Falling is a major health issue for seniors – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that some 2.8 million people 65 and older in the U.S. receive emergency medical treatment for fall-related injuries each year. And unlike for younger adults, falls can spell serious health consequences for seniors. Indeed, broken hips and serious head injuries are not uncommon results, which can be debilitating and necessitate ongoing rehabilitative care.

In honor of National Falls Prevention Day, we’re highlighting some of the best strategies to help keep your aging loved ones safe and avoid falls.

1. Emphasize Exercise

Perhaps the most important thing an older adult can do to lower their risk of falling is to get regular exercise. Exercise can help improve strength, balance and flexibility, all of which can help a senior avoid falling. It can also help your aging loved one keep their weight in check, which means less pressure on bones and joints, another factor that can affect the likelihood of falls.

Your loved one’s doctor can check to make sure that he or she is healthy enough to start exercising and recommend some activities to start with.

2. Fall-proof Their Home

When it comes to fall prevention, one of the first places to start is by evaluating the person’s surroundings and making modifications where needed. Whether your loved one lives in their own house, with you and your family or in a senior living facility, there are a number of measures you can take to make the home safer.

Some key fall-proofing moves include:

  • Ridding the home of tripping hazards like loose rugs, electrical cords, or clutter on the floor
  • Having grab bars in the shower and raised toilet seats installed
  • Placing no-skid mats in the shower and
  • Installing railings along hallways and stairways
  • Making sure there is a ramp or other easy access-way to the home’s entrances
  • Ensuring there is proper lighting and easily accessible light switches throughout the home

3. Re-evaluate Medications

Another important step is to determine whether any medications your loved one takes have side effects or interactions that may raise their odds of falling. Sedatives, tranquilizers and antidepressants are common examples of medications that may affect an older adult’s balance.

Talk to your loved one’s doctor or pharmacist to gauge whether any of the medicines they’re taking (both prescription and over-the-counter) fall under this category, and discuss potential alternatives that don’t carry the same risks.

4. Monitor Vision Health

If an older adult has trouble seeing where they’re going or spotting obstacles in their path, he or she is more likely to suffer a fall.

Older eyes receive less light to the retina, making it tougher to catch these hazards. But while age-related vision issues are to be expected, making sure your loved one is up to date with eye check-ups and that they have the proper corrective eyewear can go a long way toward helping them avoid falls.

If he or she suffers from low vision, consider consulting a low vision eye care specialist about ways to avoid falls.

 5. Check for Unhappy Feet

Similar to vision health, having healthy, pain-free feet is another big factor in preventing falls. Aging feet typically have less cushioning and are more likely to swell or have toe deformities due to muscle imbalance. All of these factors can make walking more painful and can mess with a senior’s balance.

A health care professional can recommend toe and foot exercises to help boost range of motion and prevent deformities. Additionally, properly fitted footwear can make falls less likely, and shoe inserts can help keep the foot cushioned to ease any pain your love done may experience while walking.

 6. Consider Assistive Devices

If you notice that your elderly loved one seems to walk unsteadily or if he or she needs help getting around, chances are they’ll benefit from an assistive device such as a walker or cane. Make sure that they meet with a doctor, physical therapist or occupational therapist who can help them find the right device for them.

While your loved one may initially resist the idea of using a walker or cane if they’ve never needed one before, these devices can actually help boost their confidence and independence.


A number of risk factors can contribute to whether an older adult will suffer a fall, so the fewer risk factors your aging loved one has, the safer he or she will be. Though common among seniors, falls are not inevitable. Helping your loved one take the proper steps can make a difference in preventing falls and serious injuries and ensuring that their quality of life is the best it can be.


As a family caregiver you may find yourself limited in the level of care you can offer your aging loved one. It’s not uncommon for caregivers to find at some point that they can no longer provide the emotional, physical or social support their loved one needs and deserves on a daily basis. But, deciding where the next best place for them to go is can be difficult. Here’s a few things to consider about assisted living facilities and nursing homes (also known as skilled nursing facilities).

Know What They Don’t Offer

While assisted living facilities are supervised communities that offer services such as meals, social activities, and assistance with activities of daily living (e.g. bathing and dressing), one focus at these communities is to provide a healthy social environment so that elders don’t become socially isolated.

“Assisted living by definition is a lesser level of care [than a nursing home] and typically a more home-like environment often looking like an apartment. It is for someone whose prior living arrangement is no longer adequate,” says Jan L. Welsh, an Aging Life Care Manager and owner of Special Care for Older Adults, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Because assisted living communities are considered non-medical facilities and are not licensed by Medicare or Medicaid to provide skilled care, they are not required by law to have a licensed nurse on staff. Even if a nurse is employed by the assisted living facility, which is often the case, the nurse cannot give residents hands-on skilled nursing care, which is defined by the federal and state governments and includes dressing wounds, administering insulin and oxygen, and more.

Assisted living facilities do not have the same safety or administrative requirements as a skilled nursing facility, and they are prohibited from providing any types of care they are not licensed to give.

“Some assisted living programs offer enhanced services, so you can receive a similar level of care that a nursing home would offer, as long as the family can pay for the services in addition to the room and board,” says Nancy E. Avitabile, who, like Jan, is an Aging Life Care Manager and owner of Urban Eldercare, LLC​​​, a care management practice based in Manhattan. “With this option, as the person becomes more immobile and eventually bedbound he or she could continue living there.”

Is Skilled Care a Must?

Nursing homes are set up like hospitals and staffed with registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and certified nursing assistants who are licensed to provide skilled care. Skilled nursing facilities are regulated by the Department of Health and can bill Medicare and Medicaid for skilled nursing care, so they must comply with many complex legal regulations and requirements. For elders who need round-the-clock supervision, or who may need that level of monitoring in the near future, a nursing home may be the best option.

“When a caretaker can no longer provide what’s needed for their loved one, for instance, if the person needs ongoing dialysis or is bed-bound or needs a ventilator, those are appropriate times to consider nursing home,” says Avitabile.

While a senior’s health will inevitably decline over time, knowing which type of care your loved one will need in the future is hard to predict, adds Avitabile.

One thought is that your loved one may choose an independent living community first, then assisted living and then move to a nursing home when more advanced care is needed.

“That order works well for some people, but some people don’t necessarily have to enter assisted living even if they’re chronically ill,” says Avitabile. “We get conditioned to think that ‘OK, now my parent is older and becoming more frail and they can’t fully take care of themselves so now let’s move to assisted living.’ That’s not always the next step. Sometimes it’s less expensive to have an elder stay in their home and provide services for them there.”

Welsh adds that sometimes a person’s health actually improves when they are placed into a facility because they are in a more stable or healthy environment and at other times it declines. If a person was missing medications or eating poorly, those things can be easily stabilized in a nursing (or assisted living) environment. On the other hand, if the facility care is less than the care the person was receiving at home, or the person has a difficult time adjusting, they can go downhill quickly, she notes.

Major Factors for Nursing Home Placement 

Determining whether a loved one should move into a nursing home will be based on several factors unique to each individual. However, Welsh says the following are major indicators:

  • Increase in falls and wandering around dangerously
  • Medication management becomes complicated
  • Incontinence
  • Family fears the risks of being responsible for the aging loved one
  • When aging loved ones become victims of phone, mail or door-to-door scams
  • Sudden change in health (particularly diabetes, stroke, etc.) and independence of the aging person
  • Diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
  • The senior’s personal preferences, whether expressed in Healthcare Power of Attorney documents or based on prior life style

Think Long-Term

Before deciding on a long-term residence, think about the long run.

“Moving is stressful. Moving an older adult who then decides they don’t want to be there is incredibly stressful for them. If you’re interested in a place, after looking at several and meeting with staff, I’d suggest having your loved one stay for a weekend, or at the least a whole weekday to get a sense of how it is day to day,” notes Avitabile.

Besides the health and lifestyle care your loved one will need, Avitabile says consider the following before making a decision:

  • Cost
  • Flexibility
  • Proximity to family
  • How easily your loved one will acclimate in the environment
  • How easily your loved one connects with new faces and other people

No matter where your loved one lives, Avitabile says to keep the following in mind. “It’s very important that family finds ways to engage with the elder and arrange for visitors,” she says. “You can’t assume anything. Nursing homes have improved over the years, but the more present family members, aging care coordinator or caregivers are, the more the nursing home is aware that other people are looking out for your loved one.”


Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

Although some people believe that fashion is sacrificed when functionality takes precedence, the opposite is true when it comes to a concept known as universal design. “Universal design” is a term that broadly refers to the idea that all design—products, technologies and structures—should serve the broadest range of people, regardless of ability, mobility, age, gender or physical stature, without adaptation or specialized features. Universal design is especially important when it comes to designing a kitchen. From appliances to counter height, a kitchen space should be created with the end user in mind.

When adding onto or redesigning a kitchen for older adults, it helps to remember the following principles, which are meant to ensure flexibility and to include simple and intuitive products and appliances.

  1. The kitchen’s design should make it equally usable by everyone. In other words, the way the kitchen is configured should never isolate or stigmatize any group of users or privilege one group over another.
  2. The kitchen should be designed so people can use its features in more than one prescribed way—for example, it might have a countertop orientation map that’s viewable from either a seated or standing position.
  3. The purpose of each feature in the kitchen should be easy for everyone to understand. All of the kitchen’s features should also be easy to use, without any hidden or confusing features.
  4. The kitchen should provide all essential information in more ways than one—written, symbolic, tactile and verbal—to make sure everyone who comes through it can understand how to use different features regardless of their abilities. This simply means that instructions should be visible or audible at all times.
  5. The design of the kitchen should eliminate, isolate or shield any design features that could be hazardous or inconvenient to any user. Hard or sharp edges, malfunctioning appliances or out-of-date materials should be removed from the space.
  6. The kitchen’s design should include features that require little or no physical strength to use.
  7. There should be enough space and appropriate arrangements in the kitchen so that anyone can use it.

Ideally, universal design means good design that can be used in any setting. With these points in mind, let’s explore ways to create a fashionable and functional kitchen for all ages.


General Considerations for a Fashionable and Functional Kitchen

Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

First and foremost, the kitchen should be accessible to everyone. As the heart of the home, the kitchen is a place where families get together, where weekday date nights happen and midnight snacks are gathered. For older adults, a well-designed kitchen space is a big help in maintaining independence.

Start by making sure the flooring in your kitchen is flat and smooth. This is especially critical for adults who need wheelchairs, walkers or extra assistance in getting around. If you want to add an area rug, opt for a short-pile material over thicker, nubby textures that can cause snagging underfoot.

Next, choose convenient, stair-less parts of the kitchen to install appliances like ovens, stoves and refrigerators for easy accessibility. Everyone should be able to lend a helping hand when preparing family dinners, whether it’s grabbing eggs from the fridge or sliding cookies into the oven. Lastly, make sure your kitchen design offers plenty of accessible storage. Not only does storage reduce kitchen clutter, it also keeps work surfaces neat and clean, which helps avoid spills or accidents.


Elements of a Safe and Comfortable Kitchen

Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

While universal design offers the basics for creating a safe kitchen space, the term doesn’t necessarily connote coziness. Here are some of our favorite ways to create a kitchen that satisfies safety measures as well as a comfortable space for all to enjoy:

  • If you don’t cook often, you won’t necessarily need a traditional kitchen island. Instead you could use a kitchen cart or mobile island. These can be rolled in if you need an extra work surface and move it out of the way when not in use to make the kitchen more open and accessible.
  • Use lighter colors to brighten the space. Lighter, brighter hues make your space look larger and more inviting while also allowing you to see every square inch clearly.
  • Install more floor cabinets and less overhead cabinetry. As we age, our agility and mobility wanes. When redesigning or renovating your kitchen, keep in mind cabinet height. Upper cabinets should be no more than 4 feet from the floor, as the lower height makes them easier to reach from a sitting or standing position.
  • Select countertops at varying heights to accommodate sitting and standing, especially for older adults. Give your future self and older loved ones a break by making sure your counter heights are optimized for working while standing and seated.


Comfortably Accessing Appliances

Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

Last but certainly not least, making sure you can access your favorite kitchen appliances is essential to a kitchen remodel. One way to do this is by raising the dishwasher 8 inches above the floor to help facilitate loading and unloading. This is also great if you have nieces, nephews or grandchildren who come over often and need a helping hand in reaching the dishes.

If you’re doing a complete remodel, consider updating all of your appliances. Not only will brand new appliances enhance the look and feel of your space, they also help ensure easier access and use for everyone. Lastly, consider small appliances where appropriate. Smaller appliances that are lightweight and easy to grip mean more kitchen space to moving around in and a safer, sleeker overall look.

What are some changes you’re considering in your kitchen remodel? We’d love to hear your tips and tricks on designing a safe and comfortable space for all ages!


Interior design specialist Kerrie Kelly heads up her own firm, Kerrie Kelly Design Lab, and is also a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS). Kerrie writes on design topics of interest to seniors and other age groups for Home Depot. To research kitchen utility tables as part of a senior-friendly kitchen plan, you can visit Home Depot’s website.


Nothing’s worse than being on vacation and falling ill. Being sick means you can’t experience the vacation you spent so much time planning for.

Many of us travel by air when we go on vacation. Unfortunately, there are a number of factors that make airplanes less-than-ideal spaces for avoiding illness, and one study showed that harmful bacteria can survive in plane cabins for a week.

Between the lack of sleep and close quarters, cramped airplane flights can be a great way to get sick, especially for older people or for those with underlying conditions.

The key to staying healthy while on vacation is preparation. Take care of your body’s needs so you can enjoy your time away and come home sickness-free.


woman on airplane


1. Stay hydrated

Your body needs to stay hydrated to keep up its defenses. Bring an empty water bottle through security so you can fill up without paying the airport’s extravagant prices. Stick to bottled water, both on the plane and at your destination—it’s less likely to be contaminated.

With the dry air inside the cabin, your nasal mucous membranes easily get dehydrated. Use a saline solution nasal spray to increase your nose’s ability to fight contagious bacteria.

2. Don’t touch your face

Airports and airplanes have a lot of dirty surfaces that are touched by thousands of people. Chances are that you will touch that luggage cart and then touch your face. Avoid touching your face at all, unless you have washed your hands and used hand sanitizer. Practice this before leaving for your trip—you may be surprised how often you touch your face without realizing it.

3.  Avoid alcohol

Sure, it’s nice to relax with a beverage in the airport lounge or take advantage of on-board drinks, but if you are trying to stay healthy, you should abstain. Alcohol is dehydrating. Add that to the dry plane air and your skin can begin to crack, creating entry points for germs.

4. Avoid the airline pillows and blankets

Many airlines provide pillows and blankets for long flights. But if they’re sitting unwrapped on your seat, it’s better to avoid them—you don’t know where they have been. Only use amenities sealed in plastic.

If you want to bring your own pillow on the plane, pack it so that it doesn’t touch anything as you take it through security and on the plane. Make sure to wash your neck pillows regularly.

5. Prevent dry eyes

Dry eyes get itchy, but resist scratching—touching your face gives you a higher chance of illness. Wash your hands before touching your face.

If you wear contact lenses, it’s a good idea to remove them before you get on the plane and wear glasses instead. Falling asleep with contacts in will exacerbate any dryness. You can always put your contacts back in once you land.

6. Boost your immune system

When you’re in an enclosed airplane cabin, you are exposed to the foreign germs of everyone around you. Protect yourself by boosting your immune system before the flight. Try drinking immune boosting supplements that contain vitamin C, antioxidants, zinc and manganese.

The best way to boost your immune system? Get plenty of sleep before you begin your trip.

7. Get up and move

Sitting on a plane can cause what is known as “economy-class syndrome”— blood clots in the legs. Dehydration and low cabin pressure contribute to this phenomenon.

To get the blood in your legs moving, contract your calf muscles, tap your feet and take some breaks to stand up and walk down the aisle.

8. Reset your internal clock

Jet lag can ruin a vacation. Set your watches to your new time zone while still on the plane. When you arrive, try to stick as close as possible to a regular schedule in your new time zone. If it’s bedtime when you arrive, try to get some sleep. If it’s daytime, try to stay awake. A nap may sound good, but it will delay your internal clock and can make you feel worse.

9. Pack disinfectants

Hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes are essentials when traveling by air. Clean your space by disinfecting your seat, arm rests, control panels and tray table with anti-bacterial wipes.

Wash your hands whenever you get the opportunity. If you use the airport bathroom, use paper towels to open the doors and use hand sanitizer after you exit, even if you washed your hands. Those tiny sinks typically aren’t big enough to provide a thorough cleaning.

Keep the germs away and enjoy your stay

Why do so many people get sick after flying on a plane? Sharing a tiny space with a lot of people in a confined space appears to be a major factor.

The key to staying healthy is to clean the surfaces you’ll touch on your flight and avoiding touching your face. Make sure you get enough sleep and water so your body is prepared to fight the germs that try to get through your defenses.

Above all, enjoy yourself. Less stress equals a healthier body and a more relaxing vacation. Stay healthy and enjoy your destination sickness-free. Bon voyage!

Tracy Layden is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. Born and raised in Silicon Valley, Tracy leads the marketing efforts at Alert-1, a personal safety technology and consulting firm dedicated to helping seniors live safely and independently. Tracy holds a degree in mathematics from Scripps College and is an accomplished ballroom dancer and equestrian.




stressed caregiver


If you’re caring for a loved one with dementia, you’ve probably experienced some rewarding moments as a caregiver. But the challenges of providing care for someone with dementia can become overwhelming. Despite how much you love the person you’re caring for, it’s not uncommon to suffer from burnout and need a break. In fact, research shows that family caregivers face a slew of physical and mental health problems due to the strain of caregiving.

It’s important to recognize the signs that it’s time to take a break and recharge both physically and mentally. Take time for self-evaluation and be honest with yourself. Are you running on empty? Is your life out of balance? All of the following may be signs that you’re nearing or already experiencing burnout, and are overdue for a break and some much needed self-care.

  1. Increased anger and irritation

If you find yourself losing your temper easily and getting angry with your loved one, or becoming increasingly short-tempered with other family members, it can be a sign that you’re suffering caregiver burnout. You may find your frustrations mounting as new obstacles and challenges arise, or if your loved one repeats the same behavior over and over. You may also notice that you raise your voice in anger more than ever before.

  1. Sleep issues

Caregiving can be physically demanding, as well as mentally demanding if your loved one wanders or has disrupted sleep. Your own sleep may become disrupted as you find yourself having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, and waking up tired.

  1. Emotional outbursts

It’s only natural to feel a wide array of emotions, such as grieving and sadness, when caring for a loved whose condition is declining, but if you’re becoming more emotional and fragile, it may signal that it’s time for a break. Feelings of despair, dramatic mood swings, and unexpected crying are all signs of emotional overload. Remember, depression and increased anxiety are real risks for caregivers.

  1. Physical ailments

Reaching a breaking point as a caregiver can include a rough cycle of mental and emotional stress leading to physical disorders – which add to the stress you’re already experiencing. You may find yourself getting headaches and colds more frequently (and more intensely) than usual, or develop chronic pain such as neck and back pain. Perhaps you’ve even developed high blood pressure. While you may intend to take better care of yourself, you probably lack the time to do so, which only adds to your stress.

  1. Isolation

It can be easy to become isolated as a full-time caregiver, so much so that it may seem at times like you never see another adult besides the loved one you’re caring for. Or, you may feel like other family members don’t care as much about your loved one as you do, or that they don’t understand the depth of your daily caregiving responsibilities.

Your loved one’s behavior may make you feel that it’s too risky to spend any time away and, intentionally or not, you’ve become withdrawn. Social isolation can add to your stress instead of re-energizing you like being with others can.

  1. Lack of energy or motivation

There are many ways that lethargy can manifest itself, from a lack of energy, a decreased desire for trying to accomplish things, to feeling sluggish after a good night’s rest, or finding it hard to concentrate when you’re reading or doing other mental tasks. Performing the same routines daily as a caregiver can leave you feeling like you’re stuck in a rut, even if those routines enable your loved one to thrive. And some routines, like managing your loved one’s finances, can be more confusing and challenging than others.

  1. Family complaints

As a caregiver, it can seem like a better solution to take on the entire burden of care, feeling that you are the only one capable of keeping everything under control. It’s hard to imagine another way of doing things when you’re on the “front lines” and caring for your loved one on a daily basis.

But everyone needs help sometimes, so it’s important to be open to family and friends who may suggest that you’re not spending enough time with your other loved ones, or are neglecting the things that once gave you joy. You may even find yourself in an increasing number of arguments with other family members about your loved one’s care. It’s important to be willing to enlist help, whether  via unpaid assistance from loved ones or paid respite care.




The Student Caregiver Scholarship award provides two university students in the United States with a $1,000 grant for tuition and/or books, based on each applicant’s essay or video story submission. For this first-ever scholarship giveaway, we received more than 100 applications from student caregivers throughout the country. After reviewing all of the applications, our judges deemed the following two students the most worthy of this year’s prize.



Kathryn Eckhardt is a student at Arizona State University. She’s caring for her sister and grandparents while attending school. This is Kathryn’s caregiving story submitted with her scholarship application.

  1. Who is the individual you are caring for, and when did you begin caring for them?

Who I am a caregiver for is very near and dear to my heart. I care for my sister who has spina bifida, a birth defect of the spinal cord. When she was developing in the womb, her spinal cord did not develop all the way and therefore her spinal cord did not attach completely. She has no feeling in the lower half of her body and because of this, she is wheelchair-bound. She was born on July 20, 1998. She was instantly a light in all of our lives, as she inspired us while she went through surgery after surgery and continued to be a strong and loving baby.

During the first hour of her life, she had three surgeries. When she grew old enough she showed us just how strong she really is, when with the help of a walker, she walked for the very first time. Doctors had told us she would never be able to walk, talk, or live a normal life, and yet again, she proved them all wrong. I’ve been caregiving for her really for her whole life as I have always felt this very strong need to protect and keep her safe, even though she is very capable of doing things for herself.

When I turned 18, I became her official caregiver. I signed up through an agency and took over all of her needs. I provide respite care, when my parents need it, I clean her bathroom, as well as her bedroom for her. I take her to appointments and help her run errands. She is very excited because she is going to be getting her driver’s license soon and a car that she can use hand controls for. We are very excited for her, as this is another step to her being independent.

However, my sister isn’t the only person I care for. I also care for my grandparents. My grandfather got sick in the summer of 2013, and has had nothing but health problems since then. He’s had two heart attacks, and has been in the hospital a number of times for pain he is having. My grandmother found that she could not do the day-to-day tasks of keeping a house running as well as take care of my grandfather. I then came in and took over some of the things that I can do to help. I go grocery shopping for them weekly, getting the things that they need for the week, making sure that he is eating things that will help his health.

I also sort my grandfather’s pills into daily doses, so that he does not miss a does or forgets to take a pill. I sort his vitamins for him, since with all of the pills he takes he needs them to help restore the things he has lost. I also help my grandmother with errands that she needs to run, as she doesn’t know how to drive and is very dependent upon Grandfather, but when he got sick he was too weak to drive.

I took over the driving, and although he has gotten his strength back, he can only drive short distances. My grandmother loves her yard and the stress of taking care of my grandfather has aged her some as well, so I help her with the yard. Helping her decorate with each holiday, from Christmas to St. Patrick’s Day, my grandmother has something for every holiday. It brings her joy and in that, it gives me joy to see her smile. Helping them is different from helping my sister because they are growing older while my sister is growing as well. Each time I help my grandparents, I value life more and more and realize just how quickly it all goes. Life truly is short.

2. How has caring for these individuals affected your path in life or your career choice?

My role as a caregiver has helped me with my career choice in many ways. For one, I thought I was cut out for the medical field, but as it turns out I am not. It takes a person who is very comfortable with human waste and blood, and I have learned that I am not. Caregiving has shown me the patience I do possess, and the fact that I need to grow some more. I chose teaching because of my love for it.

I saw how my sister struggled through school, and all the amazing teachers that she had and how it pushed her to be better every time. How time and time again they continued to stop and help her when she didn’t understand. How amazing they were to promote that, yes she was different, but that it is something to be valued and not to be made fun of, or looked down upon. I watched as they would go out of their way to make sure that she was doing well. Many of her old teachers showed up to her graduation and it truly touched her and me as well. I want to be like that, and I strive to be like those teachers, to be able to touch lives. I also feel that teaching was what I was meant to do in life.

Another way caregiving has helped me with my career choice is by leading me to the path of studying English. How, you might ask? Well, my sister struggled in school, and one of the things that she struggled with the most is English. She struggles with reading and writing altogether. She didn’t learn to read until she was in the fifth grade. This opened my eyes to how many students struggle with this very thing. Not only that, but there are many students who are coming into this country who do not know English. They are struggling just like my sister, but it’s different.

Arizona, has a law requiring that teachers speak to students only in English, and students for whom English is not the first language are discouraged from speaking their native language in the classroom. This makes it very hard on the students, and teaching them takes compassion, something that caregiving has taught me. It’s taught me that you need to be compassionate toward all kinds of people, because you never know what someone might be going through in their personal lives. Everyone is going through a struggle that none of us know anything about.

  1. How would this scholarship be beneficial for you in your role as a caregiver and student?

This scholarship would help me immensely. My family can help me some, but not as much as they would like to. Therefore I am going through school, funding myself. It is not an easy feat, and this would be another tool that would help me through my journey. I know that there are many other caregivers out there who are more worthy, but I know that I will put the money to good use and it will help me fulfill my dreams of becoming a teacher.

Arianna Beverly is a student at Arizona State University. She is balancing caring for her brother while attending school. This is Arianna’s caregiving story submitted with her scholarship application.

  1. Who is the individual you are caring for, and when did you begin caring for them?

On November 14, 2010 my brother attempted suicide. It was by far the worst birthday of my entire life. He was found on the side of the road, on the way to high school at the time, and the first responder had no choice but to medivac him to a nearby hospital for emergency brain trauma surgery. On the way to the hospital with my mother and older sister, I realized that we were all in shock. We could not fathom the situation presented to us by the investigators and surgeons at the hospital. When we arrived and the doctors guided us through my brother’s situation, I understood that this was no time to be overcome with emotions, I had to take action; so I was forced to give decisions about the brain surgery on my mother’s behalf.

My brother underwent two major surgeries that night, and during this time the police and hospital psychologist interviewed my mother, sister and I to learn about my brother’s mental health. For the next week, the doctors regularly informed us of my brother’s condition and we were finally allowed to visit him in the Intensive Care Unit. It was then that the surgeon informed my family and I that although my brother would survive, he would be paralyzed on the left side of his body. Unfortunately, when my brother awoke from his coma he was not aware of his paralysis and was quite shocked by his new situation. We explained to him that his entire left side was paralyzed, that he would not be to move anything of his left side, including the left side of his lips, his left arm, his left leg and his sight on his left side was also compromised.

During the next four months, we stayed with him as long as we could whenever we could. We slept at the hospital, ate there, did our homework there and even celebrated my sister’s birthday in my brother’s hospital room. During those tough few months, my mother was able to get time off work, but our financial situation took an even bigger hit than before and I could tell it was more than my mother could handle. After four long and grueling months the doctors gave my mother permission to take my brother home, and I think it was the best birthday present my brother could have received.

After my brother’s release my mother was supposed to go right back to work but my brother couldn’t be home by himself. At the time she was considering quitting her job to care for him 24 hours a day, but I didn’t want her to set back her career. This led me to convince my mother that I could take care of my brother and in order to do this, I would sacrifice my after-school activities, including sports and student council, in order to alternate caring for him. So while I attended school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., my mother would be my brother’s caretaker..She would feed, bathe and change him, and take him to physical therapy appointments.

From late afternoon into the evening, I would make my brother dinner and feed it to him, change him, do a few exercises with him, then put him into bed. I would attend all the doctors’ appointments I could to get information on his condition and insight into the work his doctors did to help with his neurological development. This is what ignited my interest in neuroscience and psychological illnesses. Due to my brother’s traumatic brain injury, I was able to get an in-depth look into the brain and what happens when it’s damaged, which helped me discover what would eventually dominate my interest in college.

  1. How has caring for this individual affected your path in life or your career choice?

I believe this situation changed my career path because I was set on becoming a surgeon and focusing my studies on the path to medical school once I was accepted into college. I thought I wanted to be the person to fix an illness that occurs physically, but after seeing how this situation changed everyone in my family mentally, my mother’s and sister’s depression and my anxiety, including how when my brother’s nerves were damaged it was only his left side that was paralyzed; this was when I discovered that I’d rather be the person to fix the illnesses that take place inside the mind — problems that are commonly ignored.

I began to see from a different point of view. Although my brother was broken physically, his spirit and his mind never wavered. And even though my mother was strong on the outside, I could see her withdraw mentally due to her depression. All of this inspired me to major in Psychology once I was enrolled at Arizona State University, with the goal of helping those with injuries you cannot see.

My brother attempted suicide on my birthday, throughout the last six years I’ve been caring for him and he has given me the strength to pursue my dreams. I am attending college to help other people with mental illnesses and to hopefully prevent a family from feeling the pain my family felt when we received a call from the hospital.

  1. How would this scholarship be beneficial for you in your role as a caregiver and student?

To this day I still have to help him both mentally with his memory and appropriate social interactions, and physically, helping move him from place to place. Although this process has been slow, my family and I are not worried about his recovery, nor are we giving up hope for a full recovery. We can see that he is steadily moving forward towards a full recovery and I will always be at his side to see the progress, no matter how long it takes.

With this scholarship I would be able to schedule fewer shifts at work, which would leave me with more time to help my brother and in return, take a load off my mother’s shoulders. If I were to receive this scholarship my worrying about finances and loans would be lifted, giving me peace of mind and allowing me to focus more during my classes. I would love for the first time in my life to not be worrying about finances while in class and work toward being a better student so I can keep on track with my goal of attending graduate school after finishing my undergraduate studies

A note to readers: The applicants’ words have been lightly edited to provide more clarity and to remove repetitive or unclear phrasing.



As a longtime gardener, I just love the smell of potting soil in the warm sun. Add the scent of herbs, flowers and the taste of a fresh cherry tomato, and I’m in my happy place. It’s certainly something I don’t ever want to give up.

If you know a senior who’s loved to garden for decades, like I do, then I bet they’d be delighted to learn they don’t need to give it up as they age. They might not want to weed huge beds or handle heavy pots, but they can still get their hands in the dirt and grow fresh herbs, vegetables, flowers and other plants.

With an elevated flowerbed, it’s easier for older adults with back problems and other age-related ailments to do small space gardening. With an elevated bed, those who need to work either standing or seated can still plant, water and enjoy their garden.

Elevated garden beds provide a container deep enough for the soil to stay moist and allow for root growth. Many are on four legs so they’re at waist height. This allows those with hip, knee, back or balance problems to still dig in the dirt. The following are some tips on senior-friendly gardening.

Where to Place Your Bed

You don’t need a lot of room for raised flowerbed. If you have a small balcony or patio, you should be able to fit one in a space around four feet by two feet.

If you have eight or more hours of sunshine, you can grow herbs, veggies and flowers that enjoy the hot sun. If where you live gets less sunshine, stick to shade-loving flowers or even low-light houseplants.

Getting Started

Start with the basics: an elevated bed, good quality potting soil, time-release fertilizer, a watering can, a hand trowel and garden clippers for pruning. Choose small bags of soil so they’re easier to handle. Using a scoop or a big measuring cup for dipping and pouring soil into the container also helps.

Make sure the bed’s drain holes are open so excess water can drain. You can cover the holes with a small stone so the water can drain but the soil won’t clog the hole. Then fill the container with soil to within one or two inches from the top of the container. This allows room for water.

Choosing Plants

A garden doesn’t have to accommodate one type of plant or another. It can be delightful to mix flowers with vegetables and grow a few favorites of each. Here are some easy plants that do well in a small space:

  • Sunny Flowers: Zinnias, periwinkles, petunias and daylilies all love the sun, grow upright and are easy to care for. For plants that cascade over the side, try lantana, verbena or Million Bells petunias.
  • Shade-Loving Flowers: As long as your garden gets four or so hours of sun, you can still enjoy the bright blooms of shade-loving flowers. Heart-shaped caladiums, bright impatiens and begonias are good shade choices. For a cascading effect, plant ivy, vinca vine or lobelia.
  • Vegetables: Lettuce is an easy crop for a small space. It performs best in the spring or fall rather than under the summer heat. During the summer, lettuce can be replaced with a different plant. Cherry tomatoes or patio tomatoes grow in a container. You can also grow hot peppers, basil, green onions and pole beans, which will need a small trellis to climb on.
  • Herbs: Herbs love the sun so you’ll need around eight or more hours of it. They also love to grow in containers. Easy-to-grow herbs include chives, basil, thyme, oregano and rosemary.
  • American Home Shield’s guide to a low-maintenance vegetable garden is helpful for the laid-back gardener who wants to enjoy fresh produce without spending too much time outdoors.

Plant Care

  • The best way to track plant watering is to monitor rainfall and check the dirt for moisture. Then you can water as needed.
  • Feed the plants following the directions on the back of your time-release fertilizer.

Small space gardening gives added motivation to get outdoors in the fresh air and can be enjoyed by seniors with varying ability levels. Some older adults prefer to choose the plants, get their hands in the dirt and enjoy the planting process. There are others who are content to just water their garden and watch it grow. Either way, gardening can bring hours of enjoyment, quiet contemplation and a subject of conversation.

Lea Schneider has been a gardener for many years, and has also worked at a professional flower growing company. Lea writes about her gardening knowledge for Home Depot. For more small-space gardening ideas, including raised garden beds, you can visit Home Depot’s website here.


Mother and daughter sitting by garden shed


If your house isn’t big enough to accommodate your aging parent or if a senior living community is out of the question, an alternative known as a “granny pod” – a tiny house in your backyard — may be a solution worth considering.

“Most people try to fit a living space for an aging person in their home, but the issue that always comes up is how to make the living quarters from the rest of the family separate, since most adult children doing the caregiving also have children of their own,” says home accessibility consultant and architectural designer Michael Saunders, who works with Toronto-based families to adapt their homes for multi-generational living.

“What ends up happening a lot is that the space ends up being a basement apartment, which isn’t ideal,” Saunders adds.

Saunders says granny pods, also known as MEDCottages or guesthouses, are a useful and relatively low-cost solution that gives aging parents their own space while allowing adult children to easily provide necessary assistance.

Designed by a Blacksburg, Virginia-based company along with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the pre-fabricated, portable homes are typically installed in the caregiver’s backyard.

While the homes range in size, a typical granny pod is about 12 by 24 feet and includes a living space, kitchen and bathroom. Costing anywhere from $85,000 to $125,000, these homes tend to resemble a miniature bungalow from the outside with vinyl siding and double French doors that allow access for hospital beds and other necessary equipment. They also come stocked with medical supplies and safety features designed with aging adults in mind, such as the following.

  • Hand railings
  • Lighted floorboards
  • Soft floors
  • Defibrillators
  • First aid supplies
  • Video devices that inform caregivers and doctors about vital signs, among other important information.

To get all the necessary utilities, granny pods are hooked up to the main home’s existing sewer, water and power lines.

“The most common difficulty I find with granny pods is complying with a municipality’s zoning by-laws. As these are a relatively new phenomenon, they aren’t explicitly covered in most by-laws, and are thus more likely to fall under ‘accessory structures,’ which may or may not be permitted, and may or may not include habitable space,” Saunders notes.

Still, he says, it’s best to approach your city officials and let them know what your intentions are for the home. “Some people are afraid to go to their municipality, but if you explain that it’s for an aging parent and that you’re not putting a house on the property to rent it out, they’ll be willing to work with you,” he says.

Before making the purchase, Saunders advises considering whether your yard has enough space and if it’s flat enough to hold the structure. Climate also plays a role. “If it snows a lot, you’ll have to build a path to get the person out,” says Saunders.

Better Options?

Even with all that granny pods have to offer, some believe the cons outweigh the pros.

“Depending on the granny in question, a person’s needs can change profoundly very quickly. So while you might think ‘I’ll deck out this little cool prefab room and my parent could be happy here for years’ if you’re really lucky that could be the case. But if you’re like most of us as we age, a person’s condition doesn’t stay stable for any period of time and the likelihood that they’d outgrow the environment that you’ve created for them is high,” says Tracey Lawrence, founder of Grand Family Planning which helps families find solutions for aging parents.

Lawrence adds that tiny homes only provide the “where.” You’ll still need to consider access to caregivers, doctors, and medications for your loved one. And if you’re comparing the cost of a tiny home to typical assisted living or nursing home costs, she says the price of care encompasses much more than where you live.

“It’s about all the resources, such as meals, people who evaluate your loved one, physical therapists, activities that help to enhance the person’s quality of life,” she says. “You’ll have to have somebody who is going to come in and care for your loved one if it’s not you, and if it is you, how realistic is that?”

Lawrence draws on her personal experience of losing both her parents to dementia. Her father passed away within a year of being diagnosed, but her mother lived for several years, living on her own at first, then in assisted living, then with Lawrence and her husband.

“That worked out for a while until she had a psychotic break and we had to hire caregivers to come into my home and help manager her care. In time, living in my home was no longer practical because she was falling and I needed her to be watched more carefully 24/7… I finally settled in a group home which was a small setting that was equipped to handle her behaviors,” says Lawrence.

It’s important to remember that if at some point your loved one can no longer live in the granny pod or once he or she passes away, you’re left with the home, she notes.

“It’s an impractical use because I would imagine the value would go down significantly and for the next user it’d have to be reconfigured completely,” says Lawrence. “The only time I can see something like these having value is if you could lease the home and when your loved one no longer needs it, the granny pod is returned.”



There are lots of important factors to consider when choosing an assisted living community for yourself or your loved one. You’re looking for a place that’s an ideal fit, and that means researching everything about the community, from cleanliness and ambiance to management activities and costs.

But it doesn’t have to be as daunting of a task as it might seem. Knowing what to look for – and which questions to ask – will help you make the best choice. Read on for some key questions to ask during your search.

  1. Where is the community located?

It’s convenient if the facility is a short drive from your home, of course, but experts advise against choosing a community based on convenience alone. Nonetheless, a community’s location is important for a variety of reasons, and some things you should consider include:

  • Is the neighborhood considered safe?
  • Is it close to doctor’s offices, pharmacies and other important places?
  • If the community isn’t near your home and doesn’t allow overnight guests, are there hotels nearby for when you visit your loved one?
  • Is it conveniently located for other family and friends to visit?
  1. Have you visited?

The importance of visiting the prospective assisted living community cannot be overstated. Likewise, it’s a good idea to visit at different times of the day, particularly during mealtimes. While there, take the time to talk to residents and staff to get a firsthand sense of the community’s features and atmosphere. Here are other key questions to consider:

  • Are hallways well lit and easy to navigate?
  • Are the common spaces clean, pleasant and appealing? Can you imagine your loved one using these common spaces?
  • Do most residents have a private or shared room?
  • Does each room have its own private (and handicap-equipped) bathroom, or is there one shared bathroom?
  • Is there enough closet and storage space?
  • Is the lighting good?
  1. How much will it cost?

The cost of assisted living can seem prohibitive since Medicare does not cover it for many seniors. That said, do your research to find the true costs, since fees can vary depending on your loved one’s needs. Also ask:

  • Are there move-in fees, or fees for services (such as laundry)?
  • How is the community funded? Is it non-profit or for-profit?
  • Is there a charge for transportation to and from doctor’s offices?
  • Will the costs go up in the future and why?
  • What payment options are available?
  1. What services are provided?

Be sure to ask what services the assisted living community provides, and whether those services are included in the overall price or will mean additional costs.

  • Is housekeeping provided and included in the price?
  • Are there religious services at the facility, or nearby?
  • Are barber and beauty services provided and are they included in the price?
  • Are pets allowed?
  • Are there visiting hours, or are guests allowed to visit residents at any time?

5. Is there a written care plan?

Knowing the specifics about your loved one’s care and having those details listed in a customized written care plan is important.

  • Who’s involved in developing the care plan?
  • What types of specific care are available?
  • Who handles medication management?
  • Is the facility associated with a hospital or nursing home if additional care is required?
  1. Is the staff well-trained, friendly and stable?

The staff’s attitude and approach toward residents is of utmost importance; after all, they’ll be taking care of your loved one on a daily basis. Observe several staff members and how they interact with residents.

  • Do they listen and make eye contact with residents?
  • Is there a nurse or licensed practical nurse on staff?
  • How many people are actually involved in your loved one’s care?
  • Are they friendly and patient while taking care of residents?
  • How much training do staff members receive?
  • Have staff members undergone background checks?
  • What’s the staff turnover rate?
  1. What’s in the admissions agreement?

Take your time to read the admissions agreement carefully. In particular, make sure you understand the move-out criteria – in many cases there’s language that requires a 30-day notice to stop billing for services even if the resident has died.

  • Is there a negotiated risk agreement?
  • Is there a liability waiver?

Experts suggest that liability waivers may indicate that the facility may not have the resources or ability to meet your loved one’s needs.


Senior Doing Needlepoint With Younger Woman

Visiting an elderly loved one in a senior living facility can sometimes feel awkward or stressful. Many people make only brief visits, or avoid visiting altogether because of the challenges these visits present, but it’s important to remember that loneliness and lack of contact with loved ones can lead to major health issues for the elderly.

Here are some tips to make the most of visits with your elderly loved ones:

  1. Consult with the Staff

Your loved one may have certain dietary restrictions either due to their own health issues or facility guidelines, so it’s important to check with staff before the visit if you’re planning to surprise them with food.

  1. Set the Right Tone

Put yourself in the place of the person you’re visiting and think of how you would want to be greeted. Maintain eye contact, give a warm hug or handshake, and don’t stand stiffly in front of them but sit down so you’re at their level.

  1. Respect Their Privacy

Always knock first before you enter your loved one’s room, and step out into the hallway when they’re being given personal care by a staff member such as toileting, dressing or bathing. This way, they won’t get the feeling that you’re treating them as a child. Showing that you respect your older loved one’s privacy helps them retain their dignity and pride.

  1. Time Your Visit

The best time to visit depends on when your loved one’s energy and alertness are at their highest. For many seniors, this tends to be in the morning or after a midday meal. It may even be best to plan to share a meal with them.

  1. Keep Things Positive

It can be tough to keep up a cheerful attitude when a senior is being argumentative, depressed, or is in pain. Nonetheless, make it your goal to keep a positive, upbeat attitude throughout the visit. Avoid arguing with them and always talk to them with respect.

  1. Keep it About Them

Visits with elderly loved ones can sometimes bring feelings of sadness and grief, but it’s important to set your own feelings aside. Focus on the positives of their day; remember, they may feel sad or awkward, too. Additionally, focus on the “real” person inside of then, not the person whose outer appearance and health may have changed considerably.

  1. Keep Visits Intimate

You may be tempted to coordinate your visit with other family members or friends, but this isn’t always a good idea. A large number of people may be overwhelming for your loved one, and it’s always best to ask first if you can invite other people to visit with you. And if you bring children, make sure they’re well behaved and understand the rules of the facility.

  1. Change of Scenery

Visiting your loved one in a place other than their room can be a mood-booster for both of you. There may be a courtyard or garden at the senior living community, or you might consider leave the premises and taking a drive to check out some local scenery together.

  1. Bring Props

You can take some of the pressure off of yourself – and your loved one – as well as liven up the visit by bringing along meaningful objects such as a family photo album, some of your loved one’s favorite music, collectibles, etc.

  1. Shorter Visits Are Often Better

The length of your visit will often be determined by your loved one’s health and energy level, as well as how the visit is progressing. But, oftentimes, shorter visits are better. A half-hour of warm connection will be treasured more than a couple hours of silence and awkwardness.

  1. Communicate Clearly

Nearly half of people aged 75 and older have hearing problems, making it crucial for you to communicate clearly. You may have to raise your voice – but not shout – and it’s helpful to turn off the radio or other background noise while you’re talking with your loved one.

Also, keep your faces at the same level and be aware of your non-verbal communication, such as checking your phone every few minutes – which your loved one may interpret as a sign that you’d rather be someplace else.

  1. Promise to Visit Again Soon

Letting your loved one know that you’ll visit again soon will boost their spirits and help keep them from feeling lonely or down when you have to leave. Like most people, you probably lead a busy life, but a good rule of thumb is to visit your loved one at least once a month.