Aging in Place: How to Stay Safe and Comfortable in Your Own Home
Aug 24, 2015
My mother-in-law, Deborah Paderofsky, lived in a house in Washington, D.C. for more than 55 years. She and her husband Aaron purchased the home when their sons were 3 and 6 years old. When she passed away at the age of 96, her sons were 58 and 61. That home meant everything to Deborah — a safe and secure place to raise children, entertain, and grow old with her beloved husband.
When Deborah and Aaron were in their mid-80s, Aaron was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a degenerative neurological disease that renders its victims unable to move or speak. In spite of her age, Deborah became Aaron’s caregiver, refusing to move him into a nursing home.
A new chapter in their home began — a difficult one, but one that made the situation more bearable. When Aaron passed away, he was in their home with Deborah beside him.
According to research by AARP, nearly 90 percent of seniors want to stay in their own homes and community as they age, often referred to as “aging in place.” Even if they begin to need day-to-day assistance or ongoing health care during retirement, most (82 percent) would prefer to stay in their homes. Only a few express a preference for moving to a facility where care is provided (9 percent) or for moving to a relative’s home (4 percent), says the study.
After Aaron’s death, Deborah was encouraged to move to an assisted living facility, where she would be surrounded by people and activities. But Deborah was determined to stay in her home for the remainder of her life — which she did.
She maintained friendships with her neighbors, even those significantly younger who saw her as an inspiration. Beginning with her 90th birthday, she threw herself an annual birthday party in her home. She hired a live-in caregiver when, due to health reasons, she was unable to live alone. And with help from her family, she made modifications to her home to help her remain safe and comfortable.
Simple To-Do’s That Enable
The Home Story spoke with Tony Campanella, president of Honey-Do Construction Services in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, who frequently works with people to modify their homes or their parents’ homes to ensure comfort and safety and, equally important, to maintain physical mobility.
If someone is in a wheelchair, for example, even one step represents a challenge that must be resolved. As Campanella says, “Something as simple as putting a ramp above the few steps leading to the front door can give a wheelchair-bound resident easy access in and out of his or her house.”
For every home his company modifies, Campanella starts with a thorough assessment of the resident’s physical condition. Does he or she require a wheelchair? What are the expectations regarding the future of his or her physical condition? Is there a risk of falling?
Every situation is different, and Campanella develops his recommendations on a case-by-case basis, envisioning what the needs are and will be, then identifying safety requirements to meet those needs.
Campanella shared with us some of the steps that can be taken:
- Add ramps — Those who use a wheelchair require several home modifications, which can include ramps above steps outside of the home’s doorway and over a few steps between, for example, a kitchen and dining room; chair lifts, which provide a chair that glides up and down the stairs; and the use of special hinges to widen doorways to bathrooms and other rooms to accommodate wheelchairs. Some people opt to install an elevator in their home, which is more expensive but offers the ability to avoid staircases altogether.
- Safety rails — For those who do not require a wheelchair, a railing on both sides of the steps leading to the front door provides additional safety, as will a second railing on interior staircases.
- Non-slip surfaces — Modify bathtubs and showers to become “walk-ins.” With shower doors that provide greater ease getting in and out and can also accommodate a wheelchair, the resident can simply wheel themselves in to take a shower. Grab bars installed in bathrooms and showers prevent potential falls, as do large non-slip bathroom rugs that can help keep a person from slipping on wet tile.
- Remove Trip Hazards — Replace throw rugs, which can trip a person, with wood floors or wall-to-wall carpeting. If a throw rug is used, non-slip stickers or tape beneath the rugs can provide some traction and help prevent falls.
- Light paths — Be sure to keep the home well illuminated, and install large number push-button phones to make it easier for the resident to make phone calls, especially in an emergency.
The cost to modify a home depends on the extent of the necessary alterations. According to Campanella, costs can be minimal for things like door hinges — or can range from a few hundred dollars for bathroom grab bars to several thousands of dollars to move walls and install chair lifts. Some additions, such as an in-home elevator, can be as high as $60,000.
As Campanella says, “Moving to an assisted living facility or a nursing home can incur substantial monthly-recurring costs, and one must weigh not only the emotional implications of leaving their home, but the financial ones, as well.”
After the loss of her husband, Deborah continued to flourish for nine more years in her home, where she passed away in 2014. The house was ultimately purchased by a couple with two young daughters — beginning another chapter with a new family to live, love, and thrive within its walls.
Home is a wonderful place, for young and old.
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