My husband, who is 73 and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and myself, 71, are finding that continuing to live in our three-story townhouse is increasingly challenging.
We are lucky to live in Fairfax County, with its extensive outreach programs. Fairfax County’s Area Agency on Aging (ElderLink) has been sponsoring a free, six-week Independent Living Project for the past four years. The program consists of one-hour educational seminars, followed by one hour of yoga to increase strength and balance and prevent falls. Additionally, a two-part home inspection by a geriatric care manager and occupational therapist assessed our ability to remain safely in our home.
The educational classes were very helpful because I learned new things. For example, I didn’t know that the Fire Department can make a visit to a home to inspect smoke alarms and install new ones if necessary. The nutrition class was especially fun because it offered both nutrition guidelines for older adults, as well as a cooking lesson.
As part of the exercise portion of the program, we were each assessed to determine our individual strengths/weaknesses by taking a 4-part test: lifting a 5-pound weight as many times as we could in 30 seconds, going from a sitting to a standing position as many times as we could in 30 seconds without using our arms to assist us, measuring how long it took us to walk eight feet and back to a chair, and balancing on one foot for as long as we could without holding onto anything. After the six weeks of yoga, we retook the same tests, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a significant improvement, as was everybody else! The class made a big difference in our strength.
At the home inspection, several safety issues were identified. Our house has a number of steps. It was strongly suggested that we add railings along the wall of the long staircases, as well as add grabbars in the bathroom and toilet areas. Other suggestions included placing non-skid backing under rugs, moving items out of the walkway, modifying the outside stairs to make them safer, and installing a personal emergency response system for my husband.
To have items installed, a list of reasonable and reliable contractors was offered. We were delighted to find that the contractor we chose was a certified aging-in-place specialist and understood the challenges my husband faces in maneuvering the stairs and bathtub. The advice he provided, in addition to the grab bars, has made me feel less anxious about staying safe in our home.
Before I took the classes, I was very anxious about how I could manage our disabilities and difficulties alone. Now I know that there is a wealth of help out there if you know how to look for it. I left the classes thinking, “Yes, we can do it! We’re not so alone at all!”
Submitted by Jennifer Edge, Fairfax County, Independent Living Project Manager