During your last visit with your aging parents, you may have noticed that Mom’s memory is lapsing, or Dad’s driving is more erratic. They may forget to take their medication, or they may have fallen over poorly-placed furniture or area rugs. They may need some improvements within their living space, or a change altogether, to improve their quality of life.
If your parent wants to remain in their home, or “age in place,” there are ways to de-clutter and re-organize their possessions to create a healthier environment. There are easy things that can be done immediately:
● Address safety issues. Remove area rugs, rearrange furniture, and add lighting. Install safety rails in the bathrooms. Make a list of the medications they’re taking and post it on the refrigerator door.
● Assess the home’s most frequently used rooms. Consider disposing of occasional furniture pieces to create wider walkways. Area rugs, a major tripping hazard, should also be put away.
● Window treatments should be cleaned to alleviate the dust which can aggravate respiratory ailments. Lightweight, semi-transparent curtains should be substituted for heavy draperies, to let in more natural, mood-enhancing sunlight.
● Sources of artificial light (table lamps, ceiling-mounted dome lights, etc.) should be added to aid those with age-related eyesight impairments.
● Spend a few hours in the basement or attic, and start to make piles -- “keep,” “donate,” and “discard.” Getting rid of unused possessions is less emotional when it’s a gradual process.
The prospect of downsizing your parents into a smaller home or assisted living can be daunting. If the decision is made to move, there are strategies to sorting through decades of collections in order to preserve important items and wisely dispose of the rest.
● Go through collections of old photos and home movies. After enjoying some time recalling happy memories, decide which images should be kept, converted to digital albums, or passed along to other family members.
● Take your own “stuff” home with you, such as old yearbooks and school memorabilia, toys and games, or clothing.
● Gently start a conversation with your parents about where they want their heirloom pieces to go. Take notes; it may help down the road to have a written record.
Fortunately, there may be local services available to help. Contact the National Organization of Senior Move Managers (www.nasmm.org), a nonprofit, professional association of organizations dedicated to helping older adults and their families with the moving process. Search their membership list for a local company credentialed as a Certified Relocation & Transition Specialist (CRTS).
While caring for elderly parents can be emotionally and physically draining, there are resources available to help you.
Caregivers Home Companion (http://www.caregivershome.com) has forums on their website to encourage communication between others facing the same challenges. Children of Aging Parents (http://www.caps4caregivers.org/) has published a caregivers’ guide on their website, as well as other resources.