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Don’t Let Physical Barriers Dictate Where and How You Live Your Life

In today’s economic environment, more people are considering or re-considering their living arrangements. I see movement from assisted living facilities back to home environments, movement into continuous care retirement communities, and families previously living independently coming together under one roof.

I often get asked what is the best environment and the answer depends on what is important to you and your family. The focus should be on the quality of life and the way you want to live life. What truly will keep you engaged in life? Is it being close to family? Is it having independence? Is it access to certain activities? With clarity around what is important to you, then you can begin to answer the question of what is best and begin to build support to keep you from having to spend time and focus on issues that aren’t important to you.

Many factors go into the ultimate decision of where to live and your living environment. Financial implications, medical care availability and social connection are all important factors. One factor that tends to be overlooked is the physical environment. People tend to disregard it in their plans, tending to think only about their current condition until a particular issue hits close to home. Those that look into the future and plan for contingencies are able to make the adaptations required more easily, less expensively and therefore are able to stay in the environment of their choosing longer. Planning for potential changes in access and availability are important. People also tend to underestimate the degree or the issues involved in adapting a space, or on the other extreme they get overwhelmed and don’t think solutions are available. Luckily today, there are solutions for overcoming most physical barriers in the home.

Having said that planning is best, even those that find themselves in an emergency situation, can find solutions to physical constraints these days. The good news is that more options exist today, the options are more affordable, especially when compared to alternatives like assisted living, home help is becoming more available and the equipment is becoming more aesthetically pleasing.

So for those that are planning for the future, or for those dealing with an issue today, here’s my Top 5 list of most common physical barriers in a home:

  • Stairs … getting from one main floor to another. Critical to maintaining connectiveness with in the house.

  • Thresholds … these can be as low as an inch, but depending on your condition can act like mountains.

  • Bath Access … with baths, getting into and out of the tub becomes problematic.

  • Bed Access … often overlooked, these can often be at an inappropriate height or transferring into or out of bed can be problematic, especially when tired or sleepy.

And here are some of the most common solutions for those situations:

  • Stairs … residential elevators add value to the home but are expensive. Stair lifts are an affordable option for those in need of assistance.

  • Thresholds ... zero threshold modifications are ideal. If not feasible, threshold ramps now come in a variety of more attractive alternatives.

  • Bath Access … seated lifts in the bath that lower you are often overlooked. Walk-in tubs and adaptations are also possibilities. For those that like showers, modification for a walk-in shower are most appropriate. Also strategically placed garb bars are critical.

  • Bed Access … adjustments to the bed height through mattresses and box springs. Putting up grabbars

Special mention should be made of adaptations required if someone is in a wheelchair or powerchair. These are especially tough situations for the caregiver. The desire to “make do” often overrides the concerns for caregivers until a caregiver is injured or debilitated. This is especially important in situations requiring a transfer where lifts should be used. Lifts now offered can be portable, semi-permanent or permanent depending on the need.

So how do you start of get help? It can be complex to contemplate the alternatives but you should start with someone focused on the home and that works with aging or diasabled populations. Input from a contractor, someone with lift equipment expertise, and therapist and care givers should all be part of the equation.

Remember though, it is about living life on your terms. So define that first and let the solutions all focus on taking the burden off the day-to-day so you can focus your time and energy on what you and your family want and what is best for all.

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