Loss of independence is one of the scariest things about aging. No one wants to lose the ability to care for themselves or give up the privacy of living in their own home. But after a certain point, the reality is that falls become more common and recovery from them is much more difficult.
The goal, then, is to stay at home as long as it is both possible and safe. Luckily, there are products available that can help you maintain your independence, even when mobility has become more challenging. For the purpose of this article, we will cover stair lifts, bathroom support tools including elevated toilet seat and shower chair, and med alert systems.
A stair lift is a mobility device that consists of a padded chair affixed to a rail that travels the length of your staircase. You sit down and buckle yourself in at one end and ride to the other. Stairs are one of the most challenging aspects of living at home when you are mobility challenged, and represent a huge falling risk. A stair lift can easily mean the difference between staying home and moving to an assisted living facility.
Even if you live in a one-story home, there may still be stairs at the front and back entrances. That’s a great thing about stair lifts – they make models to go either inside or out. They can also be made to accommodate straight or curved staircases. No matter the configuration of your stairs, you can have a stair lift.
The initial investment in a stair lift can be pricy, and they are more expensive the more complex your staircase. But private insurance will often cover a portion if your doctor agrees that you need one; unfortunately, Medicare does not. You can research and order a stair lift online, and the manufacturer will arrange for the installation. But if you can find a stair lift showroom near you, it is great to be able to “test ride” a few different models to get a sense of what you really need.
There are many different styles and features available that can accommodate people with varying levels of mobility. Stair lifts are not recommended for people who use wheelchairs, however. For this, a different kind of lift is better, where the person can simply wheel the chair onto a secure platform without having to get out of it.
For most of us, the idea of not being able to handle our own bathroom needs is the most embarrassing and uncomfortable part of aging. After all, it is something we take for granted most of our lives. To lose that is hard and it can feel like an invasion of privacy. Of course, things happen and we may need to eventually make our peace with this. But we can hold it off as long as possible with the help of some bathroom support products.
First, to help prevent slips and falls, a variety of grab bars at strategic locations are extremely helpful. They are especially useful around the toilet and the bath or shower. You can wrap these metal bars in a special grip tape to make them easy to hold even if your hands are wet or oily.
Next, to make using the toilet easier, there are special raised toilet seats, often with their own armrests/supports. Getting up from a seated position can be difficult for people with mobility issues and these seats, which fit right over an existing toilet seat, mean that you don’t have to support yourself as far down, or engage your knees as much when standing up.
And finally, the shower can be a dangerous place because it is so slippery. Beyond traction strips and anti-slip coating in the tub, a shower chair is an important safety tool. It supports the weight of a body that may struggle to stay upright for long enough to shower and greatly reduces the risk of slipping and falling.
If a shower chair isn’t enough on its own, there are specially designed tubs that have a door to allow access in and out, avoiding the need for a person to lift their legs high enough to get over the lip.
Medical Alert Systems
A big part of independence is being able to be safely alone at times. But with the increased risk of falling that comes with age, you still need to be able to call for help, no matter where in the home an accident occurs. Medical alert systems provide this freedom.
There are several brands that offer this service. They each involve a transmitter device that the person wears on their body, whether that is a necklace, a bracelet, or a key fob. If the client needs help at any time, they simply press a button on the device.
The system may be either monitored or unmonitored. Monitored services connect to a 24/7 dispatch service. Unmonitored services will connect you with a preprogrammed number for a friend or family member. You can also choose between landline and cellular-based med alerts. If you rarely leave the house, a landline connection will probably suffice. But if you would like protection no matter where you are, go for cellular.
Another service to consider when comparison shopping is fall detection. Theoretically, fall detection capability means that help will be summoned as soon as you fall, even if you aren’t able to push the button. However, the technology is not foolproof, and it may call 911 if you accidentally drop the device or stumble but don’t fall.
Each of these tools offers greater safety, security, and peace of mind. Fitting out your living space with the products that meet your needs can give you another 5, 10, or even 15 years in your own home. Acknowledging changing needs before a serious accident is best, because recovery becomes much more difficult the older we become.
But whatever it is that spurs you to make some safety upgrades, living at home for as long as possible will ultimately save you money on the expense of assisted living, which can be considerable. We all want to age with dignity. Part of that is asking for and accepting the help you need to remain independent.
1. theseniorlist.com, Safety in the Home: What Is A Stairlift?
2. thelawdictionary.org, Does Insurance Cover Stair Lift Purchases?
3. aginginplace.org, Best Grab Bars For Showers
4. aginginplace.org, Best Raised Toilet Seats With Arms
5. aginginplace.org, Best Shower Chairs With Wheels
6. consumerreports.org, How to Choose a Medical Alert System
7. retirementliving.com, Monitored vs. Non-monitored Medical Alert Systems
8. aginginplace.org, Medical Alert Systems With Fall Detection