Aging-in-Place Work Can Be Emotional

Well, we are finally into 2009 and hopefully you are proceeding slowly but steadily. If you attended the International Builders Show in Las Vegas, you were exposed to many educational opportunities, as well as a vast array of new and improved products. Much more than my senses could handle at one time.

As I made my way from aisle-to-aisle, I observed that there were more and more products than ever before for the aging-in-place market. Not surprising, considering these facts:

  • In 2006, there were more than 37 million people 65 and over in the United States, accounting for 12 percent of the population.
  • Additionally there are about 75 million Baby Boomers, the oldest of whom will reach 65 this year.

Together, these two groups comprise more than one-third of the U.S. population. What this means for us, obviously, is as people age and want to stay in their homes, there will be more demand for aging-in-place amenities. The current economic conditions may even lead to a spike in this demand, as even more people will want to stay in their homes, rather than sell them at depressed prices.

Recently we were contacted by an aging couple that needed some modifications to their two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath townhome. As part of the qualification process, the couple told me that they wanted to update and expand their master bathroom. Since this is a job type we normally consider, I set an appointment and went out to meet with the couple. Incidentally, the couple was referred to us because of our CAPS (certified aging-in-place specialist) certification.

Nothing puts life in perspective more than when you observe those that truly need your help and expertise. Upon my arrival, my prospective client answered the door using two canes. She then proceeded to enlighten me about the real reason she called me; not only did they need a new master bathroom and bedroom, but they needed to relocate it to the first floor because of their physical limitations.

Finally, I get to use my aging-in-place education to its fullest extent. I sat down with Jane and her husband, Roger, to understand exactly what they wanted to accomplish, their time limitations, and the other variables that affect any remodeling job. Here is what I learned: Jane was diagnosed with a very progressive degenerative nerve and muscle disease that would render her bound to a wheelchair within the next six months. Currently she only went up and down the stairs once a day, very early in the morning prior to her husband leaving for work, and then again before going to bed.

Other areas that needed attention:

  • The first floor powder room was long and narrow: 33 in. wide by 84 in. long (the shotgun powder room)
  • A raised first floor that had no “on-grade” access from either the garage or the front door
  • An unfriendly kitchen and narrow hallways

To make matters worse, the townhome was a condominium. We all know what a joy it is to work in a condo.

I sat down with Jane and Roger so we could prioritize the work they needed to accomplish. Like all remodeling jobs, budget was a major concern. As design/builders we were able to marry design and budget to deliver those items that would make the greatest impact on their daily lives.

In the kitchen we cut back the wall dividing the kitchen from the hallway. This allowed greater and easier access into and within the kitchen. In Phase II, we will tackle the redesign of the kitchen.

We created a ramp on the exterior of the townhome allowing a smooth transition directly in the front door. Additionally, we relocated the door from the garage into the house and created a small ramp that Roger will have to push Jane up onto. By relocating the garage door, access into the house is direct, without any turns.

We relocated the master bedroom and bathroom to the first floor by eliminating the living and dining rooms. Even though this was a drastic measure it was the only viable solution.

In the master bathroom we installed a zero threshold shower. We also incorporated a “barn-like” sliding glass panel door for easier access to the shower. The shower has a relatively flat “dry” landing area, as well as a traditional sloped “wet” area. We included a large bench for easier bathing and drying, a hand-held shower for personal hygiene and grab bars for safety. The vanity base was designed so Jane could pull her motorized chair directly up to it and perform all her daily functions without getting out of the chair. We also included a comfort height toilet, decorative grab bars and a linen tower utilizing roll-out shelves on the bottom for Jane and fixed shelves above for Roger.

In the small powder room we removed the door, enlarged the opening and swung the door out. We also added grab bars and a comfort height toilet.

This redesign of the townhouse was a major concession on the part of my clients because they lost the use of the living and dining rooms. We completed the project on time and on budget, and therefore it was a success. However, projects of this kind, where people are forced to adjust their lifestyles and habits because of physical limitations, can be emotionally draining on them . . . as well as us. I have to admit I did let my emotions get to me. Part of me says that is not professional. On the other hand, compassion is never a bad thing. What do you think?