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Organizing Projects to Help You and Your Loves Ones Age in Place

Recently I attended NAPO’s annual conference. NAPO is the National Association of Professional Organizers. Every year there are so many wonderful education programs to select from and so much to learn. I always come back more inspired and excited to share what I’ve learned. One of the best sessions I attended this year was given by Teepa Snow. Her program was titled: Working with Older Clients.

Let’s face it; as much as we’d like to remain a spring chicken, we all age—as do our parents and grandparents. No matter what stage of life you are in, I hope you will find this information useful for yourself or for your loved ones.

As we age or someone you know ages, it may be necessary to make modifications to the home so that the individual can “age in place.” There are re modelers that have earned the designation of CAPS (Certified Aging in Place Specialist) that concentrate in these types of remodel projects or minor modifications.

Before you can begin a remodel or make necessary modifications to allow the individual to age in place, you will need to deal with the decades of treasures and other stuff that has accumulated over the years in order to free up space.

A short list of challenges as one ages and some things you may want to consider are:

1. Depth perception is reduced. Can’t determine how close you are to the stairs and curbs which causes an increase in falls or risk of falls.

2. Loss of colored vision. Can’t tell blue from green. Clothes may look the same color or there, may be errors in medication to take.

3. Muscles are weaker. Difficult to lift heavy objects from upper cabinets in the kitchen.

4. Knees no longer bend. Difficult to reach for the Tupperware in a lower cabinet.

5. Smell deteriorates. May not be able to tell if you are eating food past its prime.

6. Loss of near vision. Can’t read small print on bills, ads, newspapers, magazines, food package directions, nutritional value of food, prescriptions, and other health related information.

7. Loss of upper range hearing. Mistakes are made in information gathering and may become irritated because they can’t understand who is talking or what instructions are being given.

8. Cognitive changes. Resistance or refuses to make necessary changes in behavior and other living patterns and may get angry if it’s forced upon them.

This is just a short list of issues Teepa shared with us that we should keep in mind when working with older individuals. Can you relate to any of these issues with your parents or grandparents?

If so, here are a few organizing projects you might want to consider to help your loved one:

1. Avoid falls near or on the stairs by clearing out anything at the top or bottom of the stairs, or on the stairs. You want a clear path. Ensure proper lighting—you may want to change the light bulb in the area to increase the light. Additionally, clear hallways so they are free of clutter and you may need to eliminate the throw rugs or the hallway runners.

2. Sort through the clothes closet and assist with downsizing clothes no longer worn. Set up closet so the items worn most often are within easy reach. Place on shelves for easy access, or place in shoe organizer bags that hang from the closet rod. Don’t leave shoes on floor to have to bend over and pick up. Separate green and blue clothing into two separate areas so there is no confusion.

3. Help downsize and organize the kitchen in a way that heavy lifting of objects is not needed no one has to get down on their hands and knees to dig out something. Install Glide-Outs in lower cabinets and pantries for easy access. Eliminate large quantities of dishes if there is only one or two individuals living in the home. Lower each of the shelves in upper cabinets to maximize the lower part of these cabinets. Place a magnifying glass on a hook in the kitchen so that reading the nutritional value or cooking instructions are legible.

4. When making any changes, do so together so you have the buy in of the individual that needs to live in the space. Be sure that you are setting it up for how it will best work for them and how they will use the space, not you. If you don’t get their buy in and they aren’t part of the decision making process, your best intended efforts may go down the drain. Document changes in big print—on a computer is best and post information on walls where they can easily read and see it.

Next month, I’m going to share a story with you about a client of mine that I recently worked with. You’ll learn what steps Jennifer took to help her aging parents deal with all of their paperwork so they could easily find what they needed for doctor’s visits, insurance information and as well as other information is needed on a regular basis. What she did for them is truly a gift and I hope when you read the story you will be inspired to do something similar for someone you love.

No one likes to grow older, including me, but there are things we can do along the way to make living in our homes easier and accident free—and along the way—enjoy the benefits being just a little more organized.

© 2009 Eliminate Chaos, LLC