“National Public Health Week With Aging In Place Implications”

A month ago, the term social distancing wasn’t even part of our vocabulary, and now it is one of the most commonly used phrases as all of us are concerned about remaining safe and well.

Yesterday, April 6th, marked the beginning of the annual observance of National Public Health Week, held the first full week of April each year. Who could have predicted that this observance week would fall at such a time as we are experiencing with the widespread international outbreak of the Corona COVID-19 virus? The President reported last night that 182 countries are now reporting the effects of the virus – that’s nearly every nation in the world. It’s not a national event by any means, yet the National Public Health Week lets us call attention to the work that many of our public health professionals and health care workers are providing during this time and behind the scenes on an ongoing basis.

The month of April also is Occupational Therapy Month, with OTs (occupational therapists) playing a major role in the prevention and rehabilitation of the virus.

Obviously, this pandemic has a public health emphasis and component since it affects the lives and well-being of every person and especially since so many businesses and activities such as restaurants sporting events and normal recreation have been shuttered or curtailed during this time. It will take a while for that to get back to normal.

Nevertheless, without a public health organization to monitor the pandemic and other such concerns, our lives might be in more danger. When we speak of aging in place we certainly are interested in people remaining safe and well in their homes during this time of outbreak when so many states have issued stay at home orders. The insides of our homes are becoming even more important and familiar to us while we’re spending most of our waking hours in our homes. Of course, we were spending our nighttime hours there already.

This means that one of two things can be occurring: (1) either our homes are well designed and sufficient for accommodating our needs as we remain in them long-term – entertaining ourselves, watching after the kids and each other, feeding ourselves, and doing without the outside world for the most part, or (2) we have noticed that there are some shortcomings – perhaps serious ones – in how our homes allow us to function within them. We may have noticed and identified weaknesses in our homes in terms of the amount of lighting (daylighting and artificial as well), the quality of the flooring (it’s firmness or slip-resistance), the ability to retrieve objects from cabinets – in fact, storage itself and how adequate it might be. We notice our pantries and how well equipped they might be with foodstuffs, paper goods, and other products that we need on a year-round basis to accommodate our needs as they arise and especially during emergency times like the present – or a storm or other type of situation where we might be confined to our homes for a period of a few days or longer.

Many people are finding that aging in place is more than just an issue for seniors (which we knew all along). People in their 20s and 30s and other ages are finding that their homes need to be responsive to their needs that they need to feel comfortable in their homes. Their homes need to allow them to experience what they need from life when they aren’t coming and going as frequently as they have in the past.

It’s one thing for people to have a home as a resting point where they are out in the world for most of their day and come home at night just to stop, change clothes, take a shower, get something to eat, watch a little TV or a video, and go to bed before getting up the next morning and continuing the cycle. It’s another to remain in their home more or less around the clock. Retirees do this on an ongoing basis, and many other people do this to an extent – especially those who are not working outside the home on a full-time basis. People who are self-employed, those who are caregivers for others, or those who are partially employed spend much of their time at home.

Now all of us have an opportunity to recognize and identify what our homes need to provide for us. We might find areas of our homes that are not quite up to the quality of service that we would expect. We may not feel as safe or comfortable in them and find accessibility to be a little less than we need. We find other aspects just a little bit below what we would want or expect as well, so on a going-forward basis after this storm has passed and we are back into the marketplace, we’re still going to remember what we have gone through. There could be another time when we are in our homes for an extended period. It could even be a multi-day cold or other illness that keeps us in our homes.

That said, it’s important that we identify those areas of our homes that are not providing the level of service or personal care that we would desire or expect. Some of us are going to be able to make the improvements or renovations ourselves (or have it done) as we move forward in time, and some are not. However. It’s not purely a budgetary issue. Most solutions have an inexpensive way of approaching them as well as a more elaborate one.

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