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Getting older requires coping skills

Let’s call it the “coping quotient.” I borrowed that term from an aging architect who appears to be rethinking the advice he has given to his clients through the years.

This design expert’s name is Duo Dickenson, and he refers to longevity as “a blessing — and a threat.” He acknowledges an exploding elder population — people who used to think 75 was “old” and now realize that living to 95 is entirely likely.

In a 2016 blog, “Saved by Design” (https://savedbydesign.wordpress.com), he suggests the first 20 years of our lives are a growth experience and the next 40 years are “a performance ethic.”

After that, for almost all of us, it’s about “the coping quotient.” Or maybe the better way to describe it is trying to understand how to accommodate self and situation to personal and health-related needs as we age. In a nutshell, “those grab bars should come now, not later.”

This past week I witnessed a caregiving daughter detach a deteriorating suction-cup grab bar from the wall of the bathroom she shared with her 90-year-old mother and resolutely place it in the trash can under the sink. It did not take much to pull it off the wall. It was actually creating greater risk, not improving bathroom safety.

This loving daughter then helped introduce three grab bars in that bathroom and an additional vertical grab rail to aid entering the tub/shower area, all installed using a well secured mounting approach that would ensure her showering safety as well as her mom’s. In addition, it would protect any overnight, overweight guests who would have been relying on that suction device.

That reminder opens discussion to another aspect of home safety considerations, “visitability.” Even if you do not personally embrace the need for in-home safety accommodations and improved safety modifications, you might recognize the value for a visiting friend or relative — good person that you are.

The caregiver-daughter I mention earlier helps her mother shower sometimes and was open to the fact that her mother, as well as she, might need a reliable shower bench with removable handles and an easy pull-down, hand-held shower, maybe one that hooked and slid neatly along one of the newly installed vertical grab bars. This daughter was open to more information about a “transfer bench” that would actually slide her frail mom into her shower area in a sitting position. And she did not know there was a new “cut-out” tub concept that lowered the step-in challenge but did not require a complete bathroom remodel.

This household had initiated a bathroom remodel a few years earlier and had (to their credit) put in a “comfort height” toilet. Four additional inches makes an incredible difference in ease of use and safety. Falling off the toilet, or getting off it without falling, is a bigger problem than people may realize. Actually, falling in the bathroom against hard porcelain and tile surfaces is a greater problem than people realize. Data indicates 35 percent of all falls by older adults occur in the bathroom.

Maybe your “coping quotient” starts in the bathroom. Go find out more.

— Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.