Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate
Many of us remember our mothers and grandmothers gearing up for the annual ritual known as “spring cleaning.” The planning and preparation was not unlike a general going into battle with his troops. Everyone in the family was recruited to serve and scrub, sweep, and sanitize to a high standard.
Spring-cleaning is a ritual known in many nations. In Iran, the Persian New Year falls on the first day of spring. Iranian families practice “khooneh tekouni,” which translates to “shaking the house.” Everything in the house gets a good cleaning. For centuries, Jews have made a thorough cleansing of the home part of Passover, which includes removing any leavened foods or “chametz” for the holiday. In Ireland, Scotland, and New Zealand, “New Year’s cleaning” is common.
In Europe and North America in the 19th century, people had to keep their homes shut tight against winter’s cold, heating them inside with wood and coal-fueled fires. Spring provided the opportunity to rid the home of the smoke, soot and ash that had accumulated by literally throwing open the windows to the warming spring air.
But today, the thought of giving up a weekend or several days to turn the house inside out to clean it seems daunting. Who has that kind of time? Besides, is it really necessary with our centrally heated and cooled homes, high-tech vacuum cleaners and environmentally friendly cleaning products?
Spring-cleaning can still be valuable, especially if you have senior family members with age-related conditions and disabilities or declining health due to vision loss, arthritis, or dementia. By assisting an older family member or friend, you have the ideal opportunity to check on their circumstances without being intrusive.
Here are some tips to guide you:
Closets: Seniors developing vision loss or memory loss may begin to wear the same clothing repeatedly, and may not keep up with laundry. Be sure clothing is clean and maintained. Discard out-of-style, ill-fitting, or worn clothing. Check for clasps and buttons that may make it difficult for someone to dress without assistance. It may be a good time to purchase some new, easier care clothing and shoes that fit well and provide safe footing.
Bathroom: The bathroom is a danger zone for home accidents including falls. Are non-skid rugs in place? Is it time for a grab-bar or raised toilet seat for safety? Is the bathroom clean and sanitary? Check to see if the shower or bathtub is being used regularly and if anything needs repair. Seniors may sometimes stop using the shower or bathtub because of access problems. Check medicine cabinet and toss out old, unused medications. (Do NOT flush them down a toilet. Discard them safely in the trash, or drop at a community medication collection event.) Clean and organize the bathroom medicine cabinet and discard old items.
Kitchen: Clean out the refrigerator. Are there food items for a nutritious diet? Eating regular meals is important for good health at all ages. Additional kitchen tools might make meal preparation easier or if the senior needs help in diversifying their menu. It may be time to consider a meal delivery program. Check all appliances to make sure they are functioning properly.
Living Room: Remove and clean curtains, vacuum and shampoo the carpet and dust and clean furniture. Check floor coverings for trip and fall hazards. Assess whether furniture need to be re-arranged for easier use. Turn on the TV. Is the volume way up? This may be a sign of hearing loss.
Bedroom: Check to see if bedding is been changed regularly. Is the senior sleeping somewhere other than the bed such as a chair or sofa? There may be access issues due to height, climbing stairs, or a poor quality mattress. Physical problems or mental health issues may be the cause. Dementia can cause individuals to become confused about the time of day, leading to sleep deprivation, which is a serious health risk.
Driving: If the senior is still driving, take a ride with them to the grocery store or to run an errand to make sure they are driving safely. Check the car and garage to make sure there are no dents or damages from inappropriate driving.
While working on your spring-cleaning project, you have the perfect opportunity to with your senior family member or friend about their quality of life. Have they made plans for securing help with day-to-day tasks if they need assistance to remain independent? Have they considered long-term care if it becomes necessary?
These conversations are much easier when you are spending quality time with someone in a natural, productive environment. You will have the chance to observe and notice changes in physical and mental health, attitude and outlook, and make necessary arrangements in order to prevent a medical emergency later. And at the end of the day, there will be a fresh, clean, organized house to enjoy!
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!