Image of an elderly mother and daughter

When your family meets at the Thanksgiving table, do you notice your parents getting older? I do. And as I work in the remodeling industry a zillion miles away from my very active 72-year-old mother and an even more active 81-year-old mother-in-law, I keep wondering what I can do to help them. I worry that they live in a home space that could put them at risk.

Should I add that both are living in the countryside in the middle of nowhere in two-story houses? One does not even have a handrail to climb up the steep seven steps that lead to her porch.

The case I describe is not unusual — it is the norm! In truth,the houses of more than 50% of seniors lack basic safety features. This affects the health and the quality of life our parents and aging loved ones experience.

Ninety percent of people want to stay in their own homes as they get older.

Over 19% of the U.S. population have some disability, very often involving limitations in their mobility. Given the fact that less than 5% of housing units are age-friendly, it is increasingly difficult to allow people to live on their own and remain safe. This is an enormous disconnect between what is needed and what is currently available to help seniors adjust.

Injuries can result because of home conditions and seniors can find themselves in the ER, at an average cost of $4500, followed by the need to pay for an emergency home remodel because of their sudden disability.

Yet in many cases, home accidents that lead to all this can be prevented with a few well-thought-out home design solutions.

Worried your Mom or Dad will slip in the shower?

What about your situation? Have you talked to your parents about adding grab bars in the house, especially in the bathroom? Do they realize the habits they had in their fifties aren’t working as well when they are seventy or eighty or ninety? If they resist this information, what can you do?

Let me help you with some arguments you can give to them, especially if they mentioned a remodel on their to do list:

When you reach the age of 65, there is a 40% chance you might be facing a disability… and then there is a good chance you will live with it till you are at least 95. Here is a question:

· Do YOU want to spend 30 years of your life in an assisted living facility, or do you want to spend those 30 years in your own home? Which option is more preferable and affordable for you, all things considered?

· Do you want to be proactive about staying healthy? You already work on that with exercises and anti-age creams, don’t you? You buy insurance?

· In the long run, do you want to keep your independence for longer? For the rest of your life, if you can?

And finally, a killer argument: I am installing grab bars in my bathroom (yep, young people can slip too), do you want me to do the same in yours?

It is always smart to take pre-emptive measures. Is your home ready to change as you change?

As my home modifications instructor tells me, the proactive market for home modifications is a tough market to crack open. We would rather wait for when there is an acute need for an environmental change such as a stroke or some other trauma before taking action.

Let’s talk about age-friendly design — a design that is really about your independence and safety.

I thoroughly dislike seeing so-called age-friendly products that look like they came straight out of a hospital. I advocate home designs that are age friendly, yes, but which are also stylish, that offer a vision that is universal, meaning it can work well for both your Great Aunt and for your grandson.

Ask for anti-age bathroom design solutions that address five key challenges of aging:

· agility (being able to climb out of that tub)

· eyesight

· hearing

· strength and range of motion (lifting, reaching, bending)

· sense of touch and dexterity (turning knobs)

So — is the idea to remodel on your list yet?

Reprinted with permission from author.

First published on Medium, Jan 2019

About the Writer

Olesia Chikunova

Olesia Chikunova is a founder and CEO of HomeWiP, a digital construction concierge helping homeowners build their home equity through construction projects, from accessory dwelling units and aging in place modifications  to major construction projects. She has created a separate educational website for customers interested in multigenerational living in California on www.detachedadu.com