Is Your House Telling You When To Leave Home?


Usually, it’s the stairs that make people move. Physical decline or a medical condition turn the daily climb to and from the bedroom into a dangerous undertaking. Elderly homeowners leave not only their homes, but also their communities.

Even in one-story houses, the design can be inhospitable for anyone with physical limitations. Think sunken living rooms, steps leading to the front door, or doorways too narrow for walkers, much less wheelchairs.

Lisa Bonneville, a Massachusetts interior designer who specializes in issues of accessibility, remembers an elderly lady who stopped attending family Thanksgiving dinners.

“They would gather the able-bodied dinner guests, who had to muscle her wheelchair up a set of stairs and then through a too-narrow doorway. For her, it was humiliating, as well as frightening.

“It’s not necessarily about age,” Bonneville adds. “Regardless of age and ability, your home should support you and embrace you. It should also be accessible and easy to use for your friends and family. You and your guests should feel safe and mobile.”

In 2016 Bonneville conducted evidence-based research funded by an ASIDF (American Society of Interior Designers Foundation) grant in which she compared the costs of accessibility upgrades, including health assistance in the home, with the cost of assisted living facilities.

“Once you are at the level of requiring eight hours of care per day, the cost is comparable to living in assisted care,” she says. “However, eight hours is a lot of care: most people who need care require far less.” And, she adds, they can save that money while continuing to live in their safe, comfortable homes.

She helps homeowners assess their homes to find ways to keep living in them even with physical limitations. The primary issues, she says, involve getting in and out of the house, from floor to floor, and to tailor kitchen and bathroom functions to specialized needs.

“People think changes are so expensive, but not necessarily.”

As examples, she points to flush thresholds, grab bars and wide enough doorways.

“To widen a door is easy. And, we should all have grab bars in our bathrooms, where upper body strength may be useful and floors may be slippery.”

Kitchen and bathroom sinks can easily be built or converted to accommodate a wheelchair, she says, and even in historic houses, thresholds can be removed or rebuilt for safe movement from room to room.

This bathroom is fitted with a roll-in shower, an open double vanity for stool or wheelchair use, a stall sized for a wheelchair user and caregiver, a grab bar at the side and front of the shower, an adjustable height hand shower on a rod and ample length of hose. There is also non-skid tile throughout the bathroom, a low robe hook for seated use and wood blocking in the walls for future grab bars.LISA BONNEVILLE

But even bigger construction projects should be seen in the light of comparable costs.

“Elevators and stair lifts can cost less than four to six months of assisted care living,” Bonneville says.

“You can map it out, but you don’t have to put in a lift until you need it. The important thing is to plan ahead and prepare structurally for future use. To wait until you’re coming home from the hospital with a walker or a wheelchair is too late.”

The easiest kind of interior to retrofit is an open floor plan contemporary, Bonneville says. But, she points out that multi story, rambling Victorians often provide ideal spaces for elevators.

“If you love your home and are rooted in the community, it’s well worth getting professional help to design it to work for you. The costs of moving into a facility include leaving your neighbors, your garden, the birdfeeder outside your kitchen window – all the things that nourish and support you.

“If you plan ahead, you can make it work for you even when you can’t climb stairs any more. You’ve saved time, energy and money – not to mention peace of mind. It is worth doing, because your house should never tell you when it’s time to leave home.”

Source: forbes.com ~ By: Regina Cole ~ Image: Courtesy of 21online Asset Library