When someone contacts us to meet with them to discuss making improvements to their home that will assist them in being able to continue living in their home and age in place, or when we are requested to meet with someone that has been referred to us by a rehab center, insurance company, attorney, medical professional, social worker, or other person concerned with a person’s welfare, we may get a basic idea of what is needed, but there is no way to know for sure until we actually get there and look for ourselves.
Even when a referring professional tells us that someone needs a specific feature or other device to return home from the rehab center, that may not be the entire picture. It may not be as simple as just putting in what they request of suggest. If a lift (VPL or vertical platform lift, IPL or inclined platform lift, an overhead lift system, or a stair glide) is recommended by the rehab specialist, discharge planner, or OT, there may be additional work required before we can meet their wishes. We may have to add an electric line to the location where the lift is going to be. Depending on the age of the home, the electric service itself may need to be upgraded first.
The area around where the lift is to be – flooring, doorway, and adjacent walls will need to be evaluated for compatibility and sufficiency. There may need to be some additional work done to prepare the site to receive the lift and have it work as desired. Additional construction might be necessary.
The point is that even when the aging in place renovation seems obvious because a medical professional has determined what needs to be provided to assist the client, there may be a lot more work that needs to be done to achieve it. This is why, at a minimum, it’s a great idea to have a medical professional such as an OT work with a contractor to collaborate on a suggested improvement. While the healthcare or medical professional (OT, nurse, physical, PT, case manager, or similar specialty) might understand the client’s needs, it takes the construction professional (builder, contractor, remodeler, renovator, handyman, carpenter, or similar ability) to assess the physical characteristics and constraints of the home to determine what is possible without much additional work and what will require more extensive modifications to achieve the desired outcome. When other professionals such as designers, architects, and equipment or assistive technology specialists participate on the team, the results can be even more beneficial and appropriate for the client and their family or other members of their household (including caregivers).
There is no standard approach for creating aging in place solutions. Each case if different, as each home. Even two dwelling located next to each other and built at the same time by the same builder are going to have aged differently based on how they were maintained, additional features that may have been added at the time of construction or along the way since then to personalize or customize the home to suit the owner or owners (when there have been more than one over the years), and how they allow the occupants of the home to function. Some people are going to be more capable than others of navigating the home, using the features in the home, having good sensory perception (vision, hearing, and touch), and finding that the home allows them to use it comfortably.
Therefore, there is no way to know with any certainty before we arrive to look at a home what type of improvements we are going to want to make and what parameters we might be facing. Budget is going to factor into what we recommend, but so is the home itself and the needs of the client. We might have features that we like to include a home where there are no particular needs other than aging and making the home safer to use, but even at that, each job is going to be different.
While strategic grab bars, better lighting, wider doorways, lever door hardware, handheld showers, fold-down shower benches, nonslip flooring, easier-to-operate windows, and other features may lead our list of improvements we typically like to use and recommend as often as we can, we won’t know which of these, how many of them, what sizes, styles, or colors, or if something else is what we will end up using until we visit the property and analyze the physical characteristics of the dwelling and the functional needs of the client who lives there.