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Is Your House Equipped for You to Age in Place?

Mike Dodd - May 03, 2017 10:22 AM

Home modifications or adaptations are essential for seniors as they age, especially if they elect (like most do) to remain in their homes.  Aging in place implies remaining at home for as long as is practical, but a home’s limitations many times can dictate whether that is even plausible or not.  The most important consideration in this scenario, of course, is safety.  At the end of the day, if an individual’s safety is compromised by staying at home, some intervention will likely alter that course.  The hope is that an intervention does not mean a fall or injury which can be catastrophic for an elderly individual.

There is a plethora of information available about implementing safety protocols to maximize that aspect in the home.  Occupational therapists are uniquely qualified to assess homes and make recommendations about “safe-proofing” them.  Common sense plays a significant role as well, but consulting a checklist is a good starting place. 

The obvious areas of concern from a contractor’s perspective are predominantly three areas:  the point of entry into the home, the ability to pass through doorways (especially if assistive mobility devices are being utilized), and the condition of the bathroom.  Bathrooms are typically the greatest challenge with 24” wide entry doors, small traditional vanity cabinets, older standard height toilets and bathtubs.  Widened doors, wall-hung lavatory sinks that allow for access by someone in a wheelchair, comfort-height toilets and barrier-free (or low-barrier) showers are tremendous improvements that will enhance and possibly extend an individual’s ability to remain at home.  Strategic placement of grab bars in the shower and around the toilet are only as good as the installation of them, meaning that only a professional should do so. Devices of that nature must be installed into solid blocking or rated anchoring systems that will support several hundred pounds of force.  The same is true for shower seats that flip up against the wall. 

There is a real art to designing for people who want to age in place or have limited mobility.  Imagine how difficult it is when you can’t predict the future?  Experienced occupational therapists who have worked in that arena are adept at understanding the progression of both specific medical diagnoses as well as the aging process. Knowing what kind of contingencies should be accounted for in a renovation is an invaluable resource that cannot be underestimated.  Combing the expertise of an occupational therapist with a construction professional will deliver results that work both today and tomorrow, allowing the aging in place model to genuinely flourish.

Mike Dodd is the founder and President of Lifewise Renovations, that combines home remodeling project management with the expertise of health care professionals, to make it possible live safely and comfortably at home regardless of age or physical ability. As a member of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), Mike holds the Certified Aging In Place Specialist (CAPS) designation.

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