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Ageing in place safely

Grandparents enjoying their time with grandchildren

Home sweet home.  T.S.Elliot wrote ‘home is where one starts from’.  With age, we also know that home is where we want to end.  One of the things we work hardest for throughout our earning life is the security of owning our own home.  It’s the great Australian dream.

As we age, the dream is slightly re-interpreted, and we want to live out our days in our own home, no matter how modest it is, or whether it is owned or rented.  Many of us have heard a parent say they only want to leave their home ‘in a pine box’.  Interestingly, more West Australians die at home than in any other state.  That’s a story for another day.

Even the Government wants us to stay at home.  Have you heard of the term ‘ageing in place’?

Did you just picture yourself being tucked into your favourite recliner with a knee rug and a cup of tea, resting peacefully with your favourite sport on TV or your favourite music playing, until the day you take your last breath?  Well, it’s close, but that is not quite what ageing in place means.

Try replacing the term ‘ageing in place’ with ‘staying at home for as long as you can, to avoid unnecessary burden on our already struggling aged care system’ and you’ll get a sense of what it means to the Federal Government.

Ageing in place means being able to live at home as long as you are able. It means staying connected to your local community, to what is familiar and what you cherish.  Connected to memories and people, the neighbours, the garden, the pets.  It may also mean accessing aged care services within your home instead of moving to an aged care facility.

While we spend much time and effort modifying or decorating our home in our working life, I observe a reluctance to modify it for our later life.  I have a treasured friend who I note has a stubborn refusal to remove the floor rugs or tape under the corners to avoid a fall.

Apart from physical function issues, with the possible slowdown in brain performance that may be the early signs of dementia or Mild Cognitive Impairment, there is lots we can and should do around the house to ensure home is an enabler rather than a disabler for your golden years.

A few changes can make your home work with you to maximise the chances you can stay there and function well.

Think about lighting, colour contrasts (people with dementia may lose their depth of vision or recognition of colour), items that automatically detect a fall or contain a panic button to alert family members if you need assistance, pendants, watches and phones that can be worn or carried discreetly and usually include GPS tracking.

Around 70% of people living with dementia live at home, and supporting people to remain at home through clever design and assistive technology will be a crucial response to our ageing population. Dementia can affect your ability to complete everyday tasks or make it hard to distinguish between items of a similar colour. There are many simple tips and cost effective items available to assist with this.

It is possible to introduce safety measures into your home while maintaining your dignity and the homeliness you’ve come to love and feel comfortable within. Visit the Independent Living Centre WA or Alzheimer’s WA’s resource centre in Shenton Park for advice and assistance for dementia-specific challenges.

Your home and health are two of the keys to later life.  I haven’t met anyone who values wealth over health.

You’ve adapted your home throughout your lifetime for its different stages – created the nursery, added a games room, wallpapered in the 70’s and removed it in the 80’s, and laid extra parking for teenage children.  It may well now be time to consider how you need to adapt your home to improve your chances of ageing at home, where you want to be.

Change your stoic resistance to an embrace of change.  You may live in your dream home, but now it’s time for your home to help you achieve your dream of ageing in place. Plan your super, plan your holidays, but don’t forget to factor in some planning for what you’ll need to do in and around your home to ensure you live out your dream for all of your days, at home.

If you are living with dementia these tips may help:

  • Change as little as possible. Familiarity is important for a person with dementia.
  • Improve general lighting. Install night lights with sensors.
  • Use contrasting colours to help with visual identification.
  • Label cupboards and drawers with photos of the items kept inside.
  • Make life easier with inexpensive equipment such as tilt kettles, irons with 30 second shut off if left, calendar clocks with enlarged display.
  • Maintain your independence and stay safe. Consider ID bracelets, GPS enabled devices or personal alarms.

If you are concerned about dementia, please contact Alzheimer’s WA on 1300 66 77 88.

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