More seniors are choosing to age in place. Sheryl Bennett-Wilson counts the ways millennials can help keep their parents safe
When the National Institute of Aging asked Canadians over the age of 65, almost 100 percent said they plan to live in their present home for as long as possible. For Peter Haché, co-owner of RENOs4Life and a certified aging-in-place specialist (CAPS), that means a millennial mind shift.
“Right now, most 65-to 80-year-olds are still pretty mobile,” says Haché, “and that would be the approximate age range for parents of millennials. But think about this — the first millennials turn 40 this year and by 2030, every baby boomer will be over the age of 65.” He says right now, almost 70 percent of homecare is provided by family members. Which means they might have some help, but a family member is a primary caregiver. “Now is the time to think about a safer home environment, not just for the people who live there, but for those who help them.”
Haché gets it. He knows it’s a difficult conversation to have. “Look, everyone is in ‘fall’ denial. I always get ‘we’re fine.’ But no one is thinking of the next 10 years.” Haché doesn’t even use the term ‘grab bar’ anymore. He calls them ‘grab fixtures’ and sells them as innovative technology. And an extra railing on a staircase is a benefit for everyone. “If your parents want to ‘age in place,’ get them to talk to a professional, like an occupational therapist, who can help them. Make it a family discussion on how they can scale their home to make the accommodations they’ll need as they age. It will make their home safer for everyone, of every age.” As he says, all it takes is one fall to turn a household upside down.
“Falls are costly for families and for the health care system,” says Nancy Edwards, RN, PhD, professor emeritus, University of Ottawa, who has worked in the field of fall prevention for over 30 years and currently sits on the National Research Council Standing Committee for Houses and Small Buildings. She is also the chair of the fall prevention committee for C.A.R.P. Ottawa. For seniors, it’s estimated that falls cost the health care system nearly three billion dollars annually.” Edwards says that every year, one in three seniors falls and about 25 percent of seniors’ falls results in injury. “Falls in bathrooms and on stairs account for a larger percentage of injurious falls than falls in other locations,” she says. As Edwards points out, many falls are preventable, and with older Canadians planning on aging in place, safer environmental features are important. “Putting in that extra handrail — even on the steps to your backyard deck — improving the lighting on stairwells and yes, a bathroom ‘grab bar’ properly installed creates a win-win-win for everyone.” Edwards says that there is funding available for people wanting to make their environment safer and more accessible, as well as interest-free loans to make home environmental safety changes, including handrails and grab fixtures.
This information is also timely in that winter, with ice and snow on the ground, is bad for falls. The City of Ottawa runs a program through the Council on Aging called Snow Moles, where the public can have input on stairs and sidewalks that are slippery and potentially hazardous for a fall.
Edwards says a good exercise and balance program, like Tai Chi, can help prevent falls. Meg Stickl, CEO of AIM Fitness – activities in motion and seniors fitness expert, agrees that balance is key in preventing a fall. “Sure, having good leg strength is important,” says Stickl, “but building up your core to maintain good balance is really important too.”
Stickl works with older adults to improve their mobility and develop good fitness habits so they can live healthier lives. “I get it that people want to age in place,” says Stickl, “so start now. And if you haven’t been doing regular exercises, well, it’s never too late to start.” Stickl says that even simple things can be a benefit. “Do leg lifts in the kitchen while you’re waiting for your coffee in the morning, or while you’re watching a Zoom webinar,” she says. “You’ll be surprised how just a few minutes a day makes a difference.” Stickl suggests getting the family involved with a fitness challenge with walks and balance exercises, and making small changes, including sitting up straight at the computer. “Tuck your chin back and down to create better spine alignment and practice moving your shoulders up, back, then down for better posture — good posture, a strong core and an exercise routine equals better balance and less risk of falls, so you can age healthfully.”
RENOS4Life – https://renos4life.ca/
AIM Fitness – https://activitiesinmotion.ca/
Snow Moles – https://coaottawa.ca/snowmoles/
Fall Prevention Information – https://parachute.ca/en/injury-topic/fall-prevention-for-seniors/
C.A.R.P. promotes and protects the interests, rights, and quality of life of Canadians as we age.
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