There’s no place like home for most people, but for seniors, that often means taking steps to ensure that can happen.
Research by the AARP indicates that 90 percent of Americans 65 or older want to remain in their homes as they age. We asked some local health care and aging experts about preventive measures, products and resources that can help older people do that.
While you may not want to move from your home, you’ll want to get moving – by staying physically active, said local experts.
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Doing exercises and activities that help you maintain your balance, remain flexible and help maintain motor skills are important, said exercise physiologist Daniel Fowler, who directs Via Christi’s Wellness Center.
Here are some exercises he suggested, along with others taken from a falls prevention handbook published by Wichita State’s Regional Institute for Aging, available to download for free at www.wichita.edu/aging/toolkit.
Among the suggestions:
▪ Chair stand – Using a stationary, stable chair, sit down and then stand up by using your leg muscles. Start with about a handful of repetitions and increase as you feel comfortable.
▪ Walk a tightrope – Walk as if you were walking a straight line or on a tightrope by putting one foot directly in front of the other, heel to toe, for about 10 to 20 steps.
▪ Leg raises – Stand up straight with head and chin up. Bending at the knee, lift your right leg toward the ceiling and hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Alternate sides, and do 10 to 15 repetitions on each side. Keep a sturdy chair or immovable object nearby to catch your balance. Up the challenge by turning your head to the side or closing your eyes.
▪ Leans – With feet shoulder-width apart and flat on the floor and while keeping back, hips and knees straight, lean forward as far as you are comfortable. Hold for five to 10 seconds. Repeat the lean-and-hold movements to the right, left and backward.
Easy home modifications
As you age, your home “doesn’t need to be a show home anymore,” said Miranda McCormack, an occupational therapist with Rehab Care and therapy director at Family Health and Rehabilitation Center in west Wichita. “It needs to be functional.”
Some easy modifications include:
▪ Keep commonly used items within easy reach, so you don’t have to strain, stretch or bend over. That may mean keeping things on your kitchen counter instead of behind cabinet doors, she said.
▪ Remove items such as scatter rugs, stray cords and clutter from floor spaces to help prevent trips and falls.
▪ Replace the bathmats in bathtubs. “I’m not a big fan of those nonskid mats, and I see them all the time,” McCormack said. If not cleaned regularly, the mats can move at the bottom of a bathtub, she explained, which is why she suggests purchasing nonskid strips at a home improvement store. They adhere much better to a tub or shower surface, she said.
▪ Use a bench to remain seated in the shower or bath to lessen the risk of falls, suggested LaDessa Forrest, an occupational therapist and director of therapy operations with Wesley Rehabilitation Hospital.
▪ Consider a transfer bench if you don’t want to climb over the side of a tub. The bench fits over the edge of the bathtub. A person can sit down on the part of the bench that is outside the tub and swing their legs over the side of the tub to enter and exit the bathtub, reducing the risk of falls.
▪ Buy an elevated toilet seat riser. A variety are available to help make it easier for one to sit down and get up. Some even come with handles.
▪ Avoid swivel chairs. A recliner or patio chair that swivels may increase the risk of a fall.
▪ Get a dining or desk chair with arms. The arms make it easier to push yourself up from the chair if you have decreased core and leg strength, which are the muscles you use to get up. (Doing exercises to strengthen those muscle groups will also help.)
A little assistance, please
There are several items, called assistive devices, that can make it easier to reach things, get dressed and even call for help, according to local occupational therapists.
▪ For getting around, a four-wheel walker with a bench, also called a rollator, can be an ideal walking aid, particularly if one’s balance is unsteady, said Forrest. They come in various sizes, colors and weight capacities and a wide range of prices, from about $60 to a few hundred dollars. Attach a basket or pouch to help in transporting things from one place to another so that you can keep both hands on the walker to maintain balance.
▪ If you need an extra hand grabbing things overhead or picking up items without bending or stooping and risking a fall, a reacher can help. Depending on your needs, you can find various ones that range from a reacher for lightweight items to outdoor items, and even folding reachers. Some also come with magnets for an extra hold, Forrest said. Prices can range from around $10 for a plastic reacher to about $40 for a more durable aid.
▪ Long-handled dustpans and sponges can make it easy to keep both your home and yourself clean when mobility and flexibility is an issue. These products can be found at most stores selling home goods. Other long-handled devices include sock aids and shoe horns, if it’s hard to reach down to put on socks and shoes.
▪ Taking medication on time and in the right doses is important, and there are several products, ranging from the traditional day-of-the-week pill boxes to alarmed dispensers, that can help. For tech-savvy folks and their caregivers, a number of apps and monitoring systems are available, including ones such as Krakken that uses Bluetooth wireless technology to create reports for patients, caregivers and even doctors on when and what medication was taken. For security reasons, experts say, use an app that is password-protected, won’t share your data with third parties unless you give permission (such as a family member or doctor) and won’t ask for private, identifying information such as a Social Security number.
▪ There are lots of choices for medical alert systems, including some that will automatically alert either a loved one or emergency personnel in case of a fall, said Anita Reimer, a registered nurse and director of case management at Wesley Rehabilitation Hospital. Key factors to consider are the range of the device (both the listed and maximum tested ranges), battery life and water resistance.
Staying independent with help
Local health care and aging experts say there are a number of resources focused on helping people live independently for as long as possible. Here are a few they suggested.
▪ Physicians – Seniors and caregivers can visit with a physician to get a referral for a Medicare-covered, in-home assessment, said Forrest and McCormack. During such a visit, an occupational therapist can help evaluate the environment and the condition of the senior adult and make recommendations for modifications, products and other services, such as in-home health care options.
▪ Central Plains Area Agency on Aging – One of 11 such agencies in Kansas, the agency, based in Wichita, serves seniors living in Butler, Harvey and Sedgwick counties. As an agency on aging, it is a go-to resource for finding information on a variety of topics that can affect independent living, including low-cost, minor home repair services to help in finding transportation, as well as health and wellness classes. You can reach the Central Plains Area Agency on Aging at 316-660-5120. For information about services statewide, call the Kansas Aging and Disability Resource Center Call Center at 855-200-2372.
▪ Local senior centers – Many communities have active senior centers that offer a variety of social activities, which can be a key to avoiding depression and isolation issues that affect seniors.
“The social aspect is one of the easiest to overlook,” said Chris Heiman, development director with Senior Services of Wichita.
Senior centers also offer programs for employment and volunteer opportunities and nutrition services, such as Meals on Wheels.
The Central Plains Area Agency on Aging can provide information on the 22 senior centers in Sedgwick County. Residents in Butler and Harvey counties can contact their respective county’s department of aging.
▪ The Roving Pantry – In Wichita, homebound people who are older than 60 can also apply for a grocery-shopping service called the Roving Pantry, which is offered through Senior Services of Wichita. Contact Senior Services of Wichita at 316-267-0302 for more information.
▪ Donated medical equipment – The Medical Equipment Recycling Network, a program of Wichita’s Independent Living Resource Center, provides new and gently used working medical equipment to individuals with disabilities at no cost. To request equipment, call 316-942-6300.