A parent’s chair will be used frequently and for long periods of time. Therefore, it is essential that it fits them comfortably and securely. If your parent is short in stature you will need to look at the depth of the seat and make sure it is not too deep or too shallow. The back support is important for a comfortable long-term situation. Your parent may like the rocker/recliner type of chairs; make sure they are able to get in AND out of the chair safely. If the chair rocks, it may be difficult for them to use the arms as supports for getting out of the chair safely. You could look at adding blocks of wood to shorten the forward motion and make it more stable and convenient to get out of the chair.
When considering the type of chair your parent may be spending hours in, it is important to look at many aspects. First is the fabric. You should look at the type of material for the situation. Fabric or leather? You will have to consider a number of things to determine which is best for your parent’s condition. The size of the seat will also be an important factor. How deep is the seat, can they place their feet solidly on the ground, does it provide a solid back support? How wide is the seat, will you need to use pillows for additional support? Can they easily reach a side table from the chair or do they have to stretch and lean…creating an unsafe situation? Do they prefer a swivel and/or rocker? Does their condition allow for a swivel or rocking chair? Again, you need to consider how much energy and support they need in transferring in and out of a chair.
If your parent has limited ability to move side to side and get up and around, they will want to keep items close at hand when seated. For that reason, a side table will become a very important item for them. It is a place to hold all the items they need or want access to frequently. Storage and accessibility are the two most important considerations. Is the surface area large enough? Are there storage areas large enough to hold the various items (scissors, tape, stapler, letter opener, hobby items, etc.)? Is it easy to retrieve items from the storage area while in a chair? You can look at conventional side tables and shelving systems. There is a new side table that was designed for meeting the needs of an elderly person with limited movement. It gives room for storage, easy to reach electrical outlets and cables (for cell phone charging, hair curling iron, etc.), and it has a roll out top to let your parent gain access to storage from a sitting position. We will have more details about buying this table soon. Please check back after March 30 for more information or to make a purchase.
If your parent is in a wheelchair or uses any walking assistance device, transitioning or transferring into or out of a chair can be difficult and unsafe. Depending on the condition of your parent, you may need to make a number of modifications in the area around the chair or even obtain a different type of chair. Let’s look at the different options and conditions. If your parent uses a cane, you may need a solid, taller table or railing on one side of the chair they can use to balance when sitting and also to hold onto and use to help pull themselves up when getting up from the chair.
If your parent uses a walker, this in and of itself can be a support for transitioning. However, based on the stability and ability of your parent, a walker can be unstable and unsafe. One of the most helpful and less obtrusive situations is to use a self-raising chair to help with getting down from a standing position or rising all the way up from a sitting position. These chairs can be a safe and effective alternative. The only negative to this type of seating is they do not rock or swivel and, depending on the needs of your parent, they may feel confined with this type of situation.
Lighting and Sound
The lighting in the room is very important. With wired and IR remote control options, it’s easy to set up area lighting and general room lighting that your parent can control from the comfort of their chair.
Audio Visual considerations are very important for your parent to control remotely. With the various items available (TV, DVD, Digital library like iTunes, etc.) limiting the number of remote controls is very important to improve ease of use and convenience. Also, when hearing is impaired, using auxiliary speakers is helpful. Remote speakers can bring the sound closer to them and you will be able to keep the volume at a reasonable level for the rest of your home. Wi-Fi, TV, Apple TV, Roku (or other streaming TV options), cable, and adequate audio sound levels are all possible elements that can help provide a comfortable and enjoyable environment.
Eating and Drinking
Meals and adequate hydration are critical issues to be considered. Many times limited mobility will mean your parents will not be able to eat at the family table, so plans for eating in the living area and bedroom need to be made ahead of time. If they know there are easy-to-use and convenient alternatives available to them, they will feel more comfortable and at ease having meals served. Many over-the-table and bed trays are commonly available. Sturdy construction and ease of storage need to be the two main considerations. You can modify a small microwave table to be a sturdy eating surface and storage area that can be used for all kinds of functions.
There are low-cost eating utensils, plates, and glasses/cups available that are more convenient for the elderly to handle and use. Glass products are heavy and dangerous if dropped. Plastic items are much more safe and can be just as sturdy. Many of the “handicapped” utensils are well suited for the elderly to use and can make meals more convenient.
It’s important to have fluids available and you may have to have a sipper cup or other container that they can easily handle and that if dropped or tipped will not spill. Many of the newer re-usable water bottles have convenient means of securing fluids while making it easy to sip or drink. You may have to consider the type of dispenser used. Tipping a heavy bottle up or sucking on a straw may or may not be easy for your parent’s particular situation.
If your parent is able to get up and around, but with limited distance, you may want to consider installing a microwave and small dorm refrigerator. Having the ability to get snacks and drinks for themselves will be convenient for everyone and help give them a sense of independence.
Communication with friends and relatives can be one of the most enjoyable activities your parent can have on a daily basis. Accessibility to a phone, either a landline or cell phone, should be one of the most important considerations in their living area (and bedroom). A cell phone is a very handy and important tool for safety and peace of mind. Many types of cases protect the cell phone from damage and can make the handling of the phone more convenient. Look for a phone with large dialing numbers and features for the hearing impaired and for use with hearing aids.
Make sure you have their mail re-routed to your home. In addition, you may initially ask a number of their friends and relatives to write a weekly newsletter to update your parents. This way they will feel as connected, or more so than previously.
In addition to the written word, the use of Skype and Facetime to connect will be a welcome alternative when they can no longer get out and around to visit friends and relatives. With the size and light weight of a tablet, it is much easier for your parent to use sitting in a chair or laying in bed compared to a laptop.
As most of the time your parent may be alone in the living room (or any room) it is important for them and you to have a means of communication in case a situation arises where they need help. There are now a number of devices that are very convenient for your parent. If they have a lot of mobility, you can position a simple remote doorbell button within reach or placed in a wearable pouch. You can then place the doorbell near you in your kitchen, bedroom or wherever you happen to be.
If you are worried about a fall or situation where they would not have the ability to reach an alarm device, some of the wearable alarm devices are a good alternative. Some of the newer cell-based devices have fall algorithms that will trigger a call and the agency can call you on your cell or house phone. These services are billed monthly and may incur additional charges per call. If you are concerned about your parent getting up and around without assistance and possibly causing harm or injury to themselves, you can install a motion detection device or use a baby nursery video monitor. One option for adding security and safety is to install a remote entrance-viewing camera. Many of these products send the video signal to a cell phone or tablet. If someone is at the door and your parent wants to know who is there, this type of system may offer a sense of security and comfort. Knowing who is at the door will help them determine how they need to respond.
Your parent most likely cherishes their furniture and if they can bring some of their items to adorn or use, it will make the transition much more pleasant. They have many items that have some very deep and fond memories.
Shelves and storage of books and personal belongings help to bring their home into your home. Having a display area is important, as well as a storage area that is easy to gain access to. You have to consider the limited range your parent may have in accessing items on the shelf. You may look at tabletop shelving or hanging wall shelving in a mid-range. The condition and color of wall treatments will bring a sense of warmth into the room. You may want to paint the walls prior to bringing your parent home, or if they are already living with you the new low-odor paints are the best option. In a situation where they may be living out of a chair most of the day, accessibility to items needing electricity and adequate AC outlets is a must. You will not be able to re-wire the walls, but you can accomplish this through a number of ways. Extension cords and multiple plugs on a power or surge strip are the easiest. Remember that these have to lay on the floor, and bending over to plug or unplug is a dangerous situation for your parent.
Plants are important to many and provide a great ongoing activity. Watching and anticipating the growth of flowers and plants can provide a very comfortable and easy means of daily exercise. Having a potting area and easily accessible water is a great idea. You may want to set up a temporary potting table or area as the season and space permit. This can be a very fun and cost-effective alternative to a structured physical therapy program.
Reachers are, for most elderly, very helpful tools. There are two main issues to be considered.
1. Quality of the device. A poor-quality reacher will result in frustration and possibly damaged items.
2. Availability. The reacher needs to be positioned and stored in a sturdy, secure spot that is easy to reach and return it to when the task is completed.
In a sitting area, if there is a door that can separate the sitting room in order to be controlled independently from the rest of the home’s heating and cooling, you may wish to replace it with a glass door so your parent will not feel isolated from the rest of the home. Environmentally they can establish a temperature that is much more comfortable for them, as the elderly normally feel more comfortable with a room temperature close to 80 degrees.
It is important to have a trash or waste receptacle of some sort close and within reach. It’s often overlooked, but during the course of a single day there are tissues, wrappers, etc. that need to be disposed of. If parents have a receptacle close at hand it makes it easy and convenient to work at their own pace and not feel like they are making a mess that they have to wait for someone else to come and clean up. Something as simple as a waste receptacle can make them feel they are caring for themselves.
Door size is one very important consideration, especially if your parent uses a walking aid (walker or cane(s)) or wheelchair. Normally, most exterior doors are 36″ wide which make it easy to get in and out of a home. However, there are no standards for interior door width. Most interior doors are 32″ wide or less. You also need to consider the trim and the actual door, as this narrows the opening. Oftentimes a walker or wheelchair will get caught on the door or trim. A self-propelled wheelchair needs additional space for your parent’s hands to be on the outside of the wheelchair. Also, depending on the weight of your parent, they may have a wider wheelchair and this will make passage through an interior door a lot more difficult. One option is to remove the doors, BUT everyone wants privacy in the bathroom and bedroom. Depending on your situation and the construction or location of the doorway you can move a door, widen the doorway, etc. to make it much easier for them to navigate without difficulty, and also make it much easier and safer for them and you.
Temperature control of their environment is critical and many of the new Wi-Fi thermostats are handy if they live in a separately zoned area. They can control the thermostat remotely from their tablet or cell phone. Additionally, it gives you the ability to pre-warm or pre-cool their room(s). If there is noseparate zoning you may have to look at a remote heater or individual room air conditioner. Many of these devices offer remote control options. As with any room, the living room is much more warm and inviting if there are bright large windows and a good view for them from a sitting position. If you have the ability to place bird feeders for them to enjoy it will make sitting in one place for hours on end much more enjoyable.
In any room where your parent may navigate it is important NOT to have rugs or any loose flooring materials. They may help the look and feel of a room, but they are very dangerous. Any slight elevation between flooring materials in door thresholds is a concern and, as discussed earlier, there are ways to minimize the effects and render the situation more safe.