“I want to stay at home!” But can Mom or Dad safely live in their home as their physical or cognitive health declines? Can you stay in your home as you age? The answers to these questions require a dispassionate, critical eye. The emotional attachment to home must be suspended to evaluate the structural facts of a house. A critical eye should consider the movement of everyday life, and it must evaluate the spaces where everyday activities are accomplished. Can the homeowner, whose physical abilities are compromised, safely accomplish the activities of daily living?
As we discussed in our introductory article, Successfully Aging in Place, we are unable to precisely predict the future state of our health or the health of a loved one. Therefore, preparing the home for future healthcare needs is based upon the assumption that the homeowner will experience a manageable decline in health over a duration of time. The type of affliction and the severity of the limitation may not be known to us now, but there are universal hotspots in the home that can be examined to assess the viability of aging in place.
We will begin our series with the extreme topic of home renovation. While home renovation may not be financially feasible for some, this subject exposes the biggest barriers to aging in place. By spotlighting specific spaces in the home, aging parents and adult children can determine whether the current residence can ultimately accommodate the homeowner’s future declining health, whether renovation is on the table or not. If home renovation is not a financial option and these aging in place hotspots are significant obstacles to the specific needs of the homeowner, then finding a more suitable homestead may be a necessity. In our ongoing series, we’ll discuss seven areas of the home that can become structural impediments to successfully aging in place: Stairs, Doorways, Thresholds, Flooring, Laundry, Kitchen, and Bath.
When considering the safety of a home, the prime offender is obvious, but it is often overlooked when healthy homeowners assess a house. Staircases are featured in the majority of homes, and in many cases, they are a desired focal point. While staircases are ideal for the photo opportunities of life—holidays, proms, graduations, and weddings— stairs become the biggest hindrance later in life.
It's important to remember that aging in place doesn’t necessarily involve a home that’s been in the family for decades. “Home” can be any permanent residence, even a newly purchased one. Many empty-nesters downsize to a more manageable living space. However, when selecting a new home, vibrant 60-year-olds don’t consider future mobility issues. In 10 or 20 years, those stairs in your new, contemporary townhouse—or that gorgeous Craftsman staircase in your dream historic home—may become an insurmountable obstacle. When looking for a new home or critically assessing a current residence, buyers or homeowners must look at the living environment through the eyes of a 70- or 80-year-old who has difficulty climbing stairs. The difficulty may stem from imbalance issues, cardiovascular issues (that reduce stamina), arthritis, or common reconstructive surgeries, such as hip or knee replacements.
If all the bedrooms are located on an upper-level floor or if the laundry room is located on a lower-level floor, will the elder homeowner have the ability to safely navigate the stairs? Are the stairs narrow or steep? Is there a small landing in the middle of the staircase where the homeowner can safely rest before continuing their ascent or descent? Is the staircase wide enough to accommodate a motorized chair lift? Does the property have adequate acreage to build a first-level master suite or laundry facility? Does the community permit additions to the home?
A staircase doesn’t need to be grand to cause a grand problem for the homeowner or visiting guests. (Yes, visiting guests. When assessing a home, your first thoughts don’t typically run to guests. However, aging homeowners frequently find support in friends who are their contemporaries in age.) Even a small grouping of stairs with merely two or four steps—at the front door, a side entrance, a back patio, or an interior landing to a living area—can become hazardous.
Does the space offer enough square footage to accommodate the proper incline for a ramp? Is the homeowner willing to alter the appearance of their home with ramps? Can the floor be raised to eliminate the steps? Would the purchase of a single-level, ranch home be more economical than modification or renovation?
Staircases impact all mobility issues, whether the homeowner or guest receives support from a cane, walker, or wheelchair. However, before a homeowner or guest even reaches an interior staircase, another structural element becomes an impediment: the width of the doorways. Please join us for our forthcoming article as we continue our Home Renovation conversation with Doorways, Thresholds, and Flooring.
Until next time… Plan Early. Plan Often. Plan Well.
Beach Barrister is NOT a law firm. We are an educational forum. We do NOT legally counsel individuals based upon their specific life circumstances or planning goals.
Beach Barrister is NOT a substitute for legal counsel. We highly encourage every viewer of this site to seek a local, licensed, reputable attorney to assist you with your state-specific laws, planning goals, and execution of documents.