It is well known by now, thanks to the findings by AARP and others, that people would prefer to live out their years in the comfort of their own homes. And why not? Our homes are full of the memories that we created through the years. And, in many cases, where we raised our children. They are an important part of our personal story.
However, the challenges of aging can be especially evident in a multi-story home. Thankfully, these challenges aren’t impossible to overcome!
Let’s examine five things that need consideration in preparation for aging in place in a multi-story home.
Is there a budget established for any necessary equipment or home modifications?
First of all, cost is a very important consideration up front. Proper preparation of your home for a safe and comfortable life at home is most likely going to require an investment. Some options will be much less expensive than others. In the end, it all comes down to need, budget, and feasibility.
Right now is the time to start determining a budget for aging in place, and adjusting your financial situation accordingly to account for this – if the desire to age at home exists.
Is there a need to get upstairs, and if so, how often?
This question may seem silly at first, but answering it really is critical to formulating a practical plan moving forward. If, for instance, your bedroom is upstairs, then obviously, safely getting up and down the stairs on a regular basis is very important.
In other cases, perhaps the only level accessed by stairs is the basement. In which case, one probably doesn’t need constant access to. Determining the answer to this question, and figuring out how important multi-level access is will help to answer the next questions.
Can you relocate downstairs?
If the primary bedroom is on another level of your home, it may be feasible to relocate the bedroom to the main living floor. This can help avoid potential difficulties of navigating the stairs on a regular basis. If relocation of the bedroom is possible, then consider all potential modifications that may need to be completed before the relocation:
- Do doorways need to be widened?
- Is there bathroom access from the new room?
- Does the bathroom need any modifications, such as a lower vanity?
- If there is a tub, does this need to be modified at all to lessen barriers to access, such as installing a floor level shower?
Completing any needed modifications prior to the relocation will ensure that not only the bedroom, but the bathroom and general access to and from the new room is easy, and ready to move into without having to eventually make future changes and modifications.
Will a stair lift work for your multi-story home?
If the bedroom is on a different level than the main living area, another relatively simple option is to install a stair lift on the home’s stairway to be able to achieve safe and reliable access to and from the upper levels of the home.
A stair lift only requires a fraction of the investment in time and money needed to make major renovations and modifications to the multi-story home to achieve one floor living.
Before purchasing a stair lift, several key issues need to be considered:
- Is the person able to get to the stairlift under their own power? Are they able to transfer to the seat, use the toggle switch to control the stair lift’s motion, and safely exit the stairlift at the top of the stairs?
- Are the home’s stairs straight from bottom to top? Or, are there curves, landings, turns, or any features other than straight? This is only a consideration in terms of cost. A turning or curving staircase will most likely require a custom curve stair lift to be designed specifically for those particular stairs. A stair lift for straight stairs costs a little less, because there is no custom fabrication in involved.
- If the decision is made to purchase a stair lift, it is important to purchase from a local, reputable, and licensed stair lift installation company. Generally, they will conduct a free evaluation of your home, and then install only the equipment that you need. Using a local company is very important, should you ever have an issue arise.
Purchasing a stair lift could be an excellent investment depending on the circumstances and the needs of the person who would be using it.
Is there room to install an elevator or VPL?
If the person is confined to a wheelchair or other mobility device, aging in place can still be an option! Other lifting devices such as an elevator or Vertical Platform Lift (VPL) can provide safe vertical access for people and their mobility devices together. The options can become rather expensive. The price of the VPL is affected by the type of equipment needed and how many options it has. But, such a modification is still most likely less expensive than an assisted living facility. Plus, you get to keep the home you love!
Some things to consider:
How many floors will the homeowner need to access?
The maximum distance a vertical platform lift can travel is 14 feet. This means that most likely it can only access two floors (ex. First floor and second floor. Or, basement and main floor.) If more floors are required a residential elevator must be installed.
Modifications required for installation
- An elevator must have a shaft built. If there is not room inside the home, then a shaft can be added to the exterior of the house.
- A VPL does not always have to be enclosed. It can go outside to access second floor porches or inside up to a balcony. Sometimes, it must be enclosed like a traditional elevator.
- Structural support: A VPL is required to be anchored into concrete or have an engineer sign off that the foundation of the home can support the weight.
- An elevator is required to have a pit (a sunken area below the elevator). Sometimes this can require a separate plumbing drain in the pit also.
Consult a professional elevator or VPL installer for specific details, requirements, possible modifications, and local ordinances.
With advances in technology, aging in place safely and comfortably at home is a very attainable goal. Having a multi-story home no longer presents an obstacle to this goal, either. As with any other important project, planning and proper preparation is critical. By understanding your options, and working toward your goal starting today, you too can achieve a long, happy, healthy life in your multi-story home!