Our job is to help our clients understand the benefits and challenges associated with making home improvements to “age in place”. Often, we are called in to perform Home Safety Reviews, to evaluate the issues and offer solutions to help someone remain safe and live independently in their home for as long as possible. We encounter many different types of homes; ranging from single family homes, to apartments, to town homes, as well as city row homes. Each home comes with different design limitations, cost implications, as well as overall neighborhood concerns. The topic of this story relates not only to our ability to help our client create a beautiful and safe environment in her row home at a price that she can afford, but how to best help her address the overall safety in a neighborhood that has changed.
We recently met our client at one of our workshops, “Designing for Home Safety”, where we educate seniors, care providers and loved ones on how to keep a home safe. The presentation focuses on fall prevention, as falls are one of the leading causes of hospitalizations for seniors, and eventual health decline. She approached us after the presentation and asked if we would help her not only freshen up the interior design of her home, but to provide recommendations and solutions to to help her safely remain in her home.
We were happy to help, and quickly scheduled an appointment. As we drove into the neighborhood, we noticed many homes in disrepair and many stairs to get to the front door. As we walked through the front door it was like taking a time machine back into the 70’s; the layout, decor, and overall feel was one that has been lived in and loved. For those of you who have never stepped foot in a row home, they are typically extremely narrow with few rooms per floor, very steep slender steps, little natural sunlight, and few, if any first floor bathrooms.
Some significant home safety issues that we discovered on our tour of the home:
Exterior Steps : There are two sets of stairs leading to the front door, the concrete paving is uneven, cracked and in need of repair. We would recommend repairing the paving, installing rails on both sides of the steps, and installing motion detected security lighting.
Master Bedroom and Bathroom: Both located on the second floor, up very steep narrow steps. Although there is a double railing on the stairs, it’s so narrow that putting a chair lift in may be problematic when she is no longer able to walk up the steps. We typically recommend a first floor bedroom and full bathroom to avoid the safety issues surrounding steps, but due to space constraints, this may not be possible.
Laundry Room in Basement: Remaining independent involves performing your daily activities, including doing your laundry. Here, the laundry room is down poorly lit, steep stairs with no rails. We would recommend reconfiguring the kitchen and installing a small stackable washer/dryer to eliminate the need to use these stairs.
Elevators and platform lifts are now a more affordable option, can add to a home’s equity, and can be one of the best investments homeowners can make, especially for seniors planning to age in place and remain in their home for several years. Since our client's home is so narrow, this solution would take up a significant corner of a room on each floor and may not be an acceptable design solution.
These are only a few of the issues and safety solutions we noted inside the home. In addition to the safety problems inside her home, we noticed that the neighborhood had changed. Once a vibrant and convenient neighborhood to both Center City and the Suburbs, it has become more transient, and she no longer has the long standing relationships in her neighborhood that could offer support and oversight in the case of a home emergency.
Our client story is a common one; she has lived in her home for almost 50 years, raised her family there, and has been living alone for a number of years, since her husband's passing. She remains independent and active in the community by volunteering and attending classes at a senior community center, and has family and friends in the local area. She can’t imagine living anywhere else at this point in time, but may not be able to afford either making the needed home improvements or moving to a new living situation, even if her home no longer supports her, a reality many seniors face.
We work with our clients to help evaluate the cost and benefits of making these much needed home modifications, and also provide a much needed connection to other resources to help evaluate other living situations that may better support your age and lifestyle.