“It’ll never happen to me” – but what if it does?
What would it take to understand the importance of living in a home that’s suitable for everyone?
When she suffers a skiing accident that left her with restricted mobility, Ageing Better’s Aideen Young got a first-hand experience of just how essential this is.
We have to act to ensure that older people are living in homes that are suitable and in which they are safe and secure.
6am - I am lying in bed with my freshly ruptured cruciate ligament, bruised ribs and groin strain, pondering the challenges of getting out of bed, navigating the corridor, and four suddenly colossal stairs, to get to the bathroom. I can’t quite face it yet and lie in bed thinking about the fact that this should have been the last day of my skiing holiday. I have been the victim of a very typical ski accident in which my ski bindings didn’t release.
8.00am - The demands of nature can be ignored no longer. But I am stiff and sore and everything aches and it takes what feels like a superhuman effort to pull myself up to a sitting position and edge my legs off the side of the bed. I get hold of the knee brace, strap it on, fumble for the crutches, haul myself up off the bed, and finally set off. I have become a little better at negotiating the stairs since I got home yesterday (with the help of a YouTube video of all things!) but nevertheless the whole thing takes an age. Note to self: prepare. Do not wait until you have to go to the loo to go to the loo.
10.00am - I’m going to try to take a shower. Thank goodness it’s a walk-in. I never gave it any thought before. A small plastic stool has been located and placed on the shower tray, but I am nervous about slipping as I step in with my crutches and without the knee brace. Grab rails would be very welcome right now.
11am - It has been an ordeal but I’m finally dressed and downstairs. No way I’m going upstairs again until bedtime. Thankfully I have a loo downstairs and a husband and daughters who (mostly graciously) can be pressed to bring me things I need from distant corners of the house. But it occurs to me— what if I had to keep going upstairs to the loo? On that note, I remember heated arguments with my husband when we were having the house renovated some years ago about whether we really needed a downstairs loo — we did. And what if I didn’t have a walk-in shower? What if I were all by myself? It really doesn’t bear thinking about.
Afternoon sometime - It would be lovely to get some fresh air. Maybe I could try to shuffle up and down the road? But no-one is very interesting in shuffling with me and I find I have become surprisingly nervous. I am not very adept with these crutches and cannot afford to fall again.
Fast forward to Sunday
8:30pm - Boredom has set in and this is just the start (I am wondering whether boredom is as harmful a state of mind as loneliness). I have read two newspapers cover to cover; finished my novel, watched the Olympics closing ceremony and Little Women. It’s 8:30pm and I’m wondering whether it’s too early to go to bed. It is, of course, so I am pressed into watching The Shawshank Redemption. Though I actually really like The Shawshank Redemption, this must be LIKE THE 5TH TIME I’VE HAD TO WATCH IT, so I get as far as Andy receiving his rock hammer from Red and call it a day.
Thankfully, tomorrow is Monday and I can get back to work!
And so it goes. But frustrated as I am, my situation is temporary. An MRI is scheduled and an appointment with an orthopaedic consultant secured. But there are thousands of people in this country who live like this all the time, with no prospect of relief or improvement or help.
In fact, more than 90% of people aged 65 and over in England live in mainstream housing, much of which is not accessible or adapted to meet their needs as they get older. And most of these (how many?) live alone.
Just imagine it, as I now can - people struggling to get out of bed; to get dressed; to get to the bathroom on another floor (or indeed, avoiding going to the bathroom altogether because it’s an insurmountable journey); people struggling to bathe; to take a walk outside without fear of falling. People who spend their whole day with only television for company; who have no-one to call on when they want a cup of tea or when they find they’ve left something they need on another floor.
The role of adaptations in improving later life
We have to act to ensure that older people are living in homes that are suitable and in which they are safe and secure. Our recent review The role of adaptations in improving later life revealed that even minor adaptations, including grab-rails, rails and seats in the bathroom, and stair-rails resulted in positive improvements in people’s ability to perform everyday activities in the home.
In one study, over three quarters of people in the study reported an improvement in health; almost half said they were able to bathe or shower with more confidence; and over a third that they were able to use the toilet, as a result of minor adaptations. I’d hazard that they were a great deal more relaxed and contented as well.
As my experience shows, there’s no reason to leave these adaptations until a crisis happens. Anyone, at any stage of their lives, can find themselves grateful for grab rails or stair rails or a downstairs loo.
We need homes that work for us all in all kinds of scenarios across our lifetimes. Maybe I’ll be retooling my skis as very interesting grab rails!