Color & Control:

An at home task review

Life is changing… it’s time to make new plans

Following an assessment, make a list of essential tasks that need to be performed, including: meal preparation, laundry, housekeeping (daily vs. janitorial—windows, spring cleaning), outdoor maintenance (garbage removal, lawn care, leaves, snow, eaves-troughs, bush trimming), banking, shopping (groceries and personal) and general maintenance.

Consider labour-saving/assistive devices to maximize independence and safety. If you or your parents can afford it or your insurance or health plan will provide the service, think about starting regular homemaking services. Lawn and garden care, snow removal, meals-on-wheels, frozen food entrees, as well as home shopping or delivery services can really help to keep people in their own homes for as long as possible.

When planning in this phase, it’s important to recognize the changing needs of our parents in their journey and the modifications that are needed quite regularly. If your parents are unable to manage alone, this part of the book is for you.

Assessing the environment 
Review space needed for special equipment and compatibility of existing equipment in your home: e.g., a special bed, lift system, bathroom safety devices. Predict potential changes in health conditions and needs to help you decide whether its best to renovate, compromise or move.

Look for hazards that will increase the potential for falls and or fires. What is the person’s ability to exit the home in an emergency? Be sure they know how to access 911 or police fire and ambulance and have the instructions prominently displayed in the home. Do they hear, smell and see well enough to ensure their own safety in an emergency? Know that they are fully capable of understanding and aware of emergency procedures. Make sure they are not going to be at an above-average risk of senior fraud or neighborhood robberies because of their frailty. Are there any difficulties related to mental illness that might compromise safety?

Consider an environmental safety assessment or explore personal-alert systems and communication devices.

Safe mobility matters
Usually, sooner rather than later, your relative or friend will need a cane, crutches, walker, scooter or wheelchair. Suddenly, you’re the ‘techy’ who’s in charge of buying, lugging, fixing, cleaning and making this all work for them.

Review accessibility: door width, counter heights, flooring, stairs, hand rails, light switch heights, closet/clothing access, taps, pathways/hallways clear of obstruction, and lighting. Will your home and theirs need a ramp, a stair lift or an elevator?  If they begin using power equipment (scooter or power wheelchair), you’ll need to figure out what is required for “home and away” access, and plan for storage and lifting, transportation and battery recharges. Also, you’ll need to think about whether or not it’s safe for them to “drive” the equipment.

Can the same equipment be used safely inside and outside the home? Is the equipment compatible with your family vehicle? How will you transfer your parent from the house, nursing home or hospital into the car, taxi or bus?

Is there convenient access point in the building where they go for medical appointments and shopping? Will you or your parent be able to drive and park with a disabled-parking permit? Check to make sure
there are not stairs that present dangerous or inaccessible barriers. Often there are wheelchair access doors but they may be hidden or difficult to find at a glance. Is there an accessible washroom? Where? Will the equipment fit in the washroom or is it used a storage room?

Cultural and religious expectations
Through decisions you’ll make, give consideration to your parents’ background, beliefs, nationality and heritage. While many elders have integrated into the Canadian lifestyle over the years, there are many others who, without family and church support, would be isolated from a communication, language, dietary and lifestyle perspective.

On the positive side, research on the impact of religious participation by aging members of our population has shown positive quality-of-life indicators, enhanced social network connections and lower levels of depression. It seems that local church congregations provide much-needed outreach to vulnerable citizens in their community and chaplaincy services in hospitals and nursing homes. Religious participation doesn’t cost much and is widely available. Did you know… Dr. Harold Koenig, a Duke University psychiatrist, found that religious elderly patients cost the health system less money than those who were less observant. In addition, religious patients reported spending just six days in hospital during the previous year, compared to 12 days among the less religious.

You should review your parents’ and your own financial situation. Are funds required and available to purchase or rent equipment? To make necessary renovations? For transportation or vehicle modifications?

If appropriate, investigate funding agencies such as March of Dimes, Extended Health Insurance, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Social Services, Assistive Devices Program, or diagnosis-specific agencies (e.g. the Multiple Sclerosis Society).

More support needed?
Governments and health experts have a seemingly endless number of definitions of home care…but all it really means to the typical Canadian is getting the help and support to be able to care for loved ones themselves.

The Internet is also a great source of information and contacts, however with the usual proviso of being aware of the source of the information. Start with reliable sites sponsored by governments or agencies and follow their links.

Homecare: Know the terrain
Each province has its own way of delivering health services, with specific rules and regulations. In Ontario, for example, there are LHIN’s Community Care Access Centres (CCACs) across the province. These are government-funded, not-for-profit organizations serving as a local point of access for in-home health care, information and referral services and access to long-term placement. Similar organizations exist in other provinces. Please note however, with changes in government or when provincial budgets are tabled sometimes services change—for better
or worse!

Regardless of where you live, eligibility for home care help will likely be dependent on certain criteria, such as having a
valid health card number, being unable to access out-patient services, or needing one of the professional or personal support services for a condition that can be appropriately treated at home and having a home environment suitable for implementing these services.

It is important to understand what home care is and what it provides. Home care has been called “a group of services that help people receive care at home when they are ill, disabled, recovering from illness or surgery, or dying.” The goal here is to enable people with poor or deteriorating health “to live at home, often with the effect of preventing, delaying or substituting for long-term care or acute-care alternatives.”

Whether you need to have someone keep your spouse company so that you get a break, or you require comprehensive in home nursing services, you are entitled to ask for home care. In some cases, you might have the option of paying for additional services, or if you would like more hours of care than your government agency is able to provide.

Learn what you can
Knowledge is an empowering tool. Learn as much as you can about your elder’s medical condition or care needs. Ask questions and share ideas with family members and health professionals. There is a wealth of information about this and caregiving to be found within libraries, magazines, and established organizations and of course, on the Internet. Very often caregivers have neither the knowledge nor patience to go online. Ask a friend or relative to search for you.

Hold team meetings
If you are fortunate enough to have developed a support network of family and friends, now is a good time to have a team meeting. If possible, the care recipient should be included in the decision-making. Both the needs of the patient and the caregiver have to be discussed. Home care might not be able to provide as many hours as you would like. Relatives and friends are often willing, but hesitant, to offer assistance because they don’t know what to do. However, if tasks are discussed and delegated on an individual basis, a win/win situation is created— the caregiver receives the help she needs and the support team feels useful providing it.

Initially, members of this team might save you the time and effort of tracking down information you need. For example, is there a barber/hairdresser who does house calls? Is there a volunteer-based service to provide respite care? Can you access Meals on Wheels or another food service? If the caregiver doesn’t have a car, is volunteer transportation (for medical appointments) available through a community agency? Would the in-home services of an occupational therapist, speech therapist or physiotherapist be available if required?

When it comes time to make some tough decisions
The time has come to make difficult decisions about our elders, and we need their blessing. Expect resistance. Here are some ideas about approach.

Suggestion: Practice patience (perhaps its time you took up mediation or yoga to reduce your stress level). Be realistic.  Don’t expect a decision today.  This process, especially in times of good health and wellness or when early health management decisions are on the horizon, may be frustratingly slow for us.

Slow down. Even if you’re ahead of them, decision-making and laying out options may need to be broken up into baby steps. (A series of discussions if you have the luxury of time). Deal with health care wishes. Consider assets. Discuss home and long-term care options. Decide which member of the family (i.e., which child) is going to take the lead.


1) This isn’t about what your elders are going to leave you and your siblings, it’s arranging for their care and the quality of their later life.

2) Draw up a road map now to save yourself and them, long-term trauma. Even if plans have to change at least you’ve got markers going in the right direction that’ll guide your way. 

3) Maintain dignity at all cost. Yours and theirs. 

4) Seek outside advice whenever possible. There’s often support available through provincial health ministries and not for-profit associations. Alternatively if you can afford it, there are legal, medical and legal experts who can be hired on assignment or by the hour. Your goal: To have some of the tricky questions asked by someone else and the options outlined in a non-judgmental, choice focused way.

Know you’re not alone 
With a little time and good advice, you can begin by equipping yourself with as much knowledge as possible, gathering information on your parent’s abilities and disabilities, their needs (both present and future) and what services are available to help you both.

An often-neglected part of planning is determining exactly where and how you fit in. You need to understand your strengths and weaknesses and identify what you will need to be successful in your role (including the help of family, friends, neighbors and community agencies).

Equally important to the responsibilities you have to your loved one are your “rights” as the caregiver. At the onset you are filled with hope, have ideals, energy and the motivation to make things happen. You may be able to survive on less sleep, reduced leisure time, leaves of absences from work, etc., but this will not be sustainable.

Balance your responsibilities
Thinking that you can do it all can lead to exhaustion, stress and burnout. Although burnout may not be evident until up to six to 18 months, there are early warning signs. Perhaps you’re not sleeping well.  You might be experiencing headaches and lingering colds and social withdrawal. Caregiving by its nature is not something that can be added on top of your daily cycle of activity in a neat package. It must be integrated with many other responsibilities. The key to surviving lies in finding the balance between the roles and responsibilities of caregiving and other important activities.

Never underestimate the need for caregiver relief or respite. Investigate relief services or respite care, look for support groups and develop your own coping skills. Be aware that there may be waiting lists for services/facilities.

To make home care really work, it is vital to research and prepare a care plan. Identify one family member as the coordinator of the care plan—it will help things to run more smoothly. By planning ahead, you can avoid worry, guilt and uncertainty and make the home care experience a more positive and rewarding one for all involved.

Now you have accepted the responsibility of caring for a loved one. Are you prepared?  

Caroline Tapp-McDougall is a healthcare journalist and author of The Complete Guide For Family Caregivers.

Falls and fractures

Don’t let fear of falling rule your life. Reduce your risk and know that physical activity such as walking, waterworks or tai-chi can go a long way towards preventing falls.

1. Falls account for 25% of all hospital admissions. 
2. 40% of all nursing home admissions are caused by falls.
3. 40% of those admitted will never return to independent living and 25% will die within one year.
4. 55% of all fall injuries among seniors occur inside the home where they’re living.
5. 23% of falls happen outside their home.
6. Most falls are caused by tripping while walking not falling on stairs.

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