By Nancy J. Brady, RN, Esq.
Many of the clients we see on a daily basis are over age sixty. A common theme among this client population is that as people age, most if not all would like to remain at home, in familiar surroundings, and the neighborhood they have lived in for a large part, if not all of their lives. While much of the legal planning we discuss has to do with protecting assets in the event nursing home care is required either temporarily or permanently during one’s life, nursing home placement is a last resort, and care can usually be provided in the home setting for most people until the end of life, or close to the end of life.
For “young” seniors who are living independently, either in a house or an apartment, there are many small home modifications that can be taken to make the home more comfortable and safe as they begin to age. For those of us with back, hip and knee problems, easy modifications to the bathroom include comfort height toilets, hand held shower fixtures, double shower or step in tub, and grab bars. These items are no longer sold as medical equipment, but are available in retail stores, and are indistinguishable from other bathroom fixtures. Another minor modification that makes the home more comfortable is changing from round knobs on interior doors to lever type handles which are easier for a person with arthritis to grip to open and close.
The Centers for Disease Control tells us that complication from falling is among the leading causes of death among older adults. Prevention of falls, therefore, is of primary importance for the aging population. The home should therefore be free of fall risks- remove all throw rugs, clutter, and make sure lighting is adequate, particularly at night when one may be sleepily walking to the bathroom. Check footwear- dispose of floppy slippers, shoes that may be too large, or in need of repair to the heels or soles. The doctor’s advice should include the best time to take certain medications such as sleep aids or diuretics.
The population who are “aging in place” includes those with no immediate health or mobility issues, but are merely growing older and want to stay at home. These home modifications mentioned above should be considered, and may be all that is needed. If legal documents are not yet in place, this is the point when an elderlaw attorney should be consulted.
Another group of the population “aging in place” has progressive changes due to chronic conditions. This population is aware of changes in their functional status, and while changes to the home are not urgent, these needs should be reviewed frequently and changes anticipated and made as needed. If no legal documents are in place, it is crucial in order to begin to protect financial assets from the cost of future long term care.
Sometimes the person has a sudden change in condition warranting immediate changes to the home environment to enable him/her to remain at home. This may include modifications such as ramps, widening doorways to accommodate wheelchairs, and chair lifts for stairs. This population can often benefit from home care services. While it is advisable to have done legal planning in advance, there are certainly advantages to complete legal planning at this point.
In addition to family members assisting and being aware of changes necessitating modifications to the home to accommodate aging in place, the regular physician and an occupational therapist can be instrumental in making suggestions to modify the home of the aging individual. These services should not be overlooked.
In conclusion, as is frequently discussed in our columns, there are certain legal documents which must be in place, particularly as we age- Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney, Last Will and Testament, and Trusts. In order to remain at home, living in the community, there are modifications that should be made to ensure that the senior population remains safe and secure in their homes.
The attorneys at Brady & Marshak, LLP can be reached at 1-718-738-8500; www.bradyandmarshak.com. The information in this article is intended for general information only. For specific advice based on your particular circumstances, a consultation with an attorney is recommended.