Aging in Place Row Home Style

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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.  

 

 

Making a Difference

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This past Saturday was national Make a Difference Day, where millions of Americans participate in many acts of kindness. Whether it was community cleanups, neighborhood painting or even acts as small as buying someones coffee or giving a stranger a compliment; what matters the most is that people participate in making a difference in someone else’s life. Sometimes, you don’t have to leave the comfort of your own home to make a difference in someone else’s life. 

In the work that we do, we try to make a difference everyday, and making a difference can come in all forms. Whether we are suggesting a bathroom or kitchen remodel to support the changing needs of our clients, a home safety inspection along with some easy to implement home modifications, or helping a client celebrate their birthday with a cupcake and candles, we know how interior design with a focus on accessibility and safety can make a difference by providing safety and peace of mind.  One of our clients shared a personal story that encompassed compassion, support, and an eager willingness to help someone she loves. 

The conversation with our client began by her explaining her interior design goals for the project. She had recently moved and downsized, but with a busy career she had not been able to prioritize herself, and create the home environment she desired and that made her feel happy to come home to at the end of the day. The conversation then took a turn and she explained that her 88 year old mother was living with her. She shared the struggle her mother had when facing the reality that she wasn't able to live on her own any longer. Her mom was persistent that she didn't need assistance, and she didn't want to live her days in the nursing home. With few siblings in the picture, our client was the only one to step up to the plate and volunteer to have her mom move in with her family. This selfless act can be a difficult one. 

Our discussion quickly shifted to talking about not only what our client’s needs were, but to discuss how our design suggestions would be modified to best accommodate the needs of her mother as well. In addition to caring for her mother, she also mentioned that she is the “one” in her family to entertain and hold the family gatherings, and that many of her family members were elderly.  Allowing for her mother to “age in place” at her home will mean adjusting her own home lifestyle and environment to best support not only her mother, but the family, as well as all visitors. We finished the conversation talking about her goals for her personal space, but ensuring that the proper living conditions were in order for her mother. Such as completing a home safety evaluation, creating a first-floor bedroom, securing all rugs, and installing proper lighting throughout the house. This eye-opening experience has educated her on the importance of maintaining a safe home, not only for her mother but for the rest of her own family too. Her simple act of kindness by creating a safe home for her mother and her family will really make a difference. 

This story is just one of many acts of kindness that happen daily.  It doesn’t need to be a national day to help someone in need. So although this day has passed, take some time to make a change in your neighborhood or in your family; big or small! We like to think we make a difference everyday, by helping others live safely and comfortably in their homes!

Stairways to Safety

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We’re all familiar with the phrase, “watch your step.” It doesn’t just pertain to walking on a sidewalk or path, it holds true to elevated surfaces, especially stairs. Stairs can quickly become you're worst enemy if you don’t step on them properly.

At the beginning of summer my friend decided that it was time for a furniture face lift; so I helped her move pieces out of her home. While carefully carrying her couch down her staircase she slipped and fell down several steps. Her fall resulted in a severely sprained ankle, which was debilitating; and to make matters worse it was the beginning of prime time beach season. 

Looking back, I've thought about all the ways in which her fall could have been prevented. She should have been wearing proper shoes (sneakers not flip flops). We should have cleared the stairway before moving anything, especially at the top and base of the stairs (clutter definitely hindered our path). Her beautiful, yet slippery, hard wood floors could have been treated with some sort of clear anti-slip treads. Unfortunately, the fall occurred which at the time was out of our control. However, what we can control are the means in which we prevent it from happening again. 

Here are a number of ways to combat the causes for falls and make stairs safer to use: 

1. Take Your Time: There’s no need to rush down the stairs. A phone call or visitor at the door can wait. Be alert and deliberate. Hold on to the handrails and be extra cautious when there are any transition between surfaces.

2. Tread Lightly: If your stairs are made of a smooth material (wood, painted, tile, etc) install rubber, abrasive treads or anti-slip tape for proper footing and grip. You can find clear anti-slip treads that won’t take away from the beauty of your floors. If your stairs are carpeted, be sure the carpeting is securely installed and not sagging or loose in any areas. 

3. Clear the Clutter: Keep the top and bottom of stairways clear of loose rugs; they are a tripping hazard. Remove any objects like books, shoes, clothes, kids toys, etc., and make sure that any furniture on landings doesn’t block the pathway.

4. Let there be Light: Stairs should never have lower illumination levels than adjacent areas; that’s just a recipe for disaster. Use low-glare overhead lighting, and in senior homes install a stair lighting kit to ensure each step is distinctly visible. Verify there are light switches at both the bottom and the top of the stairs; if there aren’t, have them installed.

5. Use the Railings: Handrails are strongly recommended. In fact, it’s suggested they be installed on both sides of the stairwell when possible. Position handrails at adult elbow height and attach them securely to walls and posts.  Be sure to extend them the full length of the stairs, including beyond the top and bottom.

6. Safe Soles: Proper footwear influences balance and can alleviate the risk of slips, trips, and falls. Walking indoors in socks, high-heeled shoes or even barefoot has been shown to increase the risk of falls, especially for older individuals. Be conscious of what is on your feet while moving up and down your stairs.  

At some point in our lives, stairs will become an issue for all of us. That doesn’t mean we have to stop using them entirely, or even be scared of climbing them. It just means that taking some extra precautions to make our stairways safe is important and necessary to remain injury free!

Home Safe & Sound

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People always look forward to returning home safe and sound. Your home is where memories are made, friends are always welcome, and your loved ones feel most comfortable and safe. However, it’s often that injuries occur in the comfort of your own home. In fact, according to the National Safety Council (NSC), “falls are the leading cause of injury-related death for adults ages 65 and older.” Many of these unintentional home-related injuries occur in common places like stairs, doorways, ramps, uneven surfaces, and crowded spaces.

Fortunately, your home doesn't need to be a potential danger zone. If you remain aware, proactive, and up-to-date on home safety recommendations, you are well on your way to creating a safe home environment. Here are a few of our favorite recommendations:

1. Clear Path

Maintaining a clear path throughout your home, including stairways, exterior walkways leading to other exterior areas of your home such as mailboxes, gardens, and garages should be clear of clutter. Arrange or remove furniture so there is plenty of room to walk around. It seems simple, but things really do get in your way!

2. Flooring

Use of the proper flooring materials throughout your home are important to avoid slipping or tripping. Minimize flooring transitions through the use of a continuous flooring when possible, use lower pile carpet, and the use of rubber floorings are all good choices. If area rugs are present, they should be slip resistant or tacked down. Don't forget to reduce the perils of slippery stairs with slip resistant treads or carpeting. Bathrooms and wet areas are particularly dangerous, so wipe up water spills and use non-skid mats. 

3. Lighting 

Natural light makes everyone feel great, so let the sun shine in. Start with opening your shades and blinds. Ensure that there is adequate man-made lighting for reading, working in the kitchen, in closets, in the bathroom and nightlights for navigating in kitchen, bath and hallways.  Additional lighting on stairs, (on handrails, walls or underneath stairs), and use of motion-sensor lights to light exterior walkways or to illuminate interior spaces that are difficult reaching to manually light. 

4. Accessibility 

It's important to store items you use regularly within reasonable reach, including food, dishes, bathroom items, and clothing. How often do we get out a step stool or reach beyond our comfort zone and injure something or just fall off? 

Whether you read this and think about your parents, grandparents, siblings, friends or neighbors, we hope to share useful and important information that can help anyone feel safe in their own home. It is easy to target seniors, yes, but the reality is, that they aren't the only ones that can benefit from making simple adjustments around the house. 

This blog, and the work we do on a daily basis, is about providing our clients and others, with cost effective and easy to implement ways to improve home safety and home independence. We will explore topics in more detail as we go, and share personal stories and client experiences to relate real stories of everyday living to help others improve their own home safety, accessibility and comfort. 

So join us in our journey to help you return to a safe and sound home!