By DR. ROSS COLT
The world is opening back up. There’s a sense of relief in the air, but also anxiety. If you’re caring for an aging spouse, family member, friend or neighbor while also transitioning back to the office or your normal activities, you may be nervous about leaving them at home alone more often. If you’re an older adult living alone, your grown children may even have some of these concerns about you!
Thankfully, there are a number of resources you can use to make your home as safe as possible—including many offered by Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) centers, such as the Gary & Mary West PACE in San Marcos.
Here’s how you can help your loved one maintain their independence this summer, or help yourself successfully age in place.
For elderly individuals, falls can cause severe injuries with huge medical bills and even precipitate physical declines, forcing a move into a care facility. But there are many simple, low-cost modifications you can make to prevent falls at home. According to the AARP, these include:
Textured, no-slip strips in the bath or shower;
Applying non-slip wax to floors;
Placing a waterproof seat or chair in the shower;
Non-skid treads on steps or stairs;
Removing throw rugs;
Replacing round standard door knobs with lever handles;
Using rubber-backed bath mats;
Keeping pets (and their toys) in a separate area from high-traffic parts of your home.
More permanent additions can include adding grab bars to stairways and bathrooms; installing a raised or high-profile toilet; remodeling a shower with a step-in entry to make it walk-in; creating zero-threshold or zero-step doorways; moving light switches so that they’re easily reachable from a wheelchair or bed; and widening doors and hallways. Consult with an occupational therapist or certified aging-in-place (CAPS) specialist to learn what your home needs.
Beat the heat
According to the CDC, people aged 65 and older are more prone to heat-related health problems. To keep yourself and your older loved one safe this summer, follow common-sense tips including:
Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of cool water;
Read the labels on medications, and keep them stored at the proper temperature;
Limit outdoor activities when the sun is strongest, 10am-4pm;
Run the air conditioning. To stay comfortable and save on your energy bill, the U.S. Department of Energy recommends keeping your thermostat at 78 degrees.
If you or your loved one have a routine that involves outdoor activities like gardening or a daily walk, establish a way to check in with them or for others to check in with you. Have an emergency contact list of family members and doctors easily available.
Make a plan
It’s a good idea for you and your loved one to have a plan in case of a health issue, natural disaster or power outage. Use this Personal Disaster Plan guide from the County of San Diego Office of Emergency Services to help arrange everything needed to smoothly handle unexpected events.
No matter your care needs or if you are on fixed income, PACE programs are here to help you or your loved one safely age in place at home. Consult with in-house occupational therapists and care coordinators to help you figure out how to make your home safer. PACE care coordinators can also arrange for wellness checks, in-home assistance and other support for you and your loved one as temperatures rise.
— Dr. Ross Colt is the Medical Director for the Gary and Mary West PACE in San Marcos, CA. He is a family physician with more than two decades of full spectrum clinical practice experience, including a deep background in academic medicine and leadership in managed care environments at the regional and national level. A decorated war veteran, Dr. Colt served two combat tours in Iraq and retired after 24 years as an Army Colonel. He currently lives in the Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego with his wife and two teenage children.