From 2009 to 2017, Carol’s mother lived alone in the home where she had raised her family. During this time, Carol moved from California to Minnesota to be closer to her mother, who had been diagnosed with dementia, and she eventually moved in with her in 2017. Below are some of the steps that Carol took to keep her mother living safely in her home, both before and after she moved in.
We had started home modifications to keep my father at home when my mother was his caregiver, so we were not starting from scratch. His physical and occupational therapists offered many great suggestions, such as raised toilet seats, shower benches, a stair lift, and installing grab bars by the toilet, shower, and bathtub. In fact, my mother had found the stair lift handy for transporting heavy items such as laundry and groceries.
With my mother’s decline in memory, vision, and balance, my siblings and I knew we had to make more modifications to the house to reduce her risk of falls. She lived in a two-story house with the only exit being on the lower level and the living space on the upper level, and she used her arms to touch things as she walked. A second railing was installed along the stairs so that she could use both railings for balance. We installed new light fixtures in the living spaces and added under-cupboard lights to address her worsening vision. The cupboard lights were a training challenge since they were motion-activated, and my mother thought she could activate them from another room. We added digital clocks that showed the full date in each room and got her a handheld magnifier with a light to help with her vision.
Eventually, sensors were put in each room, on every door, and on the refrigerator, freezer, and stair lift. We also put a smart lock on the door. This was an eye-opener for us. It was shocking how often my mother opened the refrigerator or forgot to lock the door. We also replaced much of the carpet and linoleum to maintain consistent flooring throughout the house, reducing her risk of falling.
During a visit to her doctor in 2017, we realized that she was not taking one of the medications that she had been on for decades, and I decided I needed to implement some changes. I used egg cartons to organize her medications so that she could move the bottles to a different spot after the medication was taken and created checklists to track when the medication was taken. I included drinking water as part of her medication regime since my mother would hold back on drinking water if she knew she was leaving the house. Hydration is important for the elderly, and urinary tract infections are common, leading to confusion and falls.
I also noticed that there were expired items and leftovers in her refrigerator and realized that this was the cause of her gastrointestinal issues. I began writing dates on her food, including when she should throw it away. This was difficult since she is a recession baby and doesn’t want anything to go to waste. I was also concerned that she was not eating enough fruits and vegetables, so I would prepare small bowls of each and organize them daily, along with individual servings of items she loved, like cheese, nuts, and yogurt. I used Post-It notes to label necessary items in my mother’s bedroom, bathroom, pantry, and kitchen. This was helpful for her and also for any family or other helpers in the house.
In 2017, I contacted the county she had lived in for over 30 years to inquire about what was available to keep her in her home. I was told to contact them when her assets were close to $30k as she needed to be at $25k or less to receive assistance. The flooring replacement had been a major expense, so I completed the intake paperwork when this was finished in 2019. In March 2020, I heard from the county case manager that she had been approved to remodel her bathroom, and for safety reasons and doorways widened, all paid for by the county. Unfortunately, due to COVID, the remodel did not start until June.
Continue reading to see how Carol navigated and stepped up to new challenges.