Jan 16

Staying in the Home with Help

by Dillon Kato

Seniors who choose to age in their homes instead of moving into assisted living facilities may want to consider changes around the house to make their lives safer and more comfortable. Two areas they might want to focus on are the bathroom, and the lighting that they have throughout the home.

Bathrooms are the place in the house where the most falls occur, said Laura Poitra, a rehab specialist with Kalispell Medical Equipment. Poitra does home assessments for people looking to make changes to make their home lives easier.

One of the most common additions Poitra installs are grab bars. The long term value is immense, she said. “You spend maybe fifty to one hundred dollars on bars. That could prevent a fall, hip fracture, hospitalization, rehab, and recovery care. It’s an investment,” Poitra said.

Thankfully, many of them are now made to be decorative as well as useful, for people who don’t want their home to look like an institution, she said. They can even be integrated into towel racks, soap dish holders in a tub or shower, or toilet paper holders.

To make it safer to get in and out of a bathtub, Poitra said one option besides putting in a shower or walk-in tub is a tub transfer bench, which allows a person to sit down on the outside and slide into a tub.

For people with more significant disabilities, Poitra’s company can install ceiling lifts or rail systems to transfer someone out of a wheelchair and into a tub or seated

Another useful addition for the house is what Poitra called a “super pole.” This safety pole can be mounted anywhere in the house, and pressurizes against the floor and ceiling. The vertical pole can be helpful for people sitting down on a toilet, or can be placed next to a bed or a favorite chair to assist in getting in and out.

Like Kalispell Medical, a remodel job with Re-Bath in Butte begins with a consultation walkthrough, where a design consultant like Joshua Ford will come into the client’s bathroom to assess the layout of the current room, and help the client decides what changes they need. 

“Two-thirds of the business I do with older people is them wanting to redo parts of their bathrooms, especially wanting to change their bathtub to not have to climb over the wall anymore,” Ford said.

In most of these cases, he suggests taking out the tub and putting in a seated shower stall, as opposed to more expensive options like a walk-in tub.

“Generally, those are not really necessary unless someone has specific health needs that require it. Most times, a seated shower with grab bars does the trick,” Ford said.

With a seated shower, Ford puts in a shower fixture with a handheld head. To make things even easier, these shower heads have on/off and temperature controls on them, so a person won’t have to stand up and sit down in a wet shower to control the water.

Raised toilets and changing sink heights are some of the other common changes Re-Bath makes. Ford said it’s about making the amount a person has to bend to use their bathroom as minimal as possible.

The other change Ford recommends in most bathrooms is to change the flooring. Tile and linoleum can become very slick when wet, and putting down a mat on the floor can create a tripping risk. He installs vinyl flooring with a fiberglass, non-slip waterproof coating to provide peace of mind.

On a more universal front, lighting around the house is an area where even small changes can make a big difference. Electricians like Jeff Stock, owner of Elk Ridge Electric in Billings, specialize in lighting changes to help seniors.

The simplest change he he tells older people to do is to change lightbulbs. The color of light a bulb puts off is measured on the Kelvin scale, and most people’s bulbs put off an amber color, in the 3,000-4,000 Kelvin rating. Stock recommended older people who are having a harder time seeing change bulbs to the 5,000 and above rating, which puts off a bluer, crisper light.

“This doesn’t mean the wattage on the bulb needs to change, it just means when you buy a bulb from the hardware store, to pick one that puts off a much bluer, more
daylight light,” Stock said.

As we age, he added, people develop a yellowish film on their eyes. Bluer light makes for a much clearer light that helps with day to day activities. If a person feels uncomfortable changing their bulbs, especially in ceiling mounted fixtures, have a son or daughter or a friend come over to help.

While he said changing lightbulbs is one of the most important changes a person can make, as an electrician, Stock can also install more complicated systems to help people have better lighting. One of his most installed services is a dusk-to-dawn switch, which can replace a normal light switch and be preprogrammed to come on in the morning and stay on until night.

Stock said he made the choice to specialize in lighting to help the elderly because the specific needs they have require a special attention to detail.

“What I’m trying to do is keep you in your home longer, with that same quality of life. I don’t want to take that freedom away,” Stock said.

Another change in sight as people age is a harder time distinguishing what is in shadow. When Stock does walkthrough consultations, he looks for places where daily tasks happen, and make sure there will be direct light sources there.

“Say you’re leaning over vegetables that you’re cutting. There’s a shadow, so you might want under-cabinet lights. Same for a place where you read mail, or pay bills or take prescriptions. You want to make sure you have multiple sources of light so there isn’t a shadow,” Stock said.

At night, how lighting is placed in the house matter even more. Stock said he recommends having some type of light that stay on, albeit dimmer, all through the night. Turning on a bright light in a dark room means you have to wait until your eyes adjust, which takes longer the more you age.

Some easy solutions are to have small lighting around the bed and in the hallway. Stock can hook these lights up to a photocell on the outside of the house, so they come on at night, but there are also inexpensive options that a person can do themselves.

“Even inexpensive nightlights, stuck in outlets, can help if you get up in the night and are trying to go to the bathroom without turning on a bedroom light and waking up your spouse,” he said.

Stock and his wife write a regular column in the Billings Gazette with tips for better lighting and renovations. Links to his columns can be found on his website, www.elkridgeelectricmt.com.

For some, staying in the home as they age means they may still require some outside medical or caregiver assistance. Companies like North West Home Care, with
offices in Missoula, Helena and Billings, provide a wide gamut of home health services, including nursing, personal care assistants and certified nursing assistants to help people with the activities of daily life.

“Nurses can help with things like filling med boxes and doing general health assessments, and care attendants can help throughout the day with hygiene tasks, dressing and helping to feed people,” said Virginia Lindauer, North West’s director of operations.

Lindauer said the majority of their clients live in their own home or apartment, and while North West does not offer live-in help service, in many cases a caregiver will
come in the morning to help a client get ready for the day, and be able to come back in the afternoon and again in the evening to help them get ready for bed.

“We work with all of our clients to figure out what their needs they need help with are, and then plan around that,” Lindauer said.

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