Caregiving Chronicles Q&A: Home modifications for the winter and long-term aging in place
Don’t let the mild November we’ve experienced so far fool you. Winter is coming, and coming soon. And if this winter is anything like last year’s, that is not exactly welcome news.
But there are ways to prepare for it, and for all of the changes and challenges you may face to making sure that your home remains a safe and practical place for you and your loved ones.
For most people, staying at home as long as possible is the preferable option. That can be a challenge as we grow older or face issues due to illness or disabilities. There are ways to prepare though, both for the immediate obstacles of the coming winter and the long-term challenges of staying in your home.
In the latest edition of our Caregiving Chronicles Q&A series, we speak with Brian Harvey, General Manager of Harvey Home Modifications in Wayland, about these issues.
Caregiving MetroWest: What does “aging in place” mean and what does it entail for modifying one’s home?
"Aging in place" is used to describe the option aging adults have to remain at home as their full time residence. Modifying one's home for aging-in-place means something different for every individual, couple, or family based on the homes structure and their mobility and safety needs.
Modifications are made to improve visibility, mobility, prevent falls and provide the homeowners access to their home. They can be as simple as grab bars in the shower, to full wheelchair accessibility.
CGMW: What services are available to help older adults or people with disabilities and their caregivers modify their homes and age in place?
There are dozens of services and modifications that can be performed to help one age in place. Most typical improvements involve ramps, whether they be threshold or wheelchair ramps, stairlifts, grab bars and railings, and various bathroom safety adjustments. However, it's not uncommon for us to change floor types (for example, carpet to hardwood), improve lighting, increase color contrasts by painting, and much more.
CGMW: How did you come to specialize in home modifications for older adults and people with disabilities?
We are a family owned business, and we've been in elder and disability care for two decades. My parents Ken and Kara Harvey own and operate The Constance Rose House, a social adult-day program in Wayland. Prior to opening the program, Kara and Ken owned and operated Home Helpers Metro West, an in-home senior care service, which they sold to start the day service.
During their tenure with Home Helpers, the two realized a need for reliable and fair handymen. Ken was, and is, a licensed Home Improvement Contractor, and started to provide a terrific option for these families at that time.
Working with primarily aging adults, Ken completed dozens of projects that involved mobility. He became a vendor for numerous home safety brands, and continues to add to his repertoire. This year I joined the team and I'm a Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist from the National Association of Home Builders
CGMW: With winter approaching, what should older adults and their caregivers do to make their homes ready and safe?
To prepare for winter, older adults should prepare a few things. Most importantly, they need to assure safe and accessible entrances and exits from the home. If the homeowner has front steps and uses a walker comfortably through the year, they should think about how safe the steps are when wet or icy. Perhaps a temporary ramp could be used for easier clearance and access.
Secondly, aging homeowners should have a snow plower and/or shoveler in-line for snowy weather. There are a number of other services of consideration, and I would urge homeowners to work with caregivers and family to discuss a winter preparation plan.
CGMW: What work can be done in the winter and what should people plan to do before the weather turns more severe?
Winter is a great time for interior mobility work. Projects like wet-baths, low/no threshold showers, grab bars and handrails, and stairlifts can be done year round. Fortunately, the exterior mobility equipment today is made weather resistant. So homeowners don't have to wait until spring to consider aluminum wheelchair ramps or stairlifts.
CGMW: When should someone start considering making modifications to their home or the home of a loved one?
Although everyone's mobility capabilities are different, it's wise to think ahead. Most of the time modifications are made after an incident like a fall or injury. Modifications should be put in place to assure safety, not just help with current ailments. One factor that has held homeowners back from making changes is style, but I'd urge anyone on the fence to view product catalogues like Invisia by Healthcraft
, they have beautiful fixtures.
CGMW: What types of renovations should people consider in different parts of their home – in the kitchen, the bathroom, stairs, outside the home and any other areas?
In every part of the home the first thought should be mobility and safety. Here are some ideas;
- Proper lighting installed over the sink and stove.
- Easy-open cabinets and appliances.
- Anti-scald devices and alarms.
- Lower countertops and appliances (wheelchair accessible)
- Converted to a wet-bath.
- Removal or lowering of tub threshold.
- Install more easily used faucets.
- Toilet seat raising.
- Grab bars for inside and outside the shower, or near toilet.
- Installation of shower seats.
- Anti-scald devices.
- Hand rails.
- Stair lifts.
- Wheelchair ramps.
- Stairlifts (made for exterior too).
• Bedrooms & Living Rooms
- Grab bars and "super poles" installed to help get out of bed.
- Proper lighting installed.
- New flooring installed (hardwood vs. carpet).
- Raise furniture to more comfortable heights.
CGMW: Are there resources to help pay for such home modifications? Are there any particular agencies, organizations, websites, etc. that you would recommend people to check out for possible aid? Do you work with your clients to help find sources of financial help?
We always work with clients to fund projects, and are more than happy to prepare documentation and recommendations to agencies or foundations. Veterans Affairs, Social Security and the Federal Housing Administration all have programs that can help for those who qualify. In Massachusetts specifically, there is a tremendous program called the Home Modification Loan Program
that should be considered.
CGMW: Your business also offers maintenance and repair services. What types of things to do you to help in more day-to-day needs?
Harvey: Handyman and home maintenance services are our roots. We have an excellent team that does anything from painting, to light plumbing and carpentry. Aside from new structures, there is really no project too big or small that we've worked on.