Eco-friendly Elder Care: Advice on how to help elderly grandparents maintain their independence and adapt their homes in a greener way

By Claire Bradshaw

When parents or grandparents begin to show signs of aging, it is time to take proactive steps to make sure that their living space is safe and encourages easy movement. The most eco-friendly action to take is not in the construction of a new dwelling, but in reorganizing and adapting their current home.

Even as joints stiffen, eye sight dwindles, and balance becomes more unstable, most family members desire to remain in the places with which they have grown most familiar. However, these homes, though full of treasured memories, can often be bursting with hazards that make life treacherous for the elderly. Adaptations should be made before an accident occurs, and most can be done without causing a significant impact to the environment. Eco-friendly elder care may be easier than you might think.

Making Movement Easy

Steps, stairs, and narrow halls or doorways sometimes impede the ability of aging grandparents to move around their homes, especially if they must rely on a cane, walker, or wheelchair. The following adaptations are usually helpful in keeping the elderly moving freely about the house:

• Install ramps leading to all outer doorways.

• Mount handrails along the wall areas when assistance might be necessary to move up or down or where greater balance might be needed.

• Remove doors that open and close when they serve no great purpose and widen those that are too narrow for a wheelchair to pass.

• Purchase a reconditioned used stairlift from a trustworthy dealer. These dealers will check for any safety problems, and you can feel good about reusing these devices and saving money at the same time. Stairlifts can transform the life of people with limited mobility and allow them to carry on using the upstairs of their home, by removing the difficulty and stress of climbing the stairs.

• Take away all throw rugs. These can entangle feet or slide out from under seniors who have a tendency to slide their feet rather than lift them. To prevent waste, these might be offered on FreeCycle for a younger family to enjoy.

Adding Safety Devices

Some safety devices are imperative for the elderly. The following will give added security against falls and breaks for those whose bones are more fragile and will make life more comfortable for those suffering from arthritis and other debilitating conditions:

• Furnishings that are easily accessible should be a priority. This may mean adjustable beds, higher chairs, walk-in closets and showers, or larger commodes. Some items can be purchased second-hand, but be sure to check they are in good condition before parting with your money.

• Light switches, as well as blind and fan pulls should be easy to reach from a seated position.

• Consider replacing incandescent lights with modern, energy-efficient fluorescent lighting, which is not just a greener option, it’s bright and consistent so therefore safer for people with poorer eye sight.

• Portable phones with large buttons (purchased cheaply at yard sales and thrift stores) should be placed in every room of the house, and a personal alarm is a good idea for your peace of mind.

• Add extra insulation to the house if your grandparents complain of the cold and check the windows for leaking air. This can lower heating bills and save money for those on a limited income, as well as helping the environment.

Grandparents are treasured family members, and we all want to do everything possible to make the latter part of their lives easy and comfortable. By adapting their homes we can improve the quality of their lives and help them stay in their own homes, while having a minimal impact on the environment.

Photographer: Dr Joseph Valks