You’ve noticed a change in your parents. Mom doesn’t “enjoy” the kitchen anymore. Compulsively neat Dad has tools piled on the garage floor: he tells you it’s “annoying” to put them up on the shelves. They appear to be avoiding former physical routines – which is a red-flag for a lack of accessibility in their home.
If these scenarios seem at all familiar, then you may need to have “the conversation” with your senior parents: it’s time to modify their home to fit their changing needs . But how?
Telling Senior Parents What to Do
It’s a touchy subject, telling your parents what to do. So, don’t approach it that way!
“Grown kids need to realize that parents can feel violated when being told what to do,” says Rachel Seltzer, MS, OTR/L, CAPS, an occupational therapist specializing in working with senior adults. “Remember that this is your parents’ home and their lives. “They may not want you involved, but not because they don’t love you. Everyone wants to remain independent and in control of their own lives for as long as possible.”
How to Have the Conversation with Senior Parents
According to Ms. Seltzer, focus on making the situation solely about your parents. She suggests a three-step approach to engage them and to minimize resistance.
The first step is to empower your parents to be in control. Let your parents talk. Ask them how they feel around the house. Ask what’s working for them at home and what is not.
1. “What’s not working for you” is a more positive way to address changes in physical abilities than, “Mom, what is it you can’t do anymore?”
- The first takes the conversation to a neutral level and is likely to elicit an honest response.
- The second, personal comment could shut down the conversation.
2. The second step is to be inclusive, so let them know you want to work together.
- “We all want this house to work for you, how can we make that happen? What can I do to help you?”
3. The third step is to engage parents in the solution.
- Emphasize that working together to alter aspects of their home is so they can be independent, comfortable, and have their privacy.
An Occupational Therapist is a Neutral and Expert Third Party
It isn’t always possible to change the dynamics of a lifelong relationship. If you and your parents have gone through some contentious times, it may be best to find a neutral third party to take charge.
An occupational therapist is a specialist in the “occupation of living.” She or he is trained to talk with seniors and to make an assessment of how they use their home space.
As a TCARE expert, Ms. Seltzer visits clients (in-person or virtually), interviews them, and conducts a home assessment unique to them, based on their goals for living in place.
Things that she asks include:
- What challenges are you having at home when you try to go about your normal daily routine?
- What changes would empower you to be able to do the things you like?
- What are your biggest priorities?
Ms. Seltzer tells the story of her client, an older woman, and the woman’s grown daughter. After the mother fell in the shower, the daughter told her she was “not allowed” to take a shower alone. The mother, of course, took a shower – and fell again.
By the time Ms. Seltzer was hired to perform an in-home safety assessment, the mother would only wash at the sink. The daughter was so frustrated, she was now ordering her mother to take a shower! The mother just shut down on the subject – it was a no-win situation.
“What I found,” Ms. Seltzer says, “was that the lip of the tub was too high for the mother to step over without support – and there was nothing to hold onto unless her daughter was there. But the mother was too modest for help. It wasn’t about the daughter; it was about the mother losing her privacy and independence.”
Ms. Seltzer was able to talk separately with each woman. She presented some options to her client of how to handle the situation and what the outcomes could be. The woman got onboard with a solution of safety bars once she realized they would help her remain independent.
Working with Ms. Seltzer, she shopped online and chose the style grab bars she liked. Then she and her daughter together chose a contractor to install them. After Ms. Seltzer showed her how to navigate the tub and shower using the safety bars, the mother felt secure and private; the daughter felt comfortable leaving her mother alone in the bathroom.
The two women were able to reclaim their former good relationship.
How to Begin to Modify Your Parent’s Home
TCARE can set up an assessment visit with an occupational therapist. Then they will design a modification plan unique to your parents’ home and needs, with actionable steps and specific recommendations.
Alterations to your parents’ home don’t have to be big or expensive – or obvious. The lovely thing about universal design today is that there are wonderful products that blend into the home and are “invisible” (no one notices that they are safety devices).
Common modifications include making sure there is adequate lighting for visibility, and fall-proofing the home (for example, adding handrails on both sides of stairs and removing scatter rugs to get rid of trip hazards, as well as installing safety grab-bars in bathrooms,).
Depending on homeowners’ goals, modifications can run the scale from do-it-yourself to major remodeling for a lifetime of living-in-place.
You Don’t Have to Figure Out Everything by Yourself
When trying to help your parents, you don’t have to figure everything out yourself. There are professionals to help. If you’d like to speak with someone about how to make your parents’ home safe and comfortable for living-in-place, schedule an initial consultation with TCARE online or Contact Us.