When news that the first deaths in America from the novel coronavirus came among a cluster of people living in a retirement village in Washington state, it should have come as no surprise.
Contrary to President Donald Trump’s suggestion that if you get sick, you should just stay home and hang around the house until you get better, that was not an option for those unfortunate souls. "Home" is where they contracted the deadly virus.
What if you could remodel your home and stay out of group living? It’s not as hard or as expensive as one might think, and Santa Fe remodelers know how to do it.
The spectrum of remodeling options for what’s called "aging in place" is wide. They run from the simple and obvious to the complex and costly, but all make sense. They also don’t need to be done all at the same time but can be phased in over the years.
With the average cost of high-quality assisted living at $80,000 a year, compared to in-home health and day care at half the cost, remodeling your home can save money in the long run.
Start with simple stuff. Strength in our hands weakens as we age, so change doorknobs to levers. Same with kitchen and bath faucets. Short handles that open casement windows can be switched to longer ones for more leverage. Switching to LED lightbulbs, with super-long lives, saves energy and keeps the ladder in the garage.
The next thing to go is our equilibrium and depth perception. A simple fall can break bones. Eliminate elevation changes, even as short at 4 inches, like from a portal to a sidewalk. As our stride shortens and shuffling begins, get rid of rugs and carpets in favor of smooth, level surfaces. Indoor air quality also is improved; smooth floors are easier to keep clean.
Analyze furniture arrangements to make sure solid, stable pieces along traffic patterns are within reach. Installing handrails down long hallways can be done in an afternoon. If we do fall and break a hip, we might need a wheelchair or walker, which means doors to bedrooms and bathrooms may need to be widened. Standard bedroom doors are 30 inches wide, but 36 inches is the optimal width.
There are also not-so-simple fixes, but remodeling professionals are up for the task.
If a wheelchair becomes a permanent reality, remodeling kitchens and baths will be necessary. Being able to “drive under” a bath vanity, kitchen sink or stovetop can be accomplished. Moving plugs and switches from backs of countertops to sides of cabinets can be done. Installing higher toilets surrounded by grab bars, changing tubs to “drive in” showers with grab bars and making sure turning radiuses are wide enough to maneuver are still cost-effective changes.
If it comes to the point where constant care is required, changing an area of the home to an efficiency apartment for live-in caregivers might still be cheaper than moving into an assisted living facility.
If our homes are big enough, and many Santa Fe homes are, we can even carve out enough space for a completely remodeled two-bedroom accessory dwelling unit designed for maximum accessibility. To pay for the remodeling project, the balance of the home can be rented to a young family struggling to find an affordable home.
Moving into assisted living is never an easy decision for an individual or their families. The physical nature of one’s existing home and its accessibility should not be the driving factor in that decision. When viruses spread and our doctors advise us to stay home and get well, it’s nice to have our own homes to go back to.