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Is Caregiving a Housing Issue?

by Louis on January 23, 2011

In writing and thinking on Aging in Place I sometimes find valuable gems on my computer. I wrote the following article for the Washington Jewish Week a few years ago when I was on the board of the Jewish Council for the Aging. I think the points are still valid.

This series is about housing.  Is caregiving a housing issue?

Certainly, many people receive care in their homes. Many move to assisted living facilities because they need help.  Some move to a place where caregiving service is a feature of their new home.

Caregiving is not only a housing issue, but one in which strenuous labor is not being rapidly replaced by better design and equipment.  The U.S. Occupational & Health Administration judges the ergonomic danger to professional caregivers to be greater than those of the construction industry.  They recommend minimizing manual lifting of patients in all cases and eliminating lifting when possible.

This issue is important for family caregivers as well as professionals.  A safe space that is easy to navigate is as valuable to the recipient of care as it is to the caregiver.  If carrying-out the job is too difficult, it impacts the safety, pleasure and comfort of everyone involved.  This may mean an injury with accompanying misery or a forced move.  Moreover, for the caregiver, it may mean time off from work, lost wages or the need to change careers.

Like any job, having the right space and tools located conveniently makes the job easier.  It helps to get the job done safely and efficiently.  Manufacturing facilities are designed for the process that occurs there. Similarly, housing is the workplace of caregiving.  If the workplace is not right to do the job well, quality and safety are compromised.  This is no different whether you are building a car, changing your oil in the driveway or taking care of mom.

Is your bathroom designed so that it easy for a caregiver to help you safely and stay dry?  Is your toilet located so that someone assisting you can do so without straining his or her back?

Space that makes caregiving easy reduces the need for caregiving.  If the bathroom is set-up for safe, independent activity, you may save caregiver hours.  That may save you money.  It also may mean that you can postpone a move or eliminate the need altogether.

Good caregivers are a scarce resource.  Hiring and retaining caregivers are easier when the space is accommodating.

Caregiving is a difficult job, making it easier makes it a job worth keeping.  Working in a safe and productive environment always makes a more pleasant workday.  A safe and easy caregiving environment increases the choice of caregivers you can choose.  If lifting is eliminated from the job description, then strength is eliminated from the qualifications.  That allows you to base your choice on other important factors including personality and attitude.

Our homes are our castles. To the degree that we can operate independently, we preserve our dignity and the quality of our lives.  Having an environment and the tools that limit caregiving needs and that make needed caregiving safe is an issue at the foundation of senior housing.

Caregiving is a housing issue because good design and the right equipment impact the dignity, independence and safety of everyone involved — residents, family members and professional caregivers.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Hoechstetter Interiors February 9, 2011 at 8:56 am

What an excellent point, Louis! Coming from a paramedic background where back injuries are the norm, and a particularly common cause of ended careers (which included my own), I’m not at all surprised at the statistics you mentioned.

You also raise a lot of excellent issues that should be considered when designing a home for someone with mobility issues that I don’t think I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere. Many of these things are instinctive for me to think about, to the point that they rarely make it up to a conscious level that would allow me to write about them – or indeed to even mention them to clients – so I’m glad someone is articulating them. I always learn from reading your blog.

Wendy Hoechstetter, CAPS


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