When someone is chronically ill, it’s very easy for the bedroom to look and feel like a “sickroom,” which isn’t good for how anyone feels. This guide provides tips on how to convert a “sick room” into a “living room.”
Anatomy of a sick room
The space occupied by a chronically ill parent can become quite depressing. Often, your parent will stay in bed much more than he or she should because getting in and out of bed is too much of a hassle. Neither of these things is positive for the moods and energy of everyone involved. The most important thing is that your ill parent needs to get out of bed and walking around. Spending too much time in bed can be dangerous for his health because the systems of the body become lazy and start to shut down. Muscles waste away, kidneys malfunction, blood pressure goes up, insulin production stops, fluid starts collecting in the lungs (potentially leading to pneumonia), and blood clots start forming, increasing the possibility of an attack on the heart and brain.
Converting a sick room into a living room
A person’s surroundings can be very motivating. Unfortunately, “sickrooms” are often characterized by pill bottles on the nightstand, lots of medical supplies lying around and the drapes are usually closed – which can become depressing. If your parent is bedroom-bound, you can turn it into a living room by following these steps:
- If your parent does not take medicines on his own, then place the medicine bottles out of view. Create a shelf in a closet or keep the medications in a drawer. The pill bottles are a constant reminder that he's sick. Of course, if he needs to reach the pills, then they must be next to him. Even so, use daily pill dispensers, so he doesn't confuse when to take what.
- If it's difficult for your parent to get in and out of bed, then get a hospital bed. Medicare usually covers this cost, but check first. Most companies will let you know and will deliver it to your home.
- Get rid of all clutter and supplies that remind your parent he's sick, such as adult briefs, bed pads, gauze and bandages. Put them in the closet.
- Set up a table next to the bed where he has easy access to fresh water, the telephone, the remote control for television, his glasses and anything else he needs to use frequently. Try not to clutter it.
- If there's enough room, set up a little visiting area with a table and chairs so people can visit with him and get him out of bed.
- Purchase an egg-crate or memory foam mattress. Make sure he repositions himself every two hours to prevent bedsores.
- Give your parent the security of being able to contact household members by purchasing a room monitor (such as a baby monitor) so he can call without yelling or ringing a bell, which grates on everyone's nerves.
- Hopefully, your parent’s bedroom is next to a bathroom. If not, you can get portable commodes through a healthcare equipment company. Medicare usually covers this expense. You can even purchase a decorative screen, so that it's not in full view.
- Liven up the room with a few plants placed throughout. If your parent likes the sound, get him one of those small fountains or waterfalls. You could be more adventurous and get a goldfish or aquarium.
- It's very easy to become disoriented when you spend so much time in one room, so place a large clock and calendar in the room If your loved one has dementia, it's helpful to have a magic marker board where you can write down things like what he just had for lunch or dinner, or what time you're coming back. Keep the room fresh.
- New and comfortable bedding, soothing curtains and pillows give a room a warm feeling. Make sure the designs are quiet and subtle rather than loud and dramatic. Large, bold patterns may confuse or aggravate him if he has dementia.
- Consider redesigning the downstairs dining room to make it into a bedroom for your parent for two reasons: It's less isolated from the hub of family life, and there are no steps. Most families today aren't using the formal dining room and find it an easy space to convert.
The national Family Caregiver Support Program helps qualifying families with a one-time grant for home modifications when they care for an elderly relative. Call your local Area Agency on Aging 1.800.677.1116 to see if you qualify.
The bottom line
- When a person is chronically ill, it’s common for his or her living space to become a “sick room” – which isn’t good for how anyone feels.
- It’s important for the ill person to get out of bed; not doing so can result in the development of myriad health issues.
- If your loved one is bedridden, you can still make his or her living space more lively by storing medicines and other “medical” reminders of illness out of sight, and by adding plants, fountains, comfortable bedding and more.
- You might also consider moving his or her space to a more central room in the house – such as an underutilized dining room – to prevent feelings of isolation.
- Call your local Area Agency on Aging at 1.800.677.1116 to see if you qualify for a one-time grant for home modifications.