Have you ever given any thought to renovating for an aging population? Like the needs of an aging parent – or for your own future needs? Aging in place has never crossed our minds until recently! Birdz of a Feather is known for it’s detailed, 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.
Renovating for an Aging Population
By 2036, seniors in Canada will account for a quarter of the population. What can we 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. That is, 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. She’s now living-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. That’s 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.
Funding a Dementia-Friendly Home Reno
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 a personal care worker helps 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!
Aging in Place Home Modifications
We just heard back yesterday that we will get some financial help in the form of a grant so we can make the necessary home modifications. We 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 and innovative products as the work progresses!
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!
Features when Renovating for an Aging Population
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!
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 only input from Mom is that it doesn’t look ‘geriatric’ when it’s done. To that end, we’ve already managed to source some great safety fixtures from Moen (i.e. grab bars and fold-up bench seat) that not only boast form and function, but are easy on the pocket book too! I can’t wait to see it all come together.
Adding a Curbless Shower
Below is my design for Mom’s walk in shower remodel. We’ll expand the powder room by taking over a closet space in the adjacent laundry room to add the shower. The bathroom itself is a tiny and compact space. But we’ve designed the shower to be wide open and curbless. 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. So we 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; she has her trusty friend Polly and my sister to keep her company! 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.
Aging in Place
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.
Pin Renovating for an Aging Population
Please pin to help others find our new renovation series on renovating for an aging population:
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. If you missed the link above, see how the curbless shower renovation turned out.
UPDATE: Both my Mom and mother-in-law passed away from Alzheimers two years after writing this. See our new passion project that honours their memories.