by Janice Henshaw –
Many of us love our homes. They are our safe havens, and we plan on staying in them until … well, until we can’t. And like all worthwhile projects and plans, there are steps we can take that will allow us to make our homes safer and more supportive as our bodies start to change. Right now there is a lot of creative energy going into home modification, so it’s a great time to be thinking about making choices for the future.
It would be so easy if we all lived in a level entry home! But in a multi-level home, if stairs become an issue, a stair lift can be installed ($2,500 to $5,000 for a Stannah straight lift) or, a sleek, space-saving elevator. An elevator can be custom designed to match the style of your home and can add value for resale. According to Stiltz Home Elevators Canada, the average cost of installing a home elevator is between $25,000 and $45,000, depending on the complexity of the retrofit and style of the elevator.
Other important features for our homes are wide halls and doorways for wheelchair and walker access. Another great idea is to have a spare bedroom in case you would like to hire a live-in caregiver. A home renovation can be considered to achieve these changes, and the savings from not having to move into a retirement home can offset the retrofit costs.
In the kitchen, lower counters provide a work surface that is easier to reach. It’s best to avoid high overhead cabinets, especially if they require a step stool. Drawers under counters are more accessible than doors and shelves. How about a small island on wheels (with brakes!) that can be moved to allow for more space to manoeuvre? Deep sinks are trendy, but their bottoms may be too far to reach into. Motion-activated faucets work well for everyone. As for doors, levers are easier to use than knobs.
When it comes to electrical outlets, higher is better, (18 to 24 inches) so we won’t have to bend down so far. Lighting is important and should include bright lights for reading or mastering Sudoku (switch to higher wattage bulbs) and indirect lighting to reduce glare and shadows. Two-way switches for the bedroom allow you to turn on the light when entering the room and off from your bedside. Use LED lights to reduce light bulb changes. Motion sensor lights are great for navigating safely at night.
Bathrooms are an essential place to make changes. If you are adding a new shower, consider choosing a roomy, no threshold, no door, walk-in shower with a non-slip surface. Include an attractive seat and support bars. An adjustable height showerhead and a handheld wand with a shut-off button can be very helpful as well. A transom window can bring in more natural light at the top of your shower. Warming towel bars are a sweet indulgence!
If you love to relax and dream in your step-over tub, then one way to make it safer is to add strategically placed grab bars or a tub seat lift. A choice for the future is an attractive walk-in tub that has a door that closes with a watertight seal. Cost and space may be an issue, but they come in different sizes, so you may find a shorter tub that will be perfect for your space. If the bathroom has a tile floor, apply anti-slip strips. Non-skid mats are not an option; they are a “must”!
We can’t leave the bathroom without discussing the toilet! A higher toilet or a seat extender can make the process a whole lot easier. Add a floor mounted pivoting and locking horizontal rail for ease of use and to ensure that one always leaves the throne with grace. A luxurious one-stop wash and dry toilet/bidet combination can be extremely helpful for hygiene purposes and skin care.
And finally, living alone is a risk factor for social isolation. To age gracefully and with joy, it is helpful to embrace a larger world. Now might be a good time to consider the sensible trend of sharing our homes with a friend, a renter, or a family in need. Who knows how wonderful that could be? And it could help with retrofit expenses!