Is your home elder-proof? Here’s a checklist

Having my 90-year old grandmother staying over occasionally has shown me that there are particular needs of an older person to be taken into account, and especially more so for longer visits, say over the festive season. This article is useful for those preparing to host older loved ones in the long term, but I also found some valuable tips for me as sometime host.

When you become a caregiver, you need to prepare for your loved one’s arrival. Preparing your home for a disabled or ill adult is much like childproofing your home. Each room must be reorganized and made as accident-proof as possible. Maria Sandella (www.articlecity.com) has created a room-by-room checklist as a guide.

Common Living Areas

  • Are all electrical and telephone cords secured or out of the way to avoid being tripped over? Don’t run cords under rugs or furniture, they become damaged or frayed; don’t use nails to secure them down.
  • Will your loved one be able to turn lights on and off easily? If not, try touchable lamps or lamps that react to sound.
  • Do the doors and windows open easily and lock securely?
  • Are walking pathways free of clutter?
  • Will your loved one be able to get up and down from your sofa and chairs safely and easily? Straight back chairs with armrests and firm seats may be a wise investment. Add a firm cushion to your existing chairs – adding a bit of height will make it easier for them to sit down and get up.
  • If your loved one still uses the phone, perhaps purchase a telephone with large push buttons to make dialing easy. Program all emergency numbers into speed dial, and also write the numbers down and tape them to the wall by the phone. Obtain an emergency call system in case of fall or injury.
  • Obtain a wireless intercom system so you can be easily reached if the person needs assistance.
  • Make sure a television with remote control is accessible.

Kitchen

  • Are your appliances in working order?
  • Are your pots and pans, utensils and food easily accessible?
  • Are all flammable materials away from the stove?
  • Are sharp objects stored in a safe place?
  • Is there adequate space to work?
  • Can all kitchen outlets be reached safely?
  • Is it easy to transfer food from the cooking area to the eating area?
  • Are the sink faucets easy to turn on and off and easy to reach?

Bathroom

  • Is the entrance to the bathroom easily accessed and free from clutter?
  • Will your loved one be able to get in and out of the shower/bathtub safely on their own? If not, install grab bars on both the inside and outside of the bath/shower. Towel racks are not sturdy enough to be used as grab handles.
  • Make sure the shower/bathtub has a waterproof wireless intercom so assistance can be summoned.
  • Can your loved one shower safely standing up or is a chair needed? Purchase one with non-skid pads.
  • Have you placed non-skid strip pads and a bath mat in place?
  • Have you installed a raised seat, a safety frame or a grab bar for a safe transfer to the toilet?
  • Can the outlets, and light switches be easily reached?
  • Do you have a nightlight for those midnight bathroom trips?

Bedroom

  • Consider purchasing an electric bed if your loved one has problems getting in and out of a regular bed safely. You can also install a trapeze bar for them to use.
  • Can the bedside light be reached from bed?
  • Is there a phone that can be reached from bed?
  • Is there a wireless intercom that can be used to reach you in case of emergencies?
  • Is there a clear path from the bed to the bathroom?
  • Do you have guardrails on the bed to ensure your loved one does not fall out during the night?

General Safety

  • Do you have working smoke alarms and fire extinguishers throughout your home? Periodically check to make sure they are working.
  • Do you have emergency numbers such as the hospital, fire, and 911 by the phone?
  • Have you placed night lights in every room of the house if your loved one is a night wanderer? The little bit of light they do give off will help to prevent tripping and falling.
  • Special equipment that you may need
  • A hospital bed
  • A cane and or walker
  • A wheelchair
  • A bedside commode
  • A transfer lift – to help get in and out of bed
  • Oxygen
  • Wireless intercom system

While this may seem like a lot of work to get your home ready, it really isn’t. Go through each room one at a time and make a list of things that need doing, based on your loved one’s disability or illness. You may find you are more prepared than you thought.

Fast time and the ageing mind

Life-long learning slows the passing of time.

If you discovered that challenging yourself and keeping a steep learning curve while ageing would slow down your sense of time passing too quickly, would you want to increase your learning?

I believe in life-long learning, and a NY Times article by Dr Richard Friedman has strengthened my resolve to continue to challenge myself and learn. Part of my interest in life-long learning is the “use it or lose it” notion of exercising our brain. Now it seems that it can help modify our sense of time passing so quickly.

Often people talk about the perception that time passes more quickly as we age. I feel like I blinked three times and my son was suddenly older, I was older and each year seems to fly by, often at a startling rate. My “anxious self” worries: if it keeps going this fast, I may not be here for milestones that are so important to me.

Friedman’s cognitive illusion

Even though many of us view this as “a truth,” it’s hard to prove experimentally. Dr. Friedman calls this notion a “cognitive illusion”, citing studies in Germany, France and the US. Non-age related factors seem to influence our perception of time: emotions, attention and memory. He says: “To accurately gauge the passage of time required to accomplish a given task, you have to be able to focus and remember a sequence of information, which is why this is difficult for someone with ADD. On the whole most of us perceive short intervals of time similarly, regardless of our age.” “Why then,” he asks, “do older people look back at long stretches of their lives and feel it’s a race to the finish?” Dr. Friedman says our sense of time is a “cognitive illusion”. There are ways to understand it and to slow down “the velocity of time.”

He asks: “Does learning new things slow our internal sense of time?” He suggests we think back to what it was like when we were learning something for the first time – for example, learning to ride a bike or to swim or drive a car. Not long ago, at a parent’s class for driver’s education for teenagers, I realized that I no longer separated the components necessary to learn to drive. I took it all for granted, but needed to break the steps down into manageable learning sequences to be helpful to my son.

This experience seems to support Friedman’s comment: “It takes time to learn new tasks and to encode them in your memory. When you’re learning about the world for the first time, you are forming a fairly steady stream of new memories or events, places and people. When, as an adult, you look back at your childhood experiences, they appear to unfold in slow motion probably because the sheer number of them gives you the impression that they must have taken forever to accomplish.” As I recall, it seemed to have taken forever for me to learn to feel confident and competent driving, and now I take it for granted. More recently when I was trying to learn a new language for my adult Bat Mitzvah, time slowed down since the learning curve was so steep for me. Friedman suggests this is merely an illusion of the ways adults understand the past when they look through “the telescope of lost time.”

An important point he makes is that “almost all of us faced far steeper learning curves when young. Most adults do not explore and learn about the world as they did when younger: adult life lacks childhood’s constant discovery and endless novelty.” “Studies show that the greater the cognitive demands of a task, the longer its duration is perceived to be.” Friedman offers the example of his father who, after he retired, read about everything from astronomy to natural history, travel and gardening. He realized his father never commented on how fast or slowly his life seemed to be going. He was constantly learning, always alive to new ideas and experience. Perhaps this keeps us from noticing time passing.

He wonders if it really matters that older adults have an illusion about time speeding up; perhaps it does only “because the distortion signals that we might squeeze more out of life.” He asserts, “If you want time to slow down, become a student again. Learn something requiring sustained effort; do something novel. Put down the thriller on the beach and read something about a new theory. Take a new route to work or your house, vacation at an unknown spot, and take your sweet time about it.”

Learning new things as we age may open us to enjoying doing so and savoring our new learning and accomplishments, rather than feeling anxiety that time is passing so quickly that “I have to do everything yesterday.” It can be an urgency that may energize us, but also can immobilize us. It’s easy to lose perspective and feel sad that time is passing so quickly and “I won’t be here to do or see such and such.”

Through a philosophy of life-long learning we can actually slow down our perception of the fast pace of time, keep our brain stimulated and functioning well. We can enjoy the approaching years rather than dreading their passing so quickly that we go through the motions of doing new things – but perhaps not enjoying them and merely trying to fend off “the grim reaper.” We really do need to stop and savor the moment, but also, in an active way, up our learning curve and perhaps, by doing new things, actually control some of this “cognitive illusion/ distortion” about the passage of time.

Dr. Friedman is a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical Center

Revolutionize your Retirement

Retirement is no longer a destination — it’s a journey, a transition, an opportunity to live life your way!

You’re fifty to seventy-five or more years old.  You may want to continue doing what you’ve been doing or perhaps work in a different way, wanting to fit work into life rather than squeezing life into work. You may also want to use your skills in a different way.  Perhaps you’ve been downsized, or company policy says you must go, or something deep inside you says it’s time to move on.

Retirement used to signal the last stage of life. No more.

We’re living longer, which doesn’t mean a longer “old age.”  Ages fifty to seventy-five or more is now considered an “extended middle age.”

Many people don’t want to retire.  Some want to work in different ways and others can’t afford to retire because they fear they will outlive their money. Still others want to create encore careers, using their skills to “give back.”  We know from positive psychology that well-being is a combination of connection, engagement and purpose and meaning in life.  What’s most important is to be aware and intentional as you plan “what’s next?”

It’s about you

You have wisdom, skills, experience, energy …from your work inside or outside of your home. You may or may not be completely set financially, but that may not be the primary reason you want to continue working in some form.

You want the freedom to live life on your own terms.

Then don’t make the common mistake of jumping into the first thing that comes along.

You want finally to do work (paid or unpaid) that is a creative expression of who you are, work that touches your spirit, ignites your passion, and leaves you feeling fully alive.

Then retire retirement. Define your third stage of life on your own terms!

8 regrets you don’t want to have in your 60s

There are some wonderfully practical and inspiring snippets in this NextAvenue.org article to regret-proof our lives. I found number 6 my most challenging … and I like number 8’s idea of an outdated script.

It’s time to take charge and live the life you want.

  1. Holding onto a grudge

Someone once said that holding onto a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping that the other person dies.  It hurts you more than the offender.  Need proof? Researchers at Hope College discovered that when study participants thought about their enemies in “unforgiving ways”, the stress response – sweating, heart rate, blood pressure – increased.  And Tina Tessina, psychologist and author of Ten smartest decisions a woman can make after forty, adds, “Forgiving does not mean it’s okay that the other person did what he did; rather, you’re saying, if only to yourself, ‘I release you from this resentment.’ Big difference.”

  1. Postponing an Estate Plan

Granted, it’s one of the less fun things to do in life, but experts say that “aside from any legal benefits, planning your estate is truly a selfless act.  If you are without a plan, you leave your heirs wondering about your wishes, which can lead to problems and fighting.  When you take time to plan your estate, you remove the burden from them by letting them know exactly what you want.  It does not matter whether you’re single, have minimal assets, whatever, put a plan in writing.

  1. Deciding it’s too late to make new friends

If you’ve reached your 60s, you already know that friendships often change during transitions – a new job, having kids, getting divorced or widowed, relocating. But you’re never too old to make new pals. Look for people who seem interesting in your tennis class, at volunteer functions, with common hobbies and strike up a conversation – ask a question, make a comment.  Someone has to initiate.  It might as well be you.  Next – a coffee date, a walk, a golf game or a knitting session together.

  1. Ignoring medical tests

No question, good genes help with healthy ageing.  But you still have some control here. Make sure you ask your doc when and how often to have these screenings: blood pressure, PSA (prostate), colonoscopy, mammogram, pelvic exam, papsmear, eye exam (macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma are common with age), cholesterol, vaccines (shingles, pneumococcal, flu shot, tetanus) and bone density. Of course, also ask for frequent tests for any ailments you may particularly suffer.

  1. Letting fear rob you of what you want

Maybe you were raised by an overly anxious parent.  Maybe you’re fearful because of a past traumatic event. Perhaps a therapist is the quickest route to overcoming this issue.  However you choose to tackle it, make facing your fears a priority.  “The saddest thing is to have regrets at the end of life about things you really wanted to do and didn’t because you were afraid,” says Tessina.  “Use the chance now to try something you want.  You have everything to gain and nothing to lose – but fear.”

  1. Feeling too awkward to tell people how much they matter

If your family of origin was not particularly emotive, expressing feelings may feel totally alien. But it’s critical for this reason:  “Not expressing your love to others ultimately separates you emotionally from them,” says Tessina.  Forget the old excuse: “But they already know that I love them,” and step up.  It can be face-to-face or by a note sent to every person you care about, telling them how you feel about their presence in your life.

  1. Thinking you’re immune to falls

According to the CDC, one out of three people aged 65 and older fall each year, and if you fall once, you are at twice the risk of falling again.  Know how to protect yourself.  Ask your doctor if any of your meds could be making you less stable; also ask if you might be Vitamin D deficient. Incorporate strength and balance exercises into your routine.  Get your eyes checked. Make your home safe (add grab bars at the bath or shower, add more or brighter lighting in dim parts of your home, create unobstructed walkways throughout and put up railings at stairs.)  And consider retiring those stilettos.

  1. Finally, living by an outdated script

If you’re like most of us, you’ve been living by a script written in childhood that highlights your weaknesses: I’m too fat, I’m not good enough a daughter/father/friend, I never finish anything I start. By the time you’re in your 60s, it’s time to rewrite the script – with YOU as the hero of your life.

According to Tessina, there are three things you can do to feel better about yourself. Acknowledge with gratitude all the things in your life that make it good.  Be generous to others, especially with kindness and thanks. Live by your personal ethics as a way to feel good and increase happiness. And finally, remember that if you think poorly about yourself, that’s how others will respond to you. If you think highly … well, you get the picture.

How wealthy a corpse do you want to be?

Few of us want to think of ourselves as corpses. After all, we spend a great deal of time, effort and money on keeping ourselves alive and in good condition!

The fact is, though, that no matter how well we look after ourselves (and we should), none of us can avoid being a corpse one day.

So, how about looking at what kind of a corpse we want to be. On a scale of one to 10, how wealthy a corpse do you want to be? Do you want die with all your money, gifts and qualities intact or would you like to have shared it with the world?

Every responsible person should plan for two eventualities – financing their families if they die too soon and financing their own lifestyle if they live too long. The last thing you want to do is outlive your money. It’s far better for your money to outlive you!

If you’re fortunate enough to have enough money to fund yourself for the next 100 years, the question becomes: how much money is enough?

About 10 years ago, Bill Gates shocked the world when he said he was leaving Microsoft, and committed, with Warren Buffet, to giving away half of his wealth to charitable causes during the course of his life. He announced his intention to work for his and his wife’s Foundation to make the world a better place.

All the cynics were quick to smirk that it would be easy for him to continue to eke out an existence on $30 billion (his wealth at that time was probably about $60 billion), but most missed the point – while many wealthy people are extremely charitable, just as many never give any of their money away, no matter how much they have. As far as they’re concerned, they’ll never have enough. And those are the ones who will be extremely wealthy corpses.

But it’s not only their money that they take with them. They also take so many other gifts that they could have shared with the world.

You might not consider yourself to be in the super wealthy category that you have to start giving half your wealth away, but look at this from a different angle … If we consider your unique gifts, skills and qualities to be your wealth, how wealthy do you want to be when you die? How many of your gifts do you want to have given away or have taken with you?

Let’s face it, once you’ve passed on, your gifts and skills are of absolutely no value to you and the world any longer. So why not share them with those around you while you can? Whatever you’ve got to share, share it!

If you have time, share it. If you have compassion, love, skills, talent, share them. It’s not about sharing what you don’t have, but sharing what you have.

As you give away of your wealth of gifts and talents, you make the world a better place, be it for one person, 10 people, 100, 1 000 or one million people. As more of us realise that we’ve been given gifts to give away, we find fulfilment as we do what we’re meant to do.

Don’t plan to take it all with you. Give away what you can while you can. There’s no fun in being a wealthy corpse!

Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag, and a professional speaker. He assists executives to prevent, reverse and delay ageing, and achieve self-mastery so that they can live and lead with greatness.

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Questions to ask before you choose a retirement village

Deciding on the right time to move to a retirement facility can be a difficult and emotional choice.  There are ways to make it easier, and finding out all you can about the accommodation that you are considering can be both empowering and stress-relieving.  Here are some common questions that will help you to match your own lifestyle needs to the best facility.

Financial considerations:

  • Are you buying a unit outright or is this a life-rights/tenancy purchase? What rental options are there?
  • Who is responsible for resale?
  • What deposit is required? What upfront, non-refundable administration fee to secure the unit?
  • If life rights, what is the sliding scale? For example, if you have been there between one and two years, you get 90% back, and if you have been there between three and five years, you get 70% back, and so on.
  • If life rights, do you get a percentage of the original price you paid or current market value?
  • Can I leave my unit to my children?
  • How does costing work when you move from independent living to assisted or frail care?
  • What is the levy and what does it include?
  • What is the levy for assisted living and frail care and what does that include?
  • Are laundry costs included, if you need to use the service?
  • What are the costs of meals at the restaurant, if there is one?
  • Any additional costs to take into account?
  • How often do costs escalate?

Exploring options

  • Does the facility have a respectable website with clear contact details?
  • Does the facility run visitors’ days for prospective residents or do you need to make an individual appointment?
  • How do you get onto the waiting list and is there a cost involved?
  • How long is the waiting list and how does the process work?
  • Are there any conditions regarding applying – medical examination, age limit or health limit?
  • Does the list apply any preferential criteria, for example, on the basis of religion, and, if so, what is required by the facility to qualify for the preference?
  • What is availability? Of couples, single occupation, assisted living, frail care?

The facility and its rules:

  • Are pets allowed? What are the conditions?
  • Can you cultivate your own garden?
  • How many garages are there allocated per unit and how close is it to the unit? Is there an additional cost?
  • Is there a ‘clubhouse’ or entertainment area? Can you rent this and how much is it?
  • Is there a restaurant, a lifestyle centre, a hairdresser or spa, a chapel, a library?
  • What activities are offered? Church services, charity or hobby clubs?  Exercise classes?
  • What is the care available onsite, for example, can I have a nurse visit daily?
  • What happens when one half of a couple needs frail care while the other is still living in the cottage?
  • Is there an Alzheimer’s facility?
  • Are there regular visits by a doctor, a podiatrist, and so on?
  • Am I able to make alterations to my unit?
  • Is there transport to and from shopping centres, hospitals, etc.?
  • Is there an option to stay here temporarily, for example, during convalescence?
  • Can I host a visitor to stay over? Is there such accommodation available in the village?
  • I have a down syndrome/disabled child. Can he/she live in this unit until his/her passing, if we make financial provision for that?

Personal considerations

  • When is the right time or age to commit to moving?
  • Why sell the family home and downsize when we’re still fit and mobile?
  • How will we cope with having to let go of many personal possessions, with their precious memories?
  • Can we afford to move?
  • Why even consider moving into a community of “golden oldies”?
  • When we give up our independence, surely we’ll start ageing overnight?
  • Won’t we be bored, boring and end up just being grumpy?
  • What will I do, if I find myself on my own?
  • Why not just carry on here in our home, until we’re forced to make a final move?
  • How many times do we want to move or do we want to make this a once-only move?
  • If I decide to declutter, what do I do with all my stuff?

Retiremeant on the airwaves

A recent interview on Radio Today with Natashia Bearam saw Kim Potgieter sharing her passion – a retiremeant with meaning. Kim talks#Retiremeant not retirement and how planning for this major life transition can make all the difference. Kim believes if we #RetireOnPurposeWithPurpose that we can #RetireSuccessfully and age more successfully. It is thanks to the Retire Successfully and Chartered Wealth Solutions clients that this retiremeant philosophy of a balanced and fulfilled life continues to spread.

RetiremeAnt with a capital A – filled with meaning!

Kim Potgieter, Director at Chartered Wealth Solutions, was recently interviewed by Radio Today’s Natashia Bearam, on an actively engaged retirement – no retreating from life, but making a difference through reinventing ourselves.  Enjoy listening to Kim’s insights.