As our loved ones grow older, it is inevitable that we start to think about how we are going to care for them in their twilight years. You might be mistaken for thinking that elderly people can only continue to live in their own homes as long as they are the perfect picture of health.
But that’s not necessarily the case.
Evidence suggests that even older people who are living with conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s can remain living in their own homes for as long as the environment remains safe and healthy for them. While some at-home care might be required, whether provided by yourself, other family members, or by a professional team, older people living with all types of health conditions can continue to live in the home they love, retaining their independence for as long as possible, and maybe even slowing the progression of certain illnesses.
But what about a condition such as Parkinson’s? Is it possible to continue to care for a loved one at home if they are living with this illness? And if so, what precautions and modifications can be put in place to ensure that an elderly person can continue living in their own home for as long as possible?
What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a nervous system disorder that, like Alzheimer’s, is a progressive illness. This means that a person’s symptoms increase over time, usually in stages and, also like Alzheimer’s, there is no cure.
Parkinson’s Disease affects movement and is characterised by tremors, slowed movement and rigid muscles, impaired posture and balance, and changes in speech.
If you are caring for someone who is living with PD your focus should be on adapting their home and daily routine as their condition progresses. There are some simple changes that you can make to your loved one’s environment that will allow them to stay as independent as possible and maintain a good quality of life.
Safety At Home
Mobility problems are a common symptom of PD, and so making sure that your loved one’s home environment is as safe and accessible as possible is really important. As the condition progresses the vast majority of PD patients will be using mobility aids such as walkers, wheelchairs or canes.
Because of this, it’s important that rooms in the house are clear enough to move around freely, that there are clear, wide pathways between rooms, and that it’s easy to get through doorways.
But what else do we need to consider when keeping our loved one safe at home?
Floor Coverings – People who have PD can develop a shuffling gait that can increase the risk of tripping or falling over. Thick carpets can prove more challenging to walk over than a thinner carpet or bare floor, so it’s worth speaking to your loved one about considering a change of flooring around the home. If your loved one has rugs in their home, make sure they are placed on a non-slip mat with the corners taped down and secured to prevent any accidents. If your loved one has agreed to having wooden or laminate flooring installed, a slip-resistant cleaning product is a must!
Furniture – Rooms that are too cluttered are going to be a hindrance to anyone, least of all a person whose mobility isn’t at its best, so it’s important that there’s plenty of space between items of furniture and that nothing is taking up unnecessary room. Placing furniture 5.5ft apart where possible leaves enough room for a wheelchair to be able to do a complete 360 degree turn – useful to know if your loved one has started to use one to aid mobility!
Lighting – Lamps need to be placed where they won’t be easily tipped over, and yet also where switches are going to be within easy reach. Make sure there are no trailing wires that could pose a trip hazard.
This covers the basics of the whole home – making sure there’s nothing that can be tripped over, and that there’s plenty of room to move comfortably, whether on foot or in a wheelchair – but there are some modifications that can be made to individual rooms that can make life easier for your loved one, and also for you as their carer.
Someone who is living with PD will find it increasingly difficult to walk, and maintain balance and coordination which is why it’s so important that all furniture in the home is stable.
If your loved one has a bed frame with caster wheels, either remove them or keep them firmly locked in place. It’s also a good idea to install a bed rail or safety handle to your loved one’s bed frame, to assist them in getting in and out of bed.
If your elderly loved one is using a wheelchair or rollator, get them into the habit of locking the wheels before attempting to move in or out of beds or chairs.
The main thing about the kitchen is that it needs to be really user-friendly for someone who has PD.
The traditional knobs and handles on kitchen cabinets and drawers can be too small and difficult to grasp for someone with tremors, limited dexterity and poor grip strength. You can replace handles across the whole house with bulkier ones and replace knobs with levered door handles. If replacing handles isn’t something you can do right away, you can use pieces of rope or fabric tied to the existing hardware to improve accessibility.
When it comes to storing cookware, try to ensure that everything is stored between chest and waist height so that your loved one isn’t having to reach up high or bend down low and risk injury.
The bathroom is reportedly the most dangerous room in the house when it comes to trips and falls, and injuries such as abrasions, sprains and fractures are most likely to occur in or around the bath and shower or on or near the toilet.
Install grab bars next to toilets and sinks as well as inside and outside of bath and shower areas to give your loved one some extra stability and confidence when washing and using the toilet.
Make sure these are the type that are screwed into the wall rather than removable suction cup grab bars which aren’t intended to support a person’s full body weight.
It could be that parts of the bathroom suite need replacing, especially if your loved one has more advanced mobility issues. Walk-in bathtubs and shower chairs or benches can minimise the risk of falls, and you might want to replace glass shower doors with a shower curtain or plastic door for extra safety. Non-slip mats can be a helpful addition both in the bathtub and in the areas surrounding it to prevent slipping on tiled bathroom floors.
We’ve already spoken about the difficulty those living with PD can have with grasping objects, so it’s a good idea to replace bars of soap with liquid body wash or soap-on-a-rope, and to ensure that all personal care products such as toilet rolls are kept within easy reach.
With a little forward planning and thought you can make day-to-day activities much easier for someone who is living with PD and allow them to retain their independence in their own home for as long as possible. If you want to find out how we can help with at-home care for an elderly loved one who is living with this condition or others, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with a member of our dedicated team.