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Collage featuring Black woman sitting on stairs chair lift, remote controls, bathroom handles, sneakers on foot floor mat.

Making Changes: Sometimes the Devil You Know Is Better Than the Devil You Don't

My parents were in their late eighties, both with macular degeneration, when they started to need a little more help around the house. Their lovely four-bedroom, two-story house was a lot to look after, but they didn’t want to move. There was no family nearby, so we arranged some home-care assistance.

Recommended home adaptations

The home-care people did an assessment of the house as a first step, and they suggested (actually firmly recommended) a few changes.

Mats

The house looked beautiful, with lovely mats scattered everywhere. According to our advice, they had to go, as they were a trip hazard. I knew that was going to be a difficult conversation because Mum loved those mats. She felt they helped keep the house clean and attractive. I convinced her to let me move them, and I stacked them in the cupboard. Out of sight, out of mind. Not on your life! The next time I visited, they had miraculously found their way back to their original positions on the floor. They did this trip a few times until I realized I was never going to win that one. It worried me continually, but the only person to ever trip over those mats was me.

Grab Rails

Another recommendation was that there should be grab rails for safety in the bathroom – around the shower and near the toilet. It was mentioned that these were things older people should have, even if they weren’t vision-impaired. My mother wasn’t too keen on this arrangement, which she thought would spoil the look of her bathroom, and she won that one, too. As it turned out, over the next few years, there were never any falls in the bathroom.

Stairs

With about 15 stairs from the ground floor to the first floor, navigating these with low vision became a problem. We had a stair-lift installed, and this worked quite well. There were two remote controls with big buttons, one at the top of the stairs and one at the bottom. Both of my parents could see well enough to get themselves up and down the stairs. It even proved a useful device to send the shopping up by itself.

Television

Some changes were made with the best of intentions but didn’t work out as well as expected. We bought them a bigger television and of course, with that came a new remote and a whole different set of operating instructions. Mum couldn’t really see well enough to control the remote, and Dad never got up to speed with it completely, as he had with the old controls. I think they felt this was a backward step, as they could do more with their old television, but they never mentioned it. I do think they could see this one better, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

Extra step

A kindly neighbor thought that the step from inside the house to the garage was too deep for my parents. Without any discussion with the family, he made another step which shortened the drop and made it into two steps. Mum was used to the old step, even if it was difficult, and she couldn’t see this new arrangement very well.

Making changes

Soon afterward she tripped and did permanent damage to her shoulders. Just sometimes, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.

In hindsight, now, I see that when trying to make changes, you win some and you lose some. The person you are trying to help should always have the last word – and my mother knew that, even if I didn’t.

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