Building A New House To Help Care For An Aging Parent? What Should You Keep In Mind?

Posted on: 1 April 2016

If you're like many Americans, you may find yourself caught in the "sandwich generation" -- responsible for the care and raising of your young children while also taking on responsibility for an aging parent or parents. One way many adult children have coped with this dilemma is by building or purchasing a home that includes handicap-accessible doorways and other elements that can allow you to more easily care for and monitor your parent within the comfort of your own home. Read on to learn more about universal design and some elements that can ensure that your transition from child to caregiver is a seamless one.

What is "universal design"?

Universal design is a building principle that focuses on making homes, buildings, and other public areas handicap-accessible, functional, and beautiful. If you opt to have your home constructed using universal design, you can expect wider doorways and hallways (to accommodate a wheelchair or walker), lower countertops, cabinets with pull-out shelves, higher toilet seats, and other elements to make this home "universally" accessible to all. Many newly-constructed public buildings (from schools to libraries to government centers) utilize universal design principles.

Employing universal design should help keep your home looking streamlined rather than institutional, and -- with an ever-aging Baby Boomer population -- can help increase your home's value upon resale as older Americans look for their "forever" home or those in the younger generations seek homes that will accommodate a multi-generational household.

What are some ways you can equip your home to be handicap-accessible while still remaining functional and aesthetically pleasing?

Your architect may suggest some of the following additions or modifications to help you more easily care for your parent.

  • Walk-in bathtubs

Maintaining independence -- even while living with a child or caretaker -- is vitally important for many adults, and installing bathroom appliances that will help your parent tend to his or her own personal hygiene needs can ensure that he or she remains independent for as long as possible. For those with mobility or balance issues that can make solo bathing or showering dangerous, a walk-in bathtub may be an ideal solution.

These bathtubs are designed with a door that swings open wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair and then closes with a watertight seal. If your parent doesn't have a wheelchair, he or she can use a fold-down seat within the bathtub to either bathe or shower. Once your parent is done bathing, he or she can pull a larger-than-normal drain plug that will allow the tub to drain within just a few seconds, preventing your parent from sitting there shivering while the water level lowers enough to allow the tub door to open.

  • Accessible outdoor ramps or stair lifts

While universal design often focuses on indoor elements that will improve the quality of life for handicapped individuals, ensuring easy access from the outside to the inside of the home is also key. This doesn't always mean a single-level or stair-free home, but may mean the installation of gently-sloped ramps, wide entry doors from the garage, or a lowered curb between your sidewalk and the street.

If your home is constructed on a hill in such a way that may make ramps too steep for your parent to navigate with a walker or wheelchair, a motorized stair lift can help solve this issue. These lifts include a comfortable seat attached to a sturdy railing and powered by a motor -- with the flip of a switch, your parent can move up or down the stairs without exerting any effort or risking a dangerous fall. While most stair lifts are designed for indoor use, the addition of a waterproof motor housing and a water-resistant padded seat can help a stair lift easily transition for use outdoors.

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