By Janet Engel OT/L, CAPS
This article explores 5 ways to improve home safety and reduce caregiver burnout. Many of us can identify with the term “caregiver.” In fact, many more of us will be identifying with that term as the demand for caregivers increases with an aging population. The number of people providing unpaid caregiving services to at least one adult with health or functional needs has risen by 5% since 2015, according to the Caregiving in the US 2020 Report, provided by the National Alliance for Caregivers and AARP. The 2020 update reveals an increase in the number of family caregivers in the United States of 9.5 million from 2015 to 2020. This article explores 5 ways to improve home safety and reduce caregiver burnout.
Facts About Caregivers
Women make up the lion share of caregivers (61%). Most caregiving is done by Baby Boomers (34%) followed by Generation X (29%) who are often caught in the “sandwich generation” such as myself. The “sandwich generation” is made up of people caring for children still living at home and their aging parents. Declining health in the caregiver is a common side effect of caregiving. Increased stress, physical and financial demands, and lack of respite care weigh heaviest on unpaid caregivers.
Reducing Caregiver Burnout
As an occupational therapist specializing in home modifications, I believe that making improvements to your home that directly impact safety are at the top of the list. Falls are the #1 cause of death and serious injury in people aged 65 and older. Therefore, preventing falls should be the primary concern for caregivers, health professionals, and policy makers alike. We need to work together to ensure older adults have the necessary support in place so that they can age in place safely and with dignity.
Improving Home Safety
As a caregiver to my 75 year old mother who lives out of state and is legally blind in one eye, I am concerned with her safety on a daily basis. I have asked her to live in my finished, walkout basement, however she doesn’t feel it is necessary yet, although she admits to falling at home on multiple occasions. I’m sure many caregivers out there can relate to my situation. We want to help but are sometimes sidelined by the people who need the help.
5 Ways to Improve Home Safety and Reduce Caregiver Burnout
- Improve/increase the natural and artificial light in your house. Especially in hallways and stairs.
- Create clear pathways to the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and entryways.
- Remove throw rugs and tape down loose electrical cords.
- Repair/remove carpeting in the home, especially if your loved one uses a mobility device (wheelchair, walker, or cane). Carpeting creates friction making it more difficult to move across a surface. Low maintenance, non-skid, continuous flooring such as vinyl is a great option.
- Increase safe access to the tub/shower and toilet. Everyone uses the bathroom everyday multiple times a day. It is imperative that it is an accessible and safe space to function in. Maintaining independence with bathing and toileting tasks is directly tied to maintaining dignity as we age.
Reducing Caregiver Burnout
As caregivers we need to do everything we can to make our jobs easier and safer. If you get hurt helping your loved one transfer to the toilet or shower/tub, you may not be able to continue caregiving. If you don’t take care of yourself first, you cannot take care of someone else! If you want to make more significant modifications in your home, please hire a home modification occupational therapist to help you create a home for life.