What is “Aging in Place?”

chair-lifts-for-seniors rails 

Although “Aging in Place” is a well-recognized term in The United States, it is a relatively new term here in Manitoba. I was fortunate enough to be part of the first class through the Manitoba Home Builder’s Association to complete the course for the “Certified Aging in Place Specialist” (CAPS) designation here in Manitoba. We are only the second province to offer this program Canada wide. So what exactly is “Aging in Place?”

A CAPS Professional recognized the needs of an aging population, today and tomorrow. We are in a society where the number of seniors is growing faster than any other generation. Concerns like home care, extended health care, and assisted living alternatives are urgent topics of planning for every level of government. The CAPS program bridges the gap between the planners and the actual designers/builders and renovators.

It allows us to make small adjustments to building designs and renovation plans to allow the home to become consistent with “Universal Design” principles. These principles take into account the needs of a family at the time of the renovation, but also in the future. It allows home owners, as partners in planning, to make small modifications to renovations plans to allow for anything from a future in-law suite to a potential elevator, and everything in between. This does NOT mean your renovation budget suddenly doubles or triples! It means that as part of the bathroom renovation we may put additional supports or blocking in the walls where you may require support for grab bars down the road, cost of labour and materials at most $10, however, the savings is to you so you do not have to demolish and re-do a shower in 5 – 10 years; it can be anywhere from $10,000 – $20,000!!! That is a significant savings!! In the case of an elevator, if you build stacked closets between floors that are framed for what an elevator would require – it suddenly becomes very easy to install an elevator for someone in a wheelchair – and the overall savings is again, tens of thousands of dollars. The cost in the initials design and building plans is minimal. 

Universal design is built on the principle of planning for the future. Let’s face it, no one knows what the future holds. Everyday someone is suddenly faced with a drastic change in the lifestyle due to a sudden traumatic life event. Be it illness or injury, it can happen at any age, and a sudden event can change your entire life in a split second. You and your family are now faced with the emotional, financial and physical challenges of going on and learning how to adapt to your new life. Well, imagine for a moment that you lived in a home that was planned with universal design. Your doorways were wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. The walls had been properly reinforced are required to allow for chair lifts, grab bars, ramps, etc. to allow you or your family member the ability to maintain as much independence as they possibly could. Instead of having to now face a tremendous hardship of thousands of dollars in renovations – you could simply purchase and have the equipment installed and minor modifications made to your universally designed home…what peace of mind would this be worth to you and your family? If you didn’t have to suddenly sell your home and look for a new one, how much would that mean to you? If your elderly parent suddenly became ill and needed to move in with you, could they do so tomorrow? If you had worked with a CAPS professional when you designed your home, or completed your recent renovation, you would be able to accommodate your family member with relatively little modifications and cost for a calm and smooth transition for everyone in the family. Let’s face it when dealing with any traumatic event, there is enough stress on everyone involved, the last thing a family needs is major renovations required urgently so Mom or Dad, or your child can come home from the hospital.

We also plan for medical conditions that are progressive. When you have a chronic condition that will cause your health, mobility and/or independence to deteriorate over time, you should work with a CAPS professional. We can help plan for your requirements for today, tomorrow and into the future. We team with your family/caregivers, the builders, medical team and occupational therapists to determine exactly what your needs are today, what they will be in the future and how we can minimize disruption to your home and life while allowing the modifications to be made that you require, when you require them. It’s all about planning and foresight at the onset so as changes occur in your medical situation your contractor can come in and make that next small change that you need. At the initial planning, maybe having electrical and supports in the wall at the tops and bottom of the stairs, so you can have a chair lift installed for nothing more than the cost of the chairs lift and labour. There’s no need to rip apart the walls or stairs, etc.

Finally, many people think about “Again in Place” as someone who is “handicapped”. Although this is often the case, it also refers to anyone with a mobility issue. Bad knees or hips that may need replacing but cause difficulty with stairs. You have a mobility issue. Chronic arthritis? You may need some modifications to cupboard doors and handles to make things easier for you to open/close. Starting to have a hard time hearing your spouse? Not the “selective hearing” many of us choose to have but real challenges hearing conversations, the TV or in situations with background noise? There are modifications that can be made to ensure at the bare minimum your life safety is protected. CO2 and smoke alarms can be connected to lighting or buzzers that can wake sleeping parents to ensure they have adequate time to escape a dangerous situation! Mom or Dad have issues with falling? Did you know once an elderly parent experiences a serious fall and recovers, the chances of them recovering from a second serious fall and less than 50%? Did you also know there are things that can be done to provide them more safety? Small modification to their home that will allow them to remain in their home longer and more importantly in a safe environment that provides peace of mind to everyone in the family! I know I have issues with arthritis in my knees and am already starting to consider the consequences down the road.

As a small side note, I have personal experience with life surprises. Our youngest daughter was born blind, has limited mobility and requires a wheelchair for long distances, is developmentally delayed and would not understand what a smoke or CO2 detector was, and also has a seizure disorder. We had no idea when I was pregnant and it seems we have a rare gene combination that was a surprise to all. She is our sunshine and a blessing in our home every day. However, planning our home so it helps her function independently has been a challenge at times. Life surprises can come at any time, suddenly or over time but as we age, one thing is certain, our bodies change! What was once easy can become a real challenge.

We often tend to think of all the “issues” as normal parts of aging, and they are! As medical breakthroughs continue to happen, our life expectancy also continues to climb. The chances that we will be faced with an “Aging Issue” with parents or ourselves is almost inevitable! However, your quality of life should never have to be compromised as your life situation and life needs change! There is nothing more heartbreaking than a parent being moved out of their home before they are ready or more importantly, before they really need to be! So explore the options! Consult with a CAPS Professional and look at all the options! You may be surprised what can be done! More importantly, providing a safe, easily accessible environment that continues to allow independence is what we all dream of as we age! This is the bare minimum of what we should strive to achieve for any loved one! 

Angie Kendel, Maximum Impact Plus, CSP, CID, CAPS