We know that a majority of seniors want to stay at home and live independently. Facilitating this desire isn’t always easy though. How do we know what each individual needs in order to achieve his or her goals of good health, independence, and home safety? How do we help aging adults or people with disabilities stay out of assisted living facilities and in their own home? A new study on a program developed at Johns Hopkins has found that the best way to help our aging population achieve their goals is by providing them with a care team; a nurse, an occupational therapist, and most surprisingly but equally as important, a handyman. That’s right, the guy with the drill and the hammer who knows how to install grab bars in mom’s bathroom or fix those wobbly rails in her front walk. Not a medical specialist with the latest knowledge on heart disease or cancer, though they still play an important role of course. A handyman.
The program, called The Community Aging in Place, Advancing Better Living for Elders ( CAPABLE), was started by Sarah Szanton and her associates at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and was funded by federal Medicare and Medicaid programs. The program significantly improved the ability of the participants to manage daily activities such as bathing, getting to the bathroom, eating, and dressing. Having the ability to complete these daily activities on their own is a huge factor in deciding whether or not a senior is able to live in their own home or not. At the beginning of the program, a typical participant required help with four personal activities. By the end of the five-month program, she needed help with just two.
The key to the success of this program is the care team and what they do. Participants in the program meet with a registered nurse to identify top problems or priorities to focus on. Next, an occupational therapist would help identify functional goals of the individual, such as being able to take a shower safely or even using the restroom without falling. Finally, with the help of the handyman, the occupational therapist began to help the participant achieve their goals. For instance, the occupational therapist may develop exercises to help with balance that require grab bars and the handyman would install those grab bars.
If you’re wondering what the cost of the five-month program is, it’s about $2,800—roughly equal to a week in a nursing home.
Handymen: An Environmental Approach to Senior Care
While this single study may have been small, the results are undeniably important; in order to offer seniors complete care, we need to consider the environment they live in as well as their individual health. This holistic approach to wellness, or rather focusing on the senior as well as the environment they interact with, could be the key to keeping thousands of aging adults safe, and living happily in their own homes. With the help of qualified handymen, the work that so many caregivers, nurses, and occupational therapists put in to helping seniors stay healthy has a much better chance of success. When you consider the cost of buying and installing a few grab bars in someone’s home to the cost of keeping someone in a full time assisted living facility, the savings are far beyond a monetary value.
If we want our grandparents, parents, and other beloved seniors to achieve their goals of overall well being, independence, and living in their own homes, we’ve got to expand our efforts from “fixing” the individual to also modifying the environments they come in contact with. Even the healthiest individual is at risk of a fall in his or her own home, but installing grab bars in high risk locations like showers and stairs can greatly decrease that risk. This is why at Safety In Place we appreciate and value the work that contractors, builders, and handymen do for our seniors. They save lives every day and may not even know it. So here is to all you grab bar installers, handrail fixers, universal design homebuilders, and modern day superheroes! We thank you for the work you do in keeping our seniors safe!