Aging Parents: Designer Safety in the Bathroom

Attractively-designed bathroom products that are ADA compliant and can support 500 pounds are now on the market from American Standard. While pricey, their design is stylish, comparable to “normal” designer bathroom accessories. They don’t resemble those clunky, utilitarian products that look like they belong in a hospital bathroom.

I must admit, when we remodeled bathrooms after moving to our NY apartment I couldn’t bring myself to put in one of those ugly grab bars. We aren’t psychologically ready for those yet, although it would have been more practical financially to install it then. A soap dish-grab ring photo by the manufacturer caught my eye this month as I was looking at the National Association of Home Builders blog.

Something attractive makes a difference psychologically–we feel good using it on a daily basis.  It’s not necessary to have a fancy bathroom. On the other hand, something that’s a daily reminder that we’re old and need equipment that looks like it’s for a patient in a hospital or care center, does not lift spirits (that’s the nicest way I can say it).

I’m guessing these products will eventually come down in price. On the other hand, if I knew the soap dish or towel bar would help an aging parent feel better about needing a grab bar and had the proper space, I would  enlist other family members’ contributions and give it as a gift. It would be another way to help elders feel good; and doesn’t that contribute to their aging well….

………an after-thought: If Tiffany could incorporate an alert pendant’s technology into a necklaces and bracelest, do we think elders would be more inclined to wear them?


3/26/14 Help! Aging Parents has been nominated for 2014 “Best Blogs by Individuals” recognition and we would appreciate your vote by 4/28 if you’re on Facebook. We were honored to be judged part of a 3-way tie for first runner-up last year thanks to your votes which took us to the judging round. Click top badge at right to view a universe of helpful aging blogs and resources, even if you can’t vote on Facebook.

Changing often: “Of Current Interest” (right sidebar). Timely links to research and information from top universities, plus some fun stuff to help parents age well.

Making it Better for Parents in Assisted Living

 Is “assisted living” a euphemism for warehousing aging parents in an attractive place where we think they’ll be well taken care of? The PBS documentary “Life and Death in Assisted Living” is, I certainly hope, not the norm. What is the norm (and not the fault or responsibility of the assisted living facility’s administrators) may be the inattentiveness on the part of adult children once their parents are in assisted living.

Is it purposeful? Do children’s caring instincts become numb when many daily-living responsibilities are handed over to others (the facility in this instance)? On my yearly summer trips west, I have the advantage of seeing people (young and old) whom I haven’t seen in a year. My mind’s eye and my mental makeup record people as they were a year ago. Then there’s the present. In some instances it was heartening; at other times, downright depressing. Assisted living accounted for the latter.

As young parents, it’s easier to get on with our lives when our children are put in daycare with a responsible person, and then preschool etc. etc. But of course at the end of the day children come home and demand a certain amount of interaction and normalcy prevails. Is it a stretch to say that an unknown number of adult children get on with their lives when their still mentally capable parents are in assisted living? And they forget the importance of daily normalcy–whether in assisted living or not.

No doubt every family has members who are tone deaf to this. Hopefully every family also has others who find it easy to contribute normalcy or could contribute but only know how to pay a visit.

Diane Ackerman , poet, essayist wrote “I don’t want to be a passenger in my own life.”

Unless parents are resourceful and take advantage of the many activities that fill a page on the weekly assisted living calendar, they can easily become a passenger in their own life. That becomes depressing.

Trying to get along within the confines of their assisted living space, with but a fragment of their old furniture and their old life, can be depressing.  And anti-depressants (which I’m guessing many take), don’t change the institutional setting, different routine, lack of interactions with family and long-time friends–the lack of normal  (as they knew it) life.

5  Family Must do’s When Elders are in Assisted Living

1. Friends or family interaction (in person) on a daily basis can alleviate some of the isolated, lonely feeling. and bring moments of normalcy. Assign people to visit each day; possibly offer suggestions to those who may lack the creativity to go it alone.  Those suggestions could include:
Talking Points: Years ago a good friend of my husband’s always brought a list of “talking points” when they’d meet. It sparks conversations and is a reminder of what’s important to share.

2. Visiting and acting like a visitor may not provide real interaction.
–What about bringing a deck of card, a game (Scrabble?), or a crossword puzzle to work together to stimulate the mind and add some normal fun? Leave the cards, games, puzzles there for the next visit.

3. Taking assisted-living residents out of the facility as often as possible each week so they are still in touch with “normal.”  Suggestions: A meal; sitting somewhere and people watching; watching a movie in a movie theater; visiting a friend; attending a grandchild’s sporting event or play or concert; or walking through a garden center or a park; or going shopping with those who have decent mobility

4.  Sometime family visitors busy themselves taking care of things (making the bed, straightening up) instead of interacting with person they’ve come to visit. It may not be appreciated. Taking dirty laundry home (if you are good at at laundry) is appreciated, but busying yourself while coming to visit?—no. If you’re compulsive about doing something work-related, asking when/if convenient is respectful.

5. Understand medications and their side-effects. Nix the antidepressants if they’re not absolutely necessary. (Isn’t it legitimate to be depressed when surrounded by elder, needy people day in, day out in assisted living?) Understanding the degree of depression is key. Knowing an anti-despressent’s side-effects is just plain smart. Talk with the doctor if in doubt about the necessity of an anti-depressent (if your parent is taking one) and about side effects of all current medications.

When living at home jeopardizes life and limb and honest, competent home care givers aren’t possible, assisted living is the fallback. But–also–check out the aging in place information below.

Technololgy to help parents remain in their homes

PBS News Hour Video August 8, 2013–There’s No Place Like Home: Seniors Hold on to Urban Independence Into Old Age

More about Beacon Hill

Note: “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities about cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.


Seniors’ Insecurities–What We Should Know to Help Parents Age Well–continued

Are we aware of our parents’ insecurities or do they cleverly hide them? Why do they do this?
Because of: pride, our youth-oriented culture, denial, valuing independence
What are the insecurities?
Concern about meeting responsibilities, looking old,
acting old, forgetting, having an accident, losing mobility, losing sight, losing control and probably most of all, fear that their children will make them move.
Our psychiatrist-senior advisor, Dr. Bud, explains: With aging comes loss.  When normal aging changes impact what we’ve taken for granted throughout our life, (eg. vision, hearing, strength, ability to heal rapidly, move quickly, enjoy mobility, count on our memory)–a sense of loss occurs–sometimes a profound sense of loss can occur. Loss can undermine confidence and create insecurities. There’s a new reality. “We can’t do what we used to do.”
To begin, there can be problems with Acceptance: Julia (who won’t tell her age until she’s 100–OK that’s pride)–is a real, very wise person in my unpublished book. Involved in a discussion with other octogenarians about when older people should stop driving, she says pointedly: “A lot of people can’t be honest with themselves and try to be something they can’t be. It’s acceptance,” she continues, “an accepting of a lessening of yourself and it’s not pleasant. But you have to settle for some of this.”
And there’s Denial: We’ve all seen people who deny aging by their actions and their affect (the way they look). The cliche is the old man flirting with the young women– and the young “trophy wife.” R once told us that one of her trying-to-act-young contemporaries  (both in their 90’s at the time) was still “teetering around” on high heels. We knew this woman’s son and when we asked how his mother was, he responded that she was still wearing those high heels and he feared she would fall one day. (She never did.)
3.  Pride is a motivator that keeps older people looking good and meeting responsibilities.  In our youth-oriented society, it’s not cool to be seen as old. Independent elders, like Sr. Advisor R, take care to maintain their image. They make the effort and take all the time necessary to look as good as possible. They’ve learned to compensate for vision loss, hearing loss, hair loss, energy loss, etc. and many do physical and mental exercises. While they are more cautious, especially when vision impairs seeing well at night, they are more graceful about it. R will now ask for your arm when stepping of the curb to cross a street–a direct, dignified request.
R isn’t driven by our youth-oriented culture. Perhaps it’s because she learned grown up responsibilities when very young. She says her father taught her to be responsible very early on due to family illness. That included learning to take a streetcar by herself to get places. And R has accepted “the lessening,” figuring out how to compensate so she can do most of the things she has done since she was widowed in her early 50’s.
She still lives alone and independently, knows what’s going on, helps friends, supports her favorite charities, and has love and admiration from–I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say–every young person (boomer and younger) who spends 5 minutes with her.
I’ve quoted R many times, saying (once she entered her 90’s) that “things get more difficult each day.” We believe her, but don’t see the evidence except where energy is concerned. So what do we, adult children, do? We try to empower. We respect her wishes. We give legitimate compliments and praise when appropriate. If she doesn’t ask, we keep most suggestions to ourselves. We try to supplement groceries or make things easier in any way we can during the months we’re with her.
A geriatric social worker said once “It takes a village to keep the grandparent in the village.” To that end, R’s neighbors wheel her garbage and recyclables to the street and back each week, bring the daily newspaper and mail to her back door, leave flowers, baked goods, little notes by her back door, and two women (one 51, the other a boomer) phone each week when they go grocery shopping–inviting her to go with them or asking what they can get for her.
How fortunate older people are when they have thoughtful, caring neighbors who value older people and help make aging in place possible; and how grateful far-away-living children are for these wonderful neighbors who fill in the gaps (thus unseen insecurities don’t overwhelm), and–in general–help parents age well.

Help Parents Age Well and in Place: Old Bathrooms. Old Parents. New Shower Fittings for a 97-year-old Woman–Update: Now 100, Still in Her Home

IMG_0971Search engines connect to countless websites offering renovations to help aging parents and others remain in their homes when muscles, joints, and limbs become “ify.” Mobility problems may instantly flash “candidate for assisted living” in the minds of many and rightly so.

The flip side for others, however, is the cost (literally and emotionally) of moving vs. remaining in one’s home. Clearly, if mental capacity has become impaired, remaining at home is risky. When aging parents still have a “good head on their shoulders” and are adamant about remaining in their home, values and a philosophy of life come into play. And so it was for Sr. Advisor R, now 99.

Readers know she still lives, without daily help or a companion, in the 1-story home she and her husband built in the mid-1940’s. From the minute she left the hospital after surgery for a broken hip two years ago (she lost her balance and fell after making a quick turn to straighten out a picture her cleaning woman had turned around), going home was her only goal. After 4 months “of very hard work” (she’ll tell you) in a rehab center, she went home alone, refusing all offers of anyone’s staying there with her. But she couldn’t go home without a physical therapist visiting her home and making specific recommendation to make her home as accident proof as possible.

R is smart, reads widely, orders through catalogs, and had already taken the initiative to have some of the usual grab bars, easier-to-grip handles for faucets etc. installed well before breaking her hip. She was limber enough before her fall to get in and out of a bath tub with help from the grab bars. But after hip surgery a shower became an easier option. That entailed updating her previously not-often-used shower.

IMG_0964The shower is about 4′ x 6′ and grab bars were installed on 3 walls: 2 horizontal and 1 vertical.  Looking in one sees a high step up. A vertical grab bar is unseen on the right wall, just as you step in (or out) and a left horizontal bar above the bench is easily grabbed when stepping into the shower. The 2nd horizontal bar plus a soap dish are within easy reach. Turning the corner, the shower control comes into view. The tile floor is from the ’40’s and would not be recommended today because of its somewhat slippery finish. R is very careful. Doesn’t stand to shower and doesn’t do much walking in the small confines.

Next, the shower control (on the wall opposite the bench) and the long metal shower hose hanging down for the hand-held sprayer attachment (there’s no shower head–only a vertical bar the sprayer could be attached to if used as a shower head, which it isn’t). The sprayer faces the shower controls but actually fastens into a holder on the 4th wall abutting the shower door and near grab bar.  R. says the sprayer attachment is heavier than she would have liked but, she says, “I wasn’t consulted.”

I have a Kohler spray attachment that I love. (Check it out, [e-faucets was least expensive a year ago]); I researched well before getting it. It’s as powerful as the big ones–good for a female, someone with small hands, or someone who wants/needs something relatively light and small. No doubt we’ll make that a gift (Mother’s Day will be here before we know it), but we will check with R first to make certain she’d like it.

The 4th wall, to which the sprayer head is attached, has the vertical grab bar that’s unseen in the photo.

Having a small bathroom and small shower made this “update” simple, but “expensive–around $1,000″–according to R. Moving to assisted or independent living would have been quite expensive. Much more money for much less space. Plus, she’d be leaving a home and neighbors that have been–and are–an important part of her life.

As long as R’s mind continues to be good, she will call the shots (and enjoy her refurbished shower). To do otherwise would be to undermine all that she has done to remain independent. As we try to help parents age well, we stop and ask ourselves: Is it easier/better for us or easier or better for them?”

Related: Bathroom Safety Checklist:–Bathroom/  I found this article several months after writing this post. R’s hands have no problem with the dial shower control mechanism.

Changing weekly: “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some free and some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Help Aging Parents: Can They (and We) Grow Old and Remain at Home?

The Answer is Yes

Having just returned from Portland, Oregon (after a visit to Republic, Washington–small town near the Canadian border sitting on an Eocine fossil bed), this post from IndependentlyAging’s blog, about a remodeled tiny bathroom that enabled an older Portland woman to age in place, caught my attention. I then linked to photos and information about the bathroom at Leave it to Portlanders–they are practical and creative.

On the other hand Republic, a mining/lumber town–population about 1000–merits a place in today’s post because small towns are well suited to aging in place. Everyone knows everyone in Republic. The community is caring, resourceful, seemingly self-sufficient. It is welcoming to visitors, many of whom are attracted to the beauty of the area and the fossils.

Cost of living is low. You can hunt for fossils after paying $5-10 admission to the Stonerose Interpretive Center. For $5 additional you borrow shovel or whatever to “hunt.” The $5 is returned when you return the shovel etc. Keep 3 fossils you’ve found at no cost, assuming the Center already has samples. I’m guessing the Center could use extra funds, but the people who work and hang out there never mention that–they just talk about how much they enjoy what they’re doing.

Republic, WA : Downtown Republic

I guess small towns work this way. People share and simply help each other out. They–with a little help from their friends– are capable of making homes user-friendly for aging towns-people. It enables old folk to remain in their homes as they grow old…. the blessings of everyone knowing (about) everyone, balanced by the caring and support that small communities offer.

On the other hand, both of my parents occupied a small bedroom off the kitchen of their city home as their last bedroom. We hired a firm to do some refitting of the bathtub area to make everything work out. (We had a bit more space than this 3x 3 bathroom you linked to.) But that’s the point. A tiny bathroom can be made old-age-friendly and allow old people to stay in their home—and we know that old people who still think clearly do better when they aren’t forced to move because of certain mobility and other non-life threatening  problems.

If the idea of aging in place resonates, check out Independently Aging. There’s good information and ideas…information that especially those of us who don’t live in small towns can use to help aging  parents–and ultimately ourselves.

When Aging Parents Should Move From Their Homes

Do you know the optimum age at which aging parents should move?
Clue: It’s a wake-up call for us.

I’ve previously written several posts about downsizing, as well as whether big city apartments are a good place to grow old (after reading a NY Times article about big cities’ efforts to become more senior friendly). As we prepare for our move, we’re hearing a lot about other people’s experiences and receiving a lot of advice.

Of course one size doesn’t fit all and generalizations are just that–not age specific. Yet according to a tiny sample (1 realtor plus older sellers) ideally people in their 60’s should be thinking about and planning to move before they’re into their 70’s.  Translated: We shouldn’t be too old when we move. When we’re old enough to qualify for those senior early-bird dinner specials or other senior discounts, we should begin thinking (just thinking, mind you) ahead.

Reasons include the fact that: people begin to slow down; it gets harder to move with each passing year; no one wants to move because they’re pressured to move; and how many times have we heard older people lamenting the fact they didn’t move earlier.

A good way to address this issue (as well as most other issues) is to ask ourselves What the goal? for aging parents and for ourselves (if we’re in the age group). By keeping the goal foremost in mind we separate the extraneous from the necessary and can stay on course.

And the goal may be to keep aging parents–who are happy and doing reasonably well–in place. Two of our senior advisors, now in their 90’s, both having recovered from falls in their homes resulting in broken hips, are now happily back in their homes without caregivers.

In addition, Aging In Place options have been springing up in towns and cities throughout the country, ever since the Beacon Hill project in Boston was conceived at the end of the 1900’s.

Bottom line: there is no doubt a time when moving is easier for older people–a time before they slow down, probably around 70–although clearly the age varies depending on the individual. But then, perhaps, aging in place options will make it possible for older people to remain in their homes long after they have slowed down and no one will need to think about moving unless cognitive or other impairments necessitate it.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Aging at Home or Elsewhere: Helping Aging Parents Make the Right Move

“Picture the scene: parents aren’t eating properly, they have deteriorated medically, the bills aren’t paid, the mail has piled up, the laundry isn’t done, clutter is everywhere.”

Does this make you cringe?  Or worse?

These are “typical crises” that prompt adult children to “run to put them (parents) in assisted living prematurely,” says J. Donna Sullivan, LCSW, Director of Older Adult Services for the Scarsdale and Edgemont Family Counseling  Service.  “It’s premature,” she says, “because their parents could continue to live fairly independently for another 5-6 years if they took advantage of services that are available in almost all communities.”

“What I’ve seen most is the deterioration of older people’s health because they’re physically not able to get to doctors or dentists or get their hearing aid batteries…There are services to assist them with meals, transportation, with housekeeping–but they’re not getting them.  The bills aren’t paid and the mail piles up because they can’t see well and need new glasses and ultimately it gets to crisis mode.  These older people need care management, not assisted living.”

It’s common knowledge that most people who can remain in their own homes as they age do better.  Because–

  • Home is an anchor offering comfort and the familiar.
  • Feelings of independence and self-worth remain in tact.
  • The familiar neighborhood often still provides connections with others.
  • The well-known physical structure of the home instills the confidence to move about freely within its walls, contributing to mobility and physical well-being unless stairs are an issue.

Thus, it’s probably in most aging parents’ best interest if we can help them remain in their homes as long as possible.  Finding out more about–then using–the new technology (see last two posts), as well as older technology like the pendant one pushes in an emergency, may help.

If this doesn’t seem doable, a social worker experienced in working with seniors or a geriatric care manager can do an assessment of your aging parent’s needs and make recommendations.

Knowing how important “home” is, raises 3 important questions:

  1. “Is it better to respect parents’ wishes about where they live–even if it makes it  more difficult for us?
  2. “Are we taking advantage of available services and technology to make it work?”
  3. “If we can’t make it work, how do we–and our parents–approach/discuss finding a suitable living situation elsewhere?

Continued in Saturday’s post….