Oftentimes, it’s difficult to know exactly how to help your family member at home. You may have noticed Grandma starting to drop her spatula more frequently. You see Dad trip on the door threshold every single time he enters the house through the garage.
In the back of your mind you start to worry about your family member’s safety. What if Dad falls and hurts himself or what if Grandma drops something sharp on her foot? But then you brush it off with, “Maybe those problems will go away on their own.”
Are you sure those problems will disappear?
Or perhaps you do bring up your concern with your family member and they say, “I’m doing fine. I don’t trip all the time” or “I don’t drop stuff every day.” In almost the same breath, your Dad trips again. Grandma drops a ladle on the floor.
What’s going on?!
You’re fighting between pushing your family member to talk to a professional or letting go of the issue altogether.
It’s very difficult when your family member insists they’re okay. But deep down inside, you know they’re not.
I urge you to go with your first instinct! Encouraging your family to talk to a professional is a great start to figuring out how to keep dear old Dad or Grandma at home. But what kind of professional do you talk to?
The most bang for your buck would be talking to an occupational therapist. All we do day in and day out is problem solve ways for people to do their daily activities. In fact, click on this link to read research on how effective we are at helping people out! Occupational therapists figure out how to help Grandma stop dropping her spatulas and how to keep Dad from tripping when he walks into the house. (Of course, we look at other issues too!)
People tend to think, “Well, I may have a hard time with X now, but it’s not a big deal.” Wrong! This kind of everyday stuff seems little until it adds up to an injury at home.
Occupational therapists break it down by looking at your personal abilities, the demands of the task, and the environment. Let’s take Dad’s case of tripping when he walks into the house from the garage. An occupational therapist ( also known as OT) would assess Dad and find out his knees are worn out by years of playing flag football with his friends. Dad has neuropathy, a symptom of diabetes, and cannot feel his feet very well when he walks around. These two factors can make it more difficult to walk and regain your balance if you trip.
Walking into the house from the garage requires Dad to go up two stairs and over the door threshold. Upon examining the environment, the OT would see this entry is poorly lit, the threshold is 2 and ½ inches high, there is no handrail, and the depth of the steps are very shallow.
At this stage, the OT informs your Dad that although his knees will never be quite like the 6 million dollar man’s knees, he can make some changes to the doorway that will make it easier and safer for him to enter the home without tripping. The OT offers ideas like adding motion-sensor lighting, removing the door threshold, installing two handrails on both sides of the steps, deepening the steps, creating a ramp in the garage, installing a vertical lift, creating platform steps, etc.
Next, the OT coaches Dad to select the options that he likes the most. We know that people who choose their own solutions are more satisfied compared to people who don’t have the ability to choose.
Your dad is financially savvy and acutely aware that your mother wants to move to Florida in the next ten years or so. He doesn’t want to spend a ton of money and he wants to increase the value of the house.
Dad chooses to pull out the threshold and install platform steps with handrails and a motion-sensor light to help him get in and out of the house for years to come. “I have enough room in my garage after tidying it up!” #KonMari
After the garage entry is modified, you notice your Dad never trips when getting in and out of the house! Is this what peace of mind feels like?
OTs have the medical background and practical mindset to help your family stay safe in the home. We understand how medical conditions and aging can impact our ability to do the things we need and want to do!
In addition to our professional expertise, most of us have personal experience as caregivers with our own family. I helped my grandparents live in their home for thirteen years. We sympathize with your deepest desire to keep your family safe!
Despite the medical background, OTs never want your home to look like a hospital! We enjoy helping you create spaces that are functional for you without visitors ever knowing the reasoning behind your home design.
We’re also relentlessly optimistic, much to the chagrin of some people. There is never a problem too tough to solve.
The big takeaway is there are professionals to help you keep your family safe. Reach out to others and ask questions. If you can’t find an occupational therapist right away, talk to a social worker, case manager, your local area agency on aging, senior centers, or your county’s senior service department.
In the Kansas City area, you can visit the Mid-America Regional Council, Wyandotte/Leavenworth Area Agency on Aging, or the Johnson County Area Agency on Aging to learn more about resources available to help people live in their home and community as long as they like.
There is so much information available, sometimes it’s difficult to navigate through everything and keep a clear idea of who does what. Don’t worry! You will find the answers you need. But remember, you better do it before you need it!
[This post is written by Sharon Ugochukwu, a former occupational therapy assistant student from National American University.]
Now you’re home after a stay in rehab after breaking your leg. You realize how hard it is to get around the home. A friend recommended you have an occupational therapy evaluation to make it easier to do what you need to do. The occupational therapist listened to your needs and gave great ideas for home modifications (i.e. changes in the home). You are excited to turn those ideas into reality.
Now, all you have to do is find the right contractor for the job. It’s important for the occupational therapist and contractor to work together to make the changes that are customized to you. Although the occupational therapist knows contractors to work on your home, you want to find one.
Even when you decide you want to find a contractor on your own, the thought of doing this can be overwhelming. Leon Harper of AARP states, "While there's a growing need [for home modifications], there's also been a growing fear, as a result of the unfortunate work of a few unscrupulous contractors.” People choose to scrap the plans for home modifications because of this fear.
For instance, you heard Susie’s story of the contractor who took her money and was never seen again. Uncle Bill’s contractor left a huge hole in the roof and a toilet that fell through the floor. No one wants to have these experiences! So how do you wade through the sea of contractors to find one who is honest, trustworthy, and does quality work? In this blog, we will give you eight steps to do just that!
1) Organize your project on paper. First, make a list of what you want done. Be specific regarding what changes you want in which rooms. What materials are you interested in using? List them by priority to you. This will help keep you focused and determine what kind of contractors you need.
2) Compile a list of contractors. Next, ask friends or relatives for their recommendations on contractors. Talk to employees at a lumber yard or hardware store if they know of anyone reputable. Ask a trusted realtor who they call first to fix homes. Social service agencies often partner with reputable contractors. Contact a few and get recommendations. In the Kansas City area, call up Rebuilding Together and United Way.
Rebuilding Together works with these Kansas City contractors:
Climate Control Heating & Cooling
Clinton County Trailer Sales
C. M. Mose & Son
Full Nelson Plumbing
Homes By Chris
Larry Brown Excavating
Liberty & Northland Plumbing
Paul’s Heating & Cooling
Professional Pest Solutions
Richard Huber Plumbing
Western Specialty Contractors
3) Choose contractors willing to work with your occupational therapist throughout the entire process. Research shows that occupational therapists are the most effective at home modifications for you in your home because of their medical training (Stark, Keglovits, Arbesman, & Lieberman, 2017). Occupational therapists work with you on your priorities. We are a client-centered profession! Not to mention, clients report more satisfaction with home modifications if an occupational therapist is involved.
Contractors + occupational therapists = SUPER TEAM! Together, these professionals can help you live safely in your home!
Bonus tip: Some contractors receive specialized training for remodeling a home to fit different needs and stages of life. These contractors are called certified aging in place specialists also known as CAPS. Several websites where you can find them are listed below:
National Association of the Remodeling Industry
Certified Aging In Place Program (CAPS) members can be found here:
4) Don’t allow yourself to be pressured by family members. Ah, families! Do you have a cousin, Mike, who tells you, “I do great work and can beat anybody’s price out there,” but really doesn’t? Yeah, that’s a difficult spot to be in. It can be hard to turn them down. But after all, you are paying money for your home modifications and want to stay safe in your home. Let’s not compromise the work in any way! You can just say, “Thank you, Mike, for offering your services. I want to check with a couple more contractors. I will get back with you” or, “I appreciate your offer, but I prefer not to do business with family” and leave it at that.
5) Make some calls. Once you have assembled a list, make a quick call to each of your prospective contractors and ask them some quick questions (Tom Silva, 2018):
• Do they take on projects of your size?
• Are they willing to provide financial references, from suppliers or banks? (Here you want to find out if they paid their suppliers on time and if they are maintaining a bank account in good standing. This will give you clues on their business, money management, and an idea how they will handle what you are paying them.)
• Can they give you a list of previous clients?
• How many other projects would they have going at the same time?
• How long have they worked with their subcontractors?
Per Tom Silva, “The answers to these questions reveals the contractor’s availability, reliability, how much attention they'll be able to give your project, and how smoothly the work will go.” If a contractor seems defensive or does not want to answer these simple questions, they are probably not a contractor you want to work with.
6) Narrow your list. From that list, pick at least three contractors you liked. You will invite these contractors to your home to ask more questions such as:
How long have you been in business?
Do you have experience in doing home remodels for people who want to stay in their home as they age?
Are you licensed, bonded, and have worker’s compensation insurance? Check for proof.
Get a written bid from each contractor.
7) Call the references! Ask previous clients what their experience was like with the contractor. Some questions to ask include:
1) What were the contractors work habits on your job?
2) Did he/she stick to the contract?
3) Did your project stay on budget, or at least close to budget?
4) Did anything go wrong?
5) What was the working relationship like between the contractor and any subcontractors?
8) Compare. Now compare the responses, provided references, and bids of these contractors. You should be able to decide on the contractor to work in your home!
Some final words:
Expect the good contractors to be busy and not immediately available. Good contractors are the busy ones!
Avoid contractors who just show up at your door offering services at an unbelievably low rate. A common ploy is for contractors to come to your house and say they just finished a job down the street. They have some leftover supplies and wanted to offer you a great deal! More than likely it is not trustworthy. These people are often scammers.
Do not work with a contractor who asks for the entire cost or even half of the cost up front. They could end up taking your money and disappearing. Experts recommend you pay no more than 10% of the cost up front (Tom Silva, 2018). Scheduled payments should be made at particular points along the home modification process.
Do not make a final payment unless the job is 100% complete and you approved the work. Contractors have been known to leave the final touches unfinished after a final payment.
You can’t depend solely on online reviews to choose a good contractor. Some companies pay people to post a positive review. This should not be a substitute for checking references!
Likewise, you cannot depend on the online referral lists, such as Angie’s List. Companies are supposed to be listed on this site according to their performance. However, Consumer Reports wrote that a contractor can move up the list of preferred contractors by paying an advertising fee (McGrath, 2013).
While nothing is guaranteed, these steps will help you choose a trustworthy contractor with the skills you need for your home modifications. Rest assured you will be confident while choosing the right team to make your home beautiful and accessible. Tell us about your experiences with contractors! What tips do you have to add?
McGrath, M. (2013, September 19). Why Consumer Reports Says You Can't Trust Angie's List. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/maggiemcgrath/2013/09/18/why-consumer-reports-says-you-cant-trust-angies-list/#920de771bfa7
Stark, S., Keglovits, M., Arbesman, M., & Lieberman, D. (2017, March 01). Effect of Home Modification Interventions on the Participation of Community-Dwelling Adults With Health Conditions: A Systematic Review. Retrieved from https://ajot.aota.org/article.aspx?articleid=2601471
Top 8 Pro Tips on How to Hire a Contractor. (2018, January 06). Retrieved from https://www.thisoldhouse.com/ideas/top-8-pro-tips-how-to-hire-contractor
Have you ever thought about the possibility that you might need to use a walker someday? A walker is a type of mobility device used to help your balance. Other types of mobility devices are canes, rollators, wheelchairs, and scooters.
You may have a fleeting moment of insight that you’ll need something like that as you age. But you don’t give it more thought than that.
I bring up mobility devices today because they can be REALLY REALLY difficult to use at home.
Because your home is not set up to allow you and another object to seamlessly move around.
You’ve got the coffee table too close to the couch. The door frames are 27 inches wide. Your chest of drawers is 12 inches away from your side of the bed. I could go on forever!
You didn’t set up your house for a mobility device because you didn’t think you needed more room.
That’s okay! You and every other person on the planet has done the exact same thing. Now’s the time to make some changes!
I’m here for you! I think about mobility devices constantly because I’ve worked with many people on how to do what they need to do at home with the space they’ve got. I lovingly bring up the nitty gritty details on how to move around your home with your device to make sure you can live your life safely and comfortably.
Let me share what I did for one of my clients, Marge (names have been changed for privacy purposes!).
Marge had a terrible year. She was in the hospital for over a month and went to rehab for three months prior to going home. Before the hospital, Marge was able to walk around in her apartment and community with no problems. However after being sick for such a long time, she did not regain the strength in her legs to confidently walk like she used to.
Marge’s thoughtful son saw his mother push herself in a manual wheelchair over high pile carpet flooring in her apartment. He heard Marge talk about how sore her arms were from pushing herself from her bed to the bathroom at night and how difficult it was to move around her furniture.
To make life “easier”, Marge’s son bought her a scooter to use in her apartment.
Little did Marge’s son know, scooters require a wide turning radius to allow the user to turn 180 degrees or less. On the market, the “best” scooter could turn with a 38” radius. This makes scooters terrible for homes because people typically place furniture under 38” apart meaning there is NO room for scooters.
What ends up happening is scooter users need to drive forward and reverse a lot when navigating their homes. This requires a skilled driver to avoid scratching walls, door frames, furniture, or running over people!
My point is very FEW people do well with scooters inside of their homes.
So what did I do for my dear friend Marge?
When I met with Marge, I assessed her physical abilities while getting on and off the scooter and her driving skills. I also looked at how she did using her manual wheelchair. Comparing the two devices, I noted that Marge was more safe and independent getting in and out of her wheelchair than the scooter. Marge did not bump against her furniture or walls in the wheelchair. She did hit a door frame and recliner while using the scooter.
I told Marge I did not recommend she use the scooter in her home. The scooter increased her chances of serious injury if she used it in her apartment.
I gave Marge a couple of options:
Remove the high pile carpet and replace it with low pile carpet or another type of flooring like laminate. This requires less effort for a wheelchair user to get around.
Use a power wheelchair. Power wheelchairs need 20 inches or less turning radius, depending on the skill of the driver.