Atlantic Canada’s population is aging faster than the national average. Between 2007–2017, the percentage of seniors in our region rose from 15% to 20%, compared to 13.4% to 17% nationally, according to Statistics Canada. If you’re starting to think about your own aging-in-place strategy or helping a loved one, there’s much you can do to make a home safe and functional for the years to come.
“People want to stay in their own homes, they want to stay active and they want to be involved in the community,” says Bill VanGorder, a Halifax senior who sits on the national and provincial board of directors for CARP, formerly known as the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.
The good news is you can make simple, affordable changes that encourage seniors to stay in their homes longer, while continuing to enjoy fruitful lives.
While some changes will involve renovations, others will require only decluttering and removing trip hazards, such as loose rugs and pet toys. As well, place frequently used items from cupboards in higher spaces to more-accessible cupboards.
One simple change is adding nightlights. “One of the places where many people fall is that middle of the night trip to the bathroom without turning on the lights because they don’t want to wake up their partner,” says VanGorder. Falls are a serious concern for seniors because they are at a greater risk of major injuries when they happen.
VanGorder says it’s important for seniors to stay in shape to minimize the risk from falls. The biggest reason for falls in seniors is a lack of upper body strength. When they fall, they aren’t able to grab onto a rail or wall to support themselves.
Other simple updates include using non-skid bath mats, grab bars for the toilets, showers and tubs, a bench or folding seat for the shower, and rails on both sides of any stairways.
Jack Parsons is the aging-in-place specialist with K & P Contracting Ltd. in St. John’s, N.L. The company does both new construction and renovations, and he holds the designation of a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS), a certification that signals your contractor has the appropriate training for an aging-in-place project.
The best time to make a home age friendly is when you’re building it, he says. “You can make all the necessary changes for little or no dollars,” says Parsons.
For example, rather than using 30-inch doors, use 34- or 36-inch doors. Wider doors will make it easier for wheelchairs to move through them. Parsons suggests increasing hallway width too, but says wider hallways will take away from the square footage in other rooms.
Install electrical plugs five–10 cm higher, making them easier for people to reach when they bend over to use them. Alternatively, the height of light switches can be lowered.
“That kind of stuff is not really noticeable unless you were looking for it,” says Parsons. Starting with a wide stairway means when mobility becomes difficult installing a lift is easier. Even spaces for elevators can be roughed into rooms, to keep that option open down the road.
In the kitchen, Parsons is a fan of putting a filler sink next to a stove. Not only does this make it easier to fill pots with water for boiling spaghetti or making a Jiggs’ dinner, it also makes it easier to empty the water from the pot, reducing the chance of an accident involving scalding water.
Before doing any renovations, Parsons recommends people ask an occupational therapist for an opinion about what kinds of modifications they need. As part of that, occupational therapists will also look at the state of the individual, things like whether they can safely climb up and down stairs, and get in and out of the bathroom, said Nicola MacNaughton, a Moncton, N.B., occupational therapist with the CBI Health Group, a community health-care service provider.
“We’re looking for those types of warning signs and then we’re making recommendations, usually for very simple changes within the home,” she says. “Sometimes, it’s assistive devices that are very low cost, reachers and bathtub benches, that allow the individual to stay independent in the home, but also stay safe in the home.”
WHAT IS CAPS?
The designation Certified Aging-in-Place-Specialist (CAPS) identifies professionals who are trained to help seniors and people with mobility issues live safely in their homes as they age. Home builders, renovators, architects, and even health-care workers are some of the professionals who can obtain this certification. Ongoing training is also a requirement of the certification. When hiring a contractor for aging-in-place renovations, ask to see their certification.
Age- and wallet-friendly renovations
Governments want seniors to stay in their homes for as long as possible, in part because it’s more affordable than long-term care facilities. All four Atlantic provinces offer financial assistance programs for age-friendly renovations.
New Brunswick: Seniors’ Home Renovation Tax Credit
Newfoundland and Labrador: Home Modifications Program
Nova Scotia: Home Adaptations for Seniors’ Independence
Prince Edward Island: Seniors Safe @ Home Program