My wife and I spent the Thanksgiving holiday with my mother in-law in Michigan. Observing her over the last few years has made me think how lean manufacturing methods could help the aging population.
Let’s begin with 5S. We know the time is coming when she’ll have to move to a smaller home, apartment, or even assisted living center. When my father in-law passed away a few years ago we began to work on reducing the amount of “inventory” in the house they lived in for thirty years. That effort has had limited success. Very limited. I can understand why so many items have sentimental value, but somehow the value equation needs to change. My in-laws were very frugal, a quality that served them well, but it now makes changing the value equation very difficult.
The house, and especially the contents, are becoming a significant problem. My wife and I are already minimizing our “inventory” and don’t want to take anything more. My brother in-law and his wife have been exceptionally generous with their time and space already. So tough decisions will probably have to be made, and I’m guessing professional help will be needed. 5S is hard, especially when memories are involved.
Small chores seem to take an inordinately long time. Of course some of that is simply because a person moves slower as they age, but a major factor also appears to be a reduction in focus. While watching my mother in-law perform simple chores I found myself subconsciously creating spaghetti diagrams… and the result wasn’t pretty. A trip to the kitchen to get a cup of tea often ended up detouring via other rooms and even the basement and simple decisions were put off, creating a mayhem of partially-completed chores and a menagerie of decisions needing to be made. I can see how that could make life seem unnecessarily and perhaps even unbearably complicated.
The solution would appear to be one piece flow: take one simple chore and drive it to completion without even thinking about anything else. Time to do the dishes? Then focus on it. Don’t try to also take medication, read the mail, find something to watch on TV, feed the cat, or make the bed while on the way to the kitchen. Do the one thing until it is done. Keep a list and march down it, one at a time.
This ties in with 5S. Distractions create an organization nightmare. Bills and other items are moved partway to their destination, but then set down when a distraction occurs. The end result? Paperwork, food, dishes, and essentially every other item is scattered around the house. Once again it appears overwhelming, which is exactly what an aging person does not need. I know in reality the activities fairly simple as the “long list” I’m given when I visit invariably gets completed in a matter of minutes.
Which brings me to standard work, both in process and in “leadership.” I spent several hours going through stacks of medical records, filling out long-overdue reimbursement forms, and organizing files. Organizing and completing the forms would not be difficult, but there are no true instructions. A simple written sequence of how to handle medical bills would definitely help. Process standard work. Similar simple processes could handle the utility bills, winterizing the house, grocery shopping, and general cleaning.
“Leadership” standard work, which for us in the lean world generally means how we review and make decisions on metrics and how we plan and execute, could also apply. Standard processes could be created for working with the financial planner, identifying the need for house and car maintenance, and executing a longer-term plan to minimize physical assets in order to eventually move to a new home.
I’m guessing that some tools already exist. Perhaps flip cards with brief but detailed instructions for common activities. At some point that transitions into actual human assistance. Schedules for cleaning and organizing, a philosophy of tackling one activity and driving it to completion, and clear criteria for when certain life transitions need to be decided upon.
Definitely an opportunity for lean.