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Creating a safe space for seniors to live independently

Posted by Cindy Atoji Keene  February 22, 2012 03:00 AM

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By Cindy Atoji Keene

Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home, especially for many senior citizens, who would rather “age in place” than live in a community setting. But from steep stairs to inadequate lighting, studies show that most homes are not designed to accommodate the needs of people over 65.

The harsh realities of staying put in your own home can be grim, starting with social isolation, and complicated by healthcare problems like falling and injuries, and sometimes clutter that turns into hoarding.

“When I approach many seniors about modifying their home by adding grab bars or replacing doorknobs with pull handles, they often say, ‘I’ve been in this house for 40 years, I never needed it before and I don’t need it now,” said Roy Carreiro of HouseWorks, a Boston-based private home-care company dedicated to helping seniors live independently. Carreiro is part of a team that installs home modifications for living spaces so those with physical limitations can continue to live safely. Research by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that such adaptations may prevent almost half of all home accidents among seniors, especially since many elderly live in homes that are over 20 years old.

Q: What’s on your list of recent changes made to improve accessibility?
A: This morning I went to two different houses; I installed a handheld shower in the first and put in a tub seat for the second job. Later, I’ll go back and put railings on the stairs. For another, more unusual job, I had a client who couldn’t feel anything from the waist up and had frequent dizzy spells. After listening to her dilemma, I ended up installing four bars on the kitchen wall like a ladder so she could pull herself up after falling and sit back down at the kitchen table. Because of this, she was able to still enjoy her morning routine that she had kept for years.

Q: One of your frequent tasks is cleaning out clutter from a senior’s home. How do you convince them that they need to start sorting and organizing?
A: It’s all about speaking to them and pushing in right direction. They might have a newspaper that is 20 years old. I’ll ask, “Can I throw this out? ”They’ll say, ‘No, I haven’t read it yet.” I’ll reply, “You’re right, but it is kind of old and out-of-date.” We can spend 10 minutes on negotiating about one trivial item. There’s a lot of give and take; maybe I’ll end up throwing out the paper but keeping an old sock.

Q: What’s the worst case of hoarding that you’ve seen?
A: It was the home of a 93-year-old man in Norwood. I actually opened the door and vomited immediately from the smell of rotting food. He would go into restaurant dumpsters and then bring the garbage into the house. We got the place cleaned up, but sadly, he was just going to start all over again the minute we left.

Q: You’re only 34 years old. Has your job changed the way you view aging?
A: Absolutely. It has made me realize that everything you do today adds up later. I see people who never did anything but sit around, and they have huge health problems, from obesity to diabetes. I now to take better care of myself and always try to be aware of my surroundings and the environment I live in.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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