THE CALIFORNIAN / LIFE
PUBLISHED MARCH 24, 2017
How valuable are independence and dignity? It’s a question I had to ask myself after four separate knee surgeries which compromised my ability for months at a time. It was a price I paid for my years of being a triathlete.
As president of Lewis Builders in Carmel, I began thinking about the challenges of aging and what my own design-and-build company could do to help. These thoughts came to me, by the way, while I was literally hopping through my home and jumping up over the shower curb in my bathroom. I was recovering from multiple operations for sports injuries.
I discovered that it was very difficult and dangerous for me to get in and out of my shower. I started asking myself, ‘What’s this curb for, anyway?’”
Customizing local homes with innovative, aesthetically pleasing solutions that alleviate numerous physical challenges of aging or a disability is now a specialty service at my company. The ultimate result is that people are able to live comfortably and safely in their homes into their later years, rather than moving into assisted-living facilities.
When people discover that the cost of assisted-living can be as much as $10,000 to $20,000 a month, making modifications to their own homes becomes a no-brainer.
What I’ve learned is that the most important thing to my aging clients is maintaining their dignity. If you lose your independence, you lose your dignity. So we try to help them keep their independence as they age by making it easier for them to live safely and comfortably in their own homes.
Installing curb-less showers – shower floors with no entry steps – are an important beginning because the majority of in-home falls occur when a person is entering or exiting a shower.
In addition, I recommend installing radiant floor heating mats under shower tiles which are comfortably textured to improve footing, even when the surface is wet. They are also affordable.
That same heating system also pre-warms the shower bench which gives the user the option of showering comfortably while seated.
For additional safety and comfort, other plumbing innovations include shower water that flows at a pre-set temperature and motion-activated faucets that can be turned on or off without using the hands.
Lighting is also important as people’s eyesight deteriorates over the years. I recommend clients install low-voltage lighting in multiple locations in the shower including soap and shampoo niches, the shower bench and all the cabinets in the bathroom.
Other common additions are grab bars. Place them inside the shower and alongside the toilet. In some cases, the installation of the backing needed to install grab bars at a later date should be part of your renovation. These grab bars are not only functional but are aesthetically pleasing. They blend in seamlessly with regular bathroom fixtures already in place.
Grab bars and additional lighting are also commonly incorporated into kitchens. Other features attractive to older residents include counter-level microwaves instead of the tradition ones that require the user to reach above a cooktop to retrieve a hot dish.
In addition to enhanced illumination, cabinets are modified to enable users to lower shelves down to counter height to retrieve dishes, glasses, or cookware, as well as roll out trays in lower cabinets to minimize the need to bend or stoop.
We take into consideration what the client’s needs are. If they’re in a wheelchair, then obviously all of their doors need to be 36 inches wide. And if they’re in great health, but want to live in the home as long as possible, we can plan to widen them later.
Making exterior modifications to garages, decks, or other areas are also important. Eliminating steps or at least installing hand rails next to the steps become vital for anyone with balance issues. We even put in lifts or, if necessary, ramps in inconspicuous locations for easier use by homeowners.
It’s not aesthetically pleasing to have a long ramp leading up to the front of your house. Avoiding the creation of an institutional look does much to make people want to remain at home.
Plus, from a security stand point, conspicuous ramps can make older people feel like defenseless targets. In-home monitoring systems and alarm systems also are available.
Aging happens to all of us, and very few people are basically OK with that. But when people are inevitably faced with moving into an institution, we’ve found that they’re just thrilled that they have the option of remaining safely in their homes by making some construction adjustments.
The more a builder can make these enhancements look attractive, the greater the residents are thrilled with their homes and their lives.
John Lewis is a graduate of Cal Poly and one of Monterey County’s only credentialed experts in CAPS (Certified Aging in Place Specialist).or additional information about “Aging In Place” renovations, call 831-250-7168, visit the website at lewisbuilder.com, or stop by their convenient location in The Barnyard Shopping Village, Carmel.