Renovating for an Aging Population

Have you ever given any thought to renovating for the needs of an aging parent? Neither had we until recently! Birdz of a Feather is known for it’s in-depth hands-on DIY tutorials but today I’m stepping away and taking off my tutorial writing hat to switch it out for one that supports my role as a daughter.

By 2036, seniors in Canada will account for a quarter of the population. What we can do to improve the quality of life for this segment now? This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart because my own Mom is ‘getting up there’. You know what they say about necessity being the mother of invention, right? Well I had never given any thought to renovating with the special needs of an aging population in mind until my Mom developed Alzheimers shortly after my Dad passed away.

Along with the early onset of Alzheimers came the falls. The first time my Mom fell it resulted in a broken neck and nose. She somehow fell forward flat on her face as she was getting out of bed one morning. In the aftermath, a rented bed was set up in the living room on the main floor of the house. We also hired round the clock care to make sure she didn’t fall again as she was healing. I won’t get into stories of how difficult it was to find good people to help with Mom’s care but suffice it to say that it was during that time period that my youngest sister decided to quit her job and live-in to take care of Mom on a full time basis. My sister is a saint!

Then came a second fall shortly on the heals of the first. This time Mom broke her foot and again she couldn’t navigate the stairs. My poor sister slept on a couch in the living room for months on end so she could be there every time Mom had to get up to go to the washroom. There was no way she’d be able to get up the stairs until she was fully healed – again – and not without the help of a chair lift.

Thankfully, in the interim, we were able to get assistance from our Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) an agency that provides home and community care services. They sent a home care provider to come in for an hour during weekdays to help my sister with Mom’s personal care. It’s a blessing to have this much-needed service and I can only hope that it doesn’t succumb to budget cuts like so many supportive community programs and resources do.

Given Mom’s back-to-back falls, something had to give. We thought about moving her into a one-level condo but ultimately, she didn’t want to leave her house. Uprooting her like that, knowing she wouldn’t be happy in unfamiliar surroundings, wouldn’t solve anything but she couldn’t go on residing on the main level of her house without a fully functioning bathroom forever! Wouldn’t life be easier if we all lived in bungalows?

As we looked into getting a chair lift, my sister applied to a non-profit organization to help fund it. Somewhere along the way of the approval process, it was suggested to her that instead of a chair lift, we also had the option of converting the two piece bathroom on the main floor into a full 3-piece bathroom – and still get help with funding. A bathroom was the best way to go; Mom would be able to remain in her home!

We just heard back yesterday that we will get some financial help in the form of a grant so are thrilled with the news; every little bit helps. It’s bittersweet though because, in order to qualify for funding, we have to step aside and hire a professional licensed and insured renovator: Hubs and I won’t actually be doing any of the construction ourselves. However, rest assured we’ll still be passing along valuable DIY information of the building process as the work is completed!

While funding was still in the works, we went ahead and got the building permit issued to jump start the process. We thought it would be smooth sailing after that to find a caring and qualified contractor that has experience with curbless showers (no trip hazards for Mom!). Surpisingly it has taken longer than I ever imagined to find someone we feel comfortable with.

I have to admit that handing over the reins to a contractor is something new for us. If you’re a regular Birdz of a Feather reader, you’ll know that we’ve DIY’d our way through just about every part of our home – inside and out! Once we hire someone, it will be one of those rare moments when we can step back and let someone else take care of the grunt work for a change. As foreign as that will be to us, realistically I know it will all work out in the end!

There’s a few aspects of this reno that I’m still taking charge of however: defining and finalizing the scope of work, plus the design and finishes in the space. Over the last few weeks my sister and I have been planning and looking for supplies like grab bars, a wall mounted vanity, tiles etc.. While I have to concede that we can’t do the work, that doesn’t mean the space can’t be just as beautiful as other bathrooms we’ve worked on!

Below is my design for Mom’s curbless shower. We’ll expand the powder room by taking over a closet space in the adjacent laundry room to add the shower. We found a lovely large format Arabesque tile to use as the feature wall and will keep the rest of the tiles simple and elegant (hopefully the tiles we chose are still available by the time we get to the contracting stage!). The bathroom itself is a tiny and compact space but we’ve designed the shower to be wide open: in the eventuality that Mom ever needs a wheelchair, we’ll be ‘ready for bear’ as Hubs likes to say!

Whatever we do in Mom’s bathroom will likely carry over into our own home eventually. We’re not getting any younger and have to start thinking about what we can do to make our house liveable in the long term too!

Although we’re not doing the physical labour, there’s a lot to think about as we finalize the scope of work and gather quotes. Waterproofing for instance is an important thing to keep in mind – especially when there’s no curb to hold back the water! But you’ll hear more about those things soon enough. We can’t wait to get started on the actual transformation of Mom’s bathroom.

Mom is doing well now and is in good spirits but it’s difficult to watch as her memories slip away. We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure she ages gracefully in the comfort of her own home 🙂 I think there will be some valuable take-aways in our upcoming posts if you ever find yourself in a similar situation. It should be an interesting and enlightening experience over the next few months to see how it all pans out.

My advice to anyone reading this it to take on accessible-friendly projects while you’re still young and healthy enough to do it. It may seem counterintuitive, but thinking through your long term plan and making smart changes over the course of the years spent in your home can help you remain there as long as possible. One of the improvements we recently made to our ‘forever’ home is to add pull-out drawers in our kitchen so we don’t have to bend over to reach things. It’s a DIY improvement you can easily do yourself.

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If you’ve given any thought to renovating for accessibility or have undergone a renovation that takes that into consideration, leave us a comment. We’d love to hear about it.

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6 thoughts on “Renovating for an Aging Population

  1. Oh, Sara, my thoughts and prayers are with you. It’s a difficult time as we watch our parents age, and at the same time, see that we are next in line for some of these same issues. My mother passed 14 years ago, and I “inherited” her 84 year old rather cranky husband. He lived another 10 years. During that time, I quit my job to take care of him, worked through many renovating projects, finding (and firing) caregivers, transporting to doctors appts., finally making the decision to move him to a care center, making his final plans, dealing with the estate, etc. Afterwards, it was nearly 2 years of cleaning out and selling his home. My biggest lessons learned were compassion and the realization that, while there were days that I thought this would last forever, it doesn’t. Take good care of yourself and your marriage, and just take it one day at a time. Love your Mom, cherish the time and lessons learned.

    • Thanks for your kind words PL. You have no idea how much I cherish the time! While it can be challenging to go through the process – as you did, the lessons are priceless. My husband’s family is facing the same thing with their Mom too, but her dementia is more advanced. We’re both so lucky to have the support systems we do – and of course we have each other. I count my blessings each and every day; there’s a lot to be thankful for 🙂

  2. It’s wonderful that in your community you can get some assistance, and you and your sister are doing a great job. Your comment about thinking ahead is really important. One suggestion might be to add a second shower head and position it lower on the wall, in case your Mom ever uses a wheelchair. Great post and timely, as none of us are getting younger.

    • I know; the assistance is a godsend because my youngest sister has her hands full – it really is a 24/7 responsibility but we’re all happy to help (I have another sister too)! That’s a great suggestion about the shower head – we purchased one that is height adjustable for that very reason 🙂

  3. I read with interest on the caring of your mother. I find it very loving and thoughtful that you and your sister and other family members are doing what you can to help your mother during this very difficult and challenging time in her life and yet give her the patience and dignity that she deserves.
    When I designed and helped build our home 30 years ago, I did give thought to what our changing needs would be as we got older. I made sure that the doorways were wide enough for a wheelchair, that whatever steps we had could be removed and easily replaced with ramps and the height of counters, width of aisles or hallways would be accessible for a wheelchair bound person. We relocated our laundry room from the basement to the main floor for easy access now and in the future. There are a few more things, such as pull out shelving in the cupboards, that I would still like to do to make it easier on us in the future.
    Thank you for your article. It was helpful and informative.

    • Thank you Donna. You were so wise to have the foresight to think ahead like that when you were in the design process. You made some great changes that will see you well into the future.

      We recently finished our basement, which included a laundry room, but really should give some thought to relocating it when we’re still young enough to do the work!

      If you end up doing the pull-out shelving, and haven’t read our post on how we did ours, you can find it here: http://birdzofafeather.ca/diy/kitchen-storage-improvements-do-this-at-home/

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