A Caregiver’s Guide to Assessing Daily Needs

Caregiving for a sick or disabled spouse or an elderly parent can be a mixed bag. Tending to the needs of a loved one is rewarding, but there is also a tremendous burden of responsibility involved.  It’s more complicated and overwhelming if you aren’t meeting your senior’s needs effectively.  With a proper assessment of daily needs, you can ease your burden and enjoy better peace of mind.  

  1. Importance of assessing needs.  The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services explains that simply receiving a diagnosis is not enough information to know how to meet a senior loved one’s needs.  It’s important to tailor your senior’s environment and provisions to meet needs effectively.  By making a thorough evaluation of your loved one’s daily needs, you can provide care that is efficient and improve the safety of the living environment. 

Pay attention to your loved one’s actions too, and make note of anything concerning.  For example, if you notice your loved one making comments about others mumbling, turning the television up way too loud, or withdrawing from social situations, this could be a sign that your loved one is having hearing issues and could greatly benefit from hearing aids.  The same applies for vision loss or mobility issues.  Your loved one might not speak up or be able to, or perhaps they don’t realize there’s a problem.  As a conscious observer, you can catch problems early and provide a solution. 

  1. ADLs.  The tasks one performs to live a healthy, normal life are termed “Activities of Daily Living,” or ADLs.  ADLs include such items as bathing, eating, dressing, transferring (for instance, transitioning from laying in bed to standing), and using the toilet.  There are tools of assessment for evaluating ADLs, and these tools use a sliding scale to gauge your loved one’s level of independence in performing the tasks.  A number of checklists are available for making the assessment, and one of the tools the American Academy of Family Physicians suggests is a self-rated version called the Lawton Instrumental Activities of Daily Living Scale.  In this version, seniors rate how much help is needed to perform tasks such as grocery shopping and using the telephone.  
  1. Areas of risk.  While it’s vital to assess the needs of your loved one, it’s also vital to assess the appropriateness of the living environment, which may require modifying your home.  Ideally, your senior can do the majority of living on one floor of the home, preferably the ground floor.  That level should include a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen facilities.  In addition to one-floor living, some studies suggest your loved one’s living areas should be evaluated for the following areas of potential danger: 
  • Stairs.  Stairwells are hazardous for those with mobility, cognitive, or balance concerns.  Stairs within the home and for entering the home should be well-lit with sturdy handrails on both sides.  Ramps should be added when using stairs becomes too hazardous for your senior.  For those with accessibility restrictions, consider stair lifts in homes where stairs cannot be modified into ramps.    
  • Entryway and doorways.  Steps for entering a home can be a major accessibility issue for the elderly, and entryways should be modified as needed.  Some experts also recommend doorways without thresholds and door frames which are a minimum of 42 inches wide.  
  • Bathrooms.  Bathrooms are known for being serious hazards for seniors.  Roughly 235,000 people experience bathroom-related injuries every year that land them in emergency rooms across America.  It’s important to provide accommodations for seniors to prevent slips and falls. Safety rails with textured grips, shower seats, transfer seats, and roll-in showers are valuable options to make bathing safer and easier for your loved one.  A single lever for the faucet is usually easier to turn and operate than two separate knobs, so consider a new faucet head if necessary.
  • Furniture and clutter.  Opening walkways by moving or removing furniture and eliminating clutter is a key component in improving safety.  Boxes, newspapers, ottomans, magazine racks, and the like are tripping hazards for seniors and should be removed.  
  • Wandering control.  If your loved one is subject to episodes of disorientation or other lapses in judgement, controlling exits through simple interventions is usually sufficient.  Door knobs can be hidden by curtains, or chimes can be installed to alert you to an opening door.  

Assessment improves life.  Making a thorough assessment of your senior loved one’s needs is the first step in providing efficient care.  The living environment should also be evaluated and safety measures taken.  By taking basic steps, quality of life improves for both your senior and for you as the caregiver. 

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