Aging Parents: How Do You Know They’re Safe at Home When You’re Not There?
The days of the family homestead are fading. Generations no longer live under one roof, and families scatter based on jobs, interests or circumstance. Yet as parents once cared for their young children, they’re now on the other end–receiving care from their own grown children or other family.
Distance adds a difficult twist for caregivers. According to a University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center report, long-distance caregivers live an average of 450 miles from their loved ones, driving up to seven hours to make a visit. How do you know if mom or dad is safe at home? Or when do you consider outside assistance–say remote monitoring technology, home health care or even assisted living?
Aging at home provides elderly with a sense of comfort, independence and well-being. AARP reports 22 million senior homeowners in the U.S. and 85 percent of them have indicated wanting to live at home the remainder of their lives. And many do stay successfully at home, provided the environment supports the changing needs of an aging person.
Aging in Place in a Safe Home
Safety can refer to so many things: an environment free of physical obstacles; security from intruders; a home fitted with the latest technology to monitor everything from the kitchen stove to the medicine cabinet. From the smallest measure, such as switching to brighter light bulbs to investing in personal emergency response systems and a high-tech security system, making these investments for your elderly parents will instill peace of mind when you can’t be there. Consider the following ways to make your parents’ home safer, and to keep the lines of communication open when you can’t be there to check in.
Prevention and Home Safety
Mom can’t use the steps, so relocate the bedroom downstairs. She can’t step into the bathtub so install a walk-in shower. As you make your checklist for transforming your parents’ home into a trip-free, navigable home, there are many resources available. An article by the National Aging In Place Council gives a room-by-room tour, with pictures, including the back yard. Or you can print a very thorough checklist from RebuildingTogether.org and strike each task off the list as you make your improvements.
The information is vital. The CDC reports that one out of three adults aged 65 and older falls each year. Falls–a highly preventable accident–are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury, broken bones and for falsely instilling a sense of fear in older adults, causing people to limit their activities and trigger an overall decline of health. Remove the obvious obstacles, install handrails, double-check smoke detectors. Each time you visit, do a walk-through to look for potential issues.
On average there are about 13 million homes burglarized each year–about one every 10 seconds, according to the Metropolitan Burglar and Fire Alarm Association. Peace of mind may start with little things like installing a peep hole in the front door and adding heavy-duty locks to keep strangers out. Home security systems have revolutionized safety over the years, with the ability to connect instantly with help, and even include family members in the loop through connectivity with smartphones, tablets and computers.
Home security systems today are indeed smart. Not only can you arm and disarm a system with your phone, you can adjust lights, the thermostat and even watch activity in and around the home. So even though you live a distance from mom or dad, you’re able to keep track of what’s happening at their house and whether or not there is an emergency through the use of an advanced security system.
One thing to consider: although the technology is in place to watch the comings-and-goings of your mom or dad, make sure they are participants in your measures to help their safety. Privacy in one’s home isn’t a privilege, it’s a right that all are entitled to, whether young or old.
Technology Brings Safety to Aging in Place
The best way to truly know if your mom or dad is doing well at home is through communication. The telephone, emails, video-chatting and enlisting help from neighbors and local friends. But it’s knowing that help is available when it’s needed that puts a long-distance caregiver’s mind a rest. With the rocket-speed advancement of technology, a home can be outfitted to monitor movement, medicine consumption, how many times a refrigerator is opened, and whether or not a person’s vital signs are normal and healthy.
Products available today range from table top to mobile vital sign monitoring devices that transmit information directly to a center staffed by medical professionals. Family members, including long-distance caregivers can access the information via a password-protected website. Pendants alert a call center if there’s trouble or a fall or confusion.
Reminder-type technology includes electronic pill-dispensing system, phone-based reminder services or even a personal emergency response system if intense assistance is necessary.
Statistics still peg seniors as the demographic using technology the least, but as the population of Baby Boomers age, developers are tailoring technology to meet their needs. Larger screens and buttons on smartphones, one-touch internet and e-mail buttons, and voice-activation components help older users navigate newer technology. Outfit your parents with technology they can use, like smartphones on which they can use to call, text or video-chat. Teach them how to use Facebook to connect with you and other friends and Skype or other video conferencing technology so you can talk “face-to-face” on a regular basis.
Nothing is quite as comforting as being nearby if you’re concerned about an elderly parent or loved one who opts to age in place at home. Knowing you’ve helped implement safety and security measures in their home and connecting through technology regularly can help lessen the worry and melt the miles away.