Parental Holiday Visits – RED vs. GREEN

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We hope you had (are having) a wonderful holiday season and are able to visit and enjoy time with your loved ones and extended family.  While home visiting my folks (Baby Boomers themselves), I read a good article by Cathy Cress which was prepping the adult kids for a visit to their parents house.  She suggested the idea of “RED FLAGS” in your folks’ environment that you could be looking for as warning signs for change in their behaviors.  We agree that for those that only see their folks at the holidays, this “annual assessment” is a good idea.  Take a look around and note what’s different in their environment and behaviors compared to the last time you were there.  This is a great time to make a quiet assessment of how your parents are doing, and if needed, begin some of the gentle and delicate conversations that may be required in the months and years ahead about the changes that may be occurring for them as they increase in age.  These may include changes in their habits, health, awareness, physical or mental faculties, or independence abilities in and around their homes.

Beyond these ideas by Cathy for “checking in” on how your folks are doing in their own home (which are mostly behavioral change cues – I’ve listen them at the end of this article), we would also like to recommend some more “psychology of the built environment” type assessment items and cues.

1) STAIRS and TRIP HAZARDS – Do your parents use throw rugs?  Did you notice them tripping on them or see them bunching up due to travel over them?  How did they do navigating the stairs?  Are they using the handrail?  Are they also holding onto the other wall for support?  Are there other vertical transitions or thresholds between heights or materials that were an issue for them to navigate?

2) DAYLIGHTING – Is their house light and bright, or dark and dim?  Is there too much glare during certain times of day with the sun at certain angles in the sky / through the windows (late afternoon? early morning?)  Does it feel warm and inviting, or cold and dank?  Does it feel “lived in”, or a bit too “empty”?  Are YOU comfortable in their space?  Do other visitors appear comfortable?  Are there areas that could use blinds, shades, or external overhangs to help with the glare coming into the rooms

3) TASK LIGHTING – Do they have sufficient lighting (both ambient and task) at the places where they stop and do work such as a desk, cooking and prep areas, reading chairs, etc.?  Is the light blocked by the occupant?  Does their body cast a shadow on the work space they are trying to use?

4) FIXTURE OPERATION – How do they manage the use of the faucets and sinks?  Do they require you to grip and twist handles, or can you push a lever with your wrist for operation?  How about door handles or door knobs?  Are there doorknobs that are tough to turn and require a grip and twist?  Are there doors that are “tight” or “tough” to open, that seem to require an extra thrust and then they “release” open all at once?

5) PLUGS and SWITCHES – Did you notice how Mom or Dad’s hands use a standard light switch?  Do they flip it up and down with ease and without pain?  Do they alter how they use their hand for this task?  Do they have trouble reaching down to standard height outlets for cords and plugs?

6) CLEAR SPACE and MANEUVERABILITY – How did they do moving down the hall, and through / around doors that needed to be opened or closed on the way through them?  Are there door swings that are a hindrance to the open floor space in a room that make it tough to move about freely inside the room?  Are there door swings that create tough to reach areas in a room when they are open?

7) GRIP ASSISTANCE – How did they do holding onto a stack of dishes or a handful of silverware?  How about their cooking utensils, did they seem to cause discomfort or require extra effort or focus to utilize?

8) ACCESSIBLITY to their THINGS – How did they do getting dishes in and out of the sink, dishwasher, cabinetry?  Could they safely and easily get items out of all upper and lower cabinetry in the kitchen, laundry room, garage, etc.?  Do shelves come “up” and “down” to meet the user at a comfortable height, or is it an exercise in precarious reaching?

There are many more categories we can’t address all in one blog post.  Acoustics related to reverberation and speaking / hearing, fall prevention and monitoring / alert systems, flooring and counter top materials and slip resistance in “wet rooms”, color contrasts and material transitions for vertical and horizontal surfaces, medication reminders, mobility devices and vertical transfer products, and many more topics as well.

These are all areas that a professional designer can help you and your parents with.  As we are, a CAPS Architect (or designer) can assist, along with any other professional that may be helping with care (an occupational therapist, physical therapist, in-home care person – professional or family member), in assessing the home and it’s challenges that are specific to the client (your parent/s), allowing all team members to start looking at pro-active solutions to help maintain their independence.  “Universal Design” as it’s termed by some, is good design that works better for everyone.  The client, the family, the caregiver, and even the visitor will benefit from good design solutions.  Please let us know if we can help you, your family, and your folks to stay in their own homes with a successful “Aging In Place” design solution to create their “forever home” vs. the “it works for now” approach that inevitably ends in an accident and a panic situation, without being addressed in advance.

Here was Cathy’s quick checklist of ideas to look out for from her article as well:

Red Flags

➢ Curb Appeal – Does your Dad’s home look more like a neglected rental? Is there disrepair, a weedy yard, uncleaned carpets or furniture

➢ Housekeeping – Are there dirty dishes, unwashed sheets, a mess where things used to be tidy? Does the house look like it needs a scrubbing, or at least someone to help with cleaning?

➢ Medication – Can you find a stash of outdated medication in the bathroom, bedroom or anywhere?

➢ Driving – Is driving with your older Dad frightening? Ask him to drive you somewhere. How is his reaction time, or judgment? Can he drive at night? Does he have traffic tickets? Assess the car. Is it worse for wear, dented or are there telltale signs of accidents?

➢ Trash- Are there bags of trash in the basement or out back? Look in closets.

➢ Collections- Are there growing collections that appear to be out of control, of newspapers, magazines, old sports memorabilia, ashtrays – any accumulation that appears to be taking over space and looks excessive. This is a sign of hoarding.

➢ Shopping- Take him out shopping or out to a meal to celebrate the day. When he does shopping or pays for a meal, does he have problems with checks, credit cards, figuring tips, or calculating discounts? Does he forget his wallet or other important personal items he should have with him?

➢ Change in Behavior- Is Dad quiet when he used to be loud? Is he paranoid, having mood swings, unsocial when he used to be the belle of the ball or life of the party?

➢ Odors- Did you smell urine? Must? Mildew? Dirty clothes or dishes

➢ Refrigerator- Are there science experiments, aka moldy food in the refrigerator?

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