This morning, I was out running errands and drove by several newer homes, most of them large and beautiful structures with lovely landscaping. I noticed, however, that almost all of these new homes had several steps to climb at the entrance.
I thought back to the time that Mr. AOW was in the nursing home following a devastating brain hemorrhage at the age of fifty-nine. Needless to say, Mr. AOW was the youngest resident of the nursing home.
In part because most people at my husband's age do not live in a handicapped-friendly home, the social worker approached me to discuss the feasibility of bringing my husband home. She asked three specific questions:
1. "How many steps are there to get into your home?"
2. " Is there enough space for a wheelchair ramp with the proper slope from the street or driveway to the front door? Townhouses preclude your husband from wheelchair access. You may need to move to a condominium."
3. " Do you have a bedroom and a bathroom on the first floor?"
Fortunately, Mr. AOW and I live in an older home — quite small, but practical. The designer-builder so long ago had the foresight to design this old house to be a lifetime residence. Therefore, I could answer all of the social worker's questions satisfactorily, that is, in a way that did not preclude my husband's return home.
Although I have often complained about the many quirks of this house in which Mr. AOW and I have lived for over thirty years, I am so grateful that my family had the wisdom to buy this old house. In fact, at the time of purchase, they had a medical reason for buying this property: my five-year-old cousin had osteogenesis imperfecta and was often laid up or on crutches. Many a time, he was confined to a hospital bed in the easily accessible, spacious living room of this old house, just as Mr. AOW is confined to a hospital bed here. Not aesthetically pleasing, of course, but practical and efficient. The kitchen is but a few steps away!
Now, back to the title of this post. If people really do plan to age in place, they should look at the design of their home with a critical eye. Otherwise, they may find themselves having to divest themselves of their home in a hurry if a medical crisis arises. Furthermore, it is a harsh fact of life that if we live long enough, each and every one of us will become disabled to one extent or another. Plan ahead — particularly in this volatile housing market.
Addendum: Also take a critical look at the bathroom doors in your home. Most bathroom doors are much narrower than other doors, and that lack of width for entry into the necessary room can cause no end of grief. Very narrow doors will not accommodate a walker or other mobility aid! This old house has a bathroom entry as wide as the other doorways. Another blessing!