for falling and slipping for anybody (not just elders) is in the bathroom. It makes sense; that’s where water and condensation collect, and if the floor is not properly dried, then accidents can happen. However, elderly people are at a higher risk of falling in the bathroom the most others for many different reasons:
- There is less equilibrium in older age, making it more difficult to maintain balance and cause dizziness.
- It is more difficult for older people to step in and out of a high bathtub or shower walls, and paired with already wet floors, this is an accident waiting to happen.
- Dementia, confusion, and an overall poor memory can also be contributing factors to bathroom accidents. Forgetfulness and misremembering are two normal parts of aging but can be dangerous when it comes to being alone in the bathroom.
Bath remodelers are pros at getting bathrooms prepped for aging folks. They don’t only add extras like handrails and shower benches, but they also provide custom glass and mirror installation. If you’d rather take the DIY approach, you can find inexpensive kits at places like Lowes to make your parents’ bathroom safer. It takes a little elbow grease and time, but your parents are worth it all.
6. Ensure that They Have Backup Power
Every season has its own highs and lows, and right now we are in a season of high winds and heavy rains. Winter storms can knock out power for days on end, which is even worse news if you live in an area with heavy snow and frost. Freezing temperatures can directly contribute to snapped cables and broken power lines, which results in freezing temperatures inside the house as well as outside.
To avoid this at your parents’ house, make sure that they always have access to a heat source of some kind. A generator is the ideal solution in this paradox, allowing you to use whatever electric heaters are available. A generator can also let certain appliances function (like the TV, stove, and washer/dryer) at the same time, depending on the wattage used.
Another idea is to try out solar energy. Solar panel installations are a lot more affordable than they used to be, and best of all, they give you no electrical bill and can start being used the moment they’re installed. As the name implies, solar panels harness the energy of the sun and use that energy to power the house. If Mom and Dad are open to it, consider talking to them about going solar instead of spending so much on electricity. It can grant you peace of mind that, even if the rest of the city is without power, your parents are safe and warm in their solar-powered house.
7. Grocery and Goods Delivery
Given the strangeness of last year, it should be no surprise to you that 37.6 million Americans use their phones to make online purchases. For elderly people who might not have access to a car or other mode of transportation, this can be an easy way to have groceries and other items delivered straight to the house. Plus, minimal contact means that they have less interaction with people, keeping them socially distant while getting their errands done.
It might be that Mom and Dad don’t want to learn to use their mobile devices for shopping, or that they are simply incapable of seeing or using it. If this is the case, it’s a wise idea for you and your siblings to set up a grocery app on your own mobile devices. No matter where you live, even if you’re in a different timezone, you can select the grocery location closest to your parents and go grocery shopping for them. You can choose everything from what brand of bread they normally use to how much the delivery person should be tipped.
The pure strangeness of watching your family age is never going to be something you get used to. You saw your parents as the strongest people alive when you were a child, and then suddenly one day they were old. The years spin by too fast, and if you’re not keeping up on what accommodations your parents might need, then accidents could happen more easily. If you’re concerned about the safety and wellbeing of your parents alone in their house, then it might be time for you and your siblings to sit down and have a serious discussion with them.
The saying goes that you should not fear growing old, since it is a privilege denied to too many. It’s hard and sometimes scary to see just how frail your parents have become, but what a blessing! Make their golden years the best that you can by taking the time and effort to help them make slight improvements to the house. They don’t have to be expensive or complicated, but they do need to protect them from any potential risks and dangers.