Senior Caregiving: Assessing Needs in the Kitchen, Bedroom, and Bathroom


Most seniors want to age in place, according to AARP, but sometimes the biggest threat to that goal is their home itself. Keeping seniors safe at home requires making adaptations that reduce risk and help meet daily needs. Whether you’re moving an aging loved one into your home or helping them stay in their existing home, this guide will help you plan modifications in the kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom.


In the Kitchen
The kitchen is the heart of your home, but for seniors with growing disability, it’s also a room rife with danger. Whether it’s a senior in a wheelchair trying to reach a pan on the back burner or a person with dementia eating expired food, it doesn’t take a house fire to land a person in the hospital. Ask these questions to assess your loved one’s function in the kitchen:

  • Can she plan, prepare, and serve meals independently?
  • Is she able to stand at the stove or sink for extended periods?
  • Can she access controls on the stove, sink, and other appliances?
  • Are cabinet handles and drawer pulls easy to use?
  • Does she understand and practice safe food handling?
  • Can she eat and drink without assistance?

Common kitchen adaptations include installing a stove with front controls and adapting counters, sinks, and appliances for wheelchair accessibility. Even if a senior doesn’t use a wheelchair, it may be more comfortable to sit while cooking. Cabinet hardware and kitchen utensils can be swapped out for ergonomic designs that are easier on arthritis. And of course, every kitchen should be equipped with working smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.


In the Bathroom
The bathroom is where 80 percent of senior falls happen, according to reporting by the National Safety Council, and it’s not hard to see why. Between slick surfaces, low toilets, and high tubs, this small room houses a lot of hazards. Consider these questions as you plan for modifications:

  • Does the layout allow ease of movement?
  • Can she get in and out of the tub or shower without help?
  • Can she stand comfortably in the tub during bathing?
  • Are faucets easy to use?
  • Can she bathe and groom herself independently?
  • Does she have trouble getting on or off the toilet?
  • Is she experiencing incontinence?

All seniors benefit from non-slip flooring, a grab bar at the toilet, and a raised toilet seat. Redfin advises going further, suggesting that "Safety rails with textured grips, shower seats, transfer
seats, and roll-in showers are also valuable options to make bathing safer and easier for your loved one. A single lever for the faucet is usually easier to turn and operate than two separate knobs, so consider a new faucet head if necessary." In addition, caregivers should account for incontinence in the elderly and install nightlights for overnight bathroom trips and locate the senior’s bedroom nearby a bathroom.


In the Bedroom
The bedroom is a senior’s safe space, so shouldn’t it be safe? Prevent accidents while dressing and sleeping by asking the following questions:

  • Can she dress and undress independently?
  • Does she select clothing appropriate for the weather and occasion?
  • Is she able to get in and out of bed comfortably?
  • Is nighttime visibility adequate?
  • Are there clear, wide pathways through the room?

The biggest concerns in the bedroom are falls, incontinence, and dressing. Minimize bedroom furniture and secure area rugs and loose cords to eliminate trip and fall hazards and install nightlights or bedside lamps so the senior can see, even at night. If she frequently gets up to urinate at night, a bedside commode can help. If the bed is too low or too high for comfortable transfers, a bed rail or another adaptive device can aid getting in and out of bed. Seniors with balance problems benefit from a chair that allows them to dress while seated.


While these three rooms are the most hazardous in any home, they aren’t the only places that hold danger. Watch your family member as she goes through her daily activities so you can identify other areas where extra help is needed. Since seniors are often reluctant to admit when they need assistance, it’s up to you to stay aware of changing needs and adapt as necessary.

Image via Unsplash

Seniors and Snow Removal

Winter Storm Linus dragged its blanket of snow across the North and Northeast portions of the United States earlier this week. Many spent long hours digging out and when, as we here in Chicago experienced, city snowplows couldn’t get to side streets, many of us were trapped in the middle of the road, tires spinning. It’s then that we had to rely on the kindness of strangers to help shovel us out of a mess.

Even for the hale and hearty, navigating treacherous sidewalks, getting from point A to point B, prove to be quite a challenge. Major municipalities like Boston, Chicago have city ordinances that make it a finable offense to neglect clearing snow and ice from property sidewalks.

Most city ordinances require snow removal within a certain period of time (usually within 3-4 hours of snowfall ending) and for a minimum path size in order to accommodate pedestrians, people in wheelchairs, strollers, students walking to and from school, individuals with assistive devices and, ironically, seniors.

These senior homeowners are the same who are compelled to clear their own sidewalk or face considerable fines. The snow that Linus dropped was wet and heavy and fell intermittently all day. Shoveling is hard work and can take a quick toll on the body at any age, but especially if that body is older.

According to a study that appeared in the January 2011 issue of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, cardiac-related injuries accounted for only 7 percent of the total number of cases, but they were the most serious. More than half of the hospitalizations and 100 percent of the 1,647 fatalities occurred while shoveling snow  Patients 55 years of age and older were 4.25 times more likely than younger patients to experience heart attack symptoms while shoveling snow, and men were twice as likely as women to exhibit cardiac-related symptoms. With that in mind, Consumers Advocate has an extensive list of reviews for medical alert devices. When used properly, they can alert the proper authorities whenever it detects a medical emergency.

The City of Chicago provides a volunteer snow-shoveling service called the Snow Corps, which seniors and those with disabilities can contact by calling 311, filling out an online Service Request, or by contacting their Ward office.

Some programs like the Snow Sergeant program in Lansing, MI pair screened and pre-approved High School students needing community volunteer hours with local seniors who need snow removal services.

The Chore Corps Program in Madison, WI is operated by Independent Living, Inc., a local not-for-profit multi-service organization. Following snow storms, volunteers shovel sidewalks and driveways for seniors, allowing the seniors to safely enter and exit their homes.
The volunteers also provide a meals-on-wheels service for independent living seniors.

Caregivers are urged to discourage seniors from clearing their own sidewalks when it would be dangerous for them to do so. Instead, keep them safely inside, warm and well-fed, and contact local authorities for needed support in order to prevent incurring any fines. Living independently is preferred by most seniors, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a little assistance.

Senior Safety During Extreme Cold

Last year today, my blog post was about Senior Care during the Polar Vortex. Here we are once again in the grips of an extreme cold snap and it’s time, say senior care professionals, to revisit how best to keep seniors safe during frigid weather.

The first consideration in keeping the elderly safe is to keep warm. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) said people over the age of 65 make up nearly half of all hypothermia deaths. As we age, our metabolism slows. Couple that with decreased physical activity and seniors are especially susceptible to low body temperature that can drop to a dangerous degree.

Here are some signs of hypothermia in older adults: shivering, exhaustion, memory loss, slurred speech, confusion, drowsiness. If you notice any of these signs, check their body temperature. If it’s below 95°, seek medical attention immediately. Don't hesitate to call 911.

You can prevent hypothermia in seniors by keeping the home heated safely. Place an easy-to-read thermometer in a room where the most time is spent and make sure the temperature doesn’t get below 65°. Close off rooms that are not in use to conserve heat. Also, put a carbon monoxide detector near the sleep area.

Power outages during peak usage times are always a risk. Keep extra blankets on hand. Seniors should dress in several layers of loose clothing. And of course, the elderly should not go out unless it is absolutely necessary.

In order to keep trips outside in the cold to a minimum, the CDC suggests making sure seniors have these are on hand:
Food that needs no cooking or refrigeration, such as bread, crackers, cereal, and canned foods—canned soup is a great warmer-upper.
Water that is stored in clean containers, or purchased bottled water (5 gallons per person). Keep alcohol intake to a minimum.
Medicines that any family member may need.

Check on older family and neighbors who are at risk from cold weather hazards. As always, if you or a senior in your care needs special help, contact your state's Area Agency on Aging. Caregiverlist hopes all caregivers and their seniors stay warm and safe.

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