When a Parent Moves In: How to Get Your House Ready

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Preparing for your parent or other older adult's arrival

If you've decided to move your parent, or another family member into your home, it's time to think about the specifics. Start big -- where will she sleep, how will she get around -- then tackle the details of making your home a comfortable and safe place for her to spend her time.

Just as you'd babyproof to make your home safer for young children, it's a smart move to "elder-proof" your house to make it safer for an aging adult. Not only can taking these steps prevent nasty accidents, it will also make life a lot easier and more comfortable for her.

  • Initial changes Some fixes are easy and inexpensive -- grab bars in the bathroom and nonslip mats under throw rugs, for example. If she's less mobile and your home has stairs, you may decide to put in a more expensive ramp or stair-lift. And all sorts of devices -- from easy-opening door handles to walk-in bathtubs -- are available to make her life in your home much more manageable.
  • Ground rules If you live on one level, you're in luck. For older adults, a one-story home is ideal. If your home has more than one story, it's easiest and safest if her bedroom and bathroom are on the first floor, along with the kitchen, so she won't have to negotiate stairs.
  • Getting around It's also preferable to have no steps or raised thresholds between one room and the next. These potential falling hazards create barriers that can be difficult to negotiate for someone who's frail.

Setting up house

If you have a spare bedroom on the first floor of your house, you're in good shape. If not, perhaps you can convert a dining room, den, or office into a bedroom.

Choosing a space

  • Could an attic or basement room be converted into a bedroom, which could then be used by one of your children while the older adult takes the child's old room on the first floor?
  • There should be enough privacy so everyone feels comfortable. Will you need to add on a room to have enough living space? This could easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars, but it could still be cheaper over the long run -- and might make the person happier -- than an assisted living situation.

As an alternative, if it's a parent you're dealing with, you might want to consider selling your home and your parent's current home and buying a larger place that will make everyone more comfortable. Many families pool their resources in this way to find a better living space for themselves and their elderly parent. If you have siblings, this decision also involves them, of course, because at least part of any future inheritance would be used to purchase the larger home.

SEE ALSO: Find In-Home Care Help Near You

Making it just like home

  • If possible, bring some of the older adult's furniture into your home, like a favorite couch or reclininer. Even if it doesn't fit with your decor, this touch of home will help her feel more at ease from the beginning.
  • If she has a pet, try to make room for it in your house. Giving up a pet could be very difficult, and having a beloved animal will help lessen the loneliness she may feel while getting used to her new environment. Of course, you'll have to consider whether her pet can get along with your pets and children. You may also need to make some cha nges to your home and yard (such as fencing it in) to accommodate a dog.
  • Get her a cell phone to give her a greater sense of independence and help her feel connected to the outside world. This will make it easier for her friends to call her directly, without bothering other family members. And it's a good way for her to get help in an emergency. An extra line with its own number will cost as little as $10 a month if you already have a cell phone plan. If she isn't adept with cell phones, the handset could be programmed so she only has to touch one key (say, the 1 key) to call you and a different key to call the local police department.

How to Make Your Home Safer for an Elderly Loved One

As people age, they need more lighting, and obstacles or hazards should be cleared out of their way or made safe, says Donna Schempp, program director for Family Caregiver Alliance in San Francisco. Falls can be very dangerous for older adults and can result in a major injury. Some steps to take to keep an older adult safe:

  • Anti-slip mats. These mats, often made of rubber or a similar material, fit under throw rugs to increase traction, greatly decreasing the chances of a fall. Of course, you can also solve the problem by simply removing throw rugs -- as long as you don't have slick, waxed wood floors, which also can be a hazard.
  • Furniture bumpers. Clear plastic bumpers fit over sharp furniture corners to soften the edges. Alternatively, remove sharp-edged furniture from the room. Unsteady chairs should be replaced as well.
  • Bins for obstacles. If you're used to leaving toys and other objects lying on the floor, you'll need to start picking them up. Pick a spot that's out of the way and set up a large basket to serve as a catchall for things that tend to end up on the floor.
  • Good lighting. Not just the rooms in your house need to be well lit: Make sure walkw ays, hallways, and entryways are illuminated, too. Lighting should be bright but not harsh or blinding.
  • Modifications for a wheelchair. If your new housemate uses a wheelchair (or may need one soon), check that the doorways and hallways of your home will be wide enough for her to get around. Wheelchairs require a minimum of 32 inches -- 36 inches is recommended. Hallways should be at least 36 inches wide. If possible, there should be extra floor space so a wheelchair can turn around. It takes about 60 inches of space for someone in a wheelchair to make a 180-degree turn.
  • Door and window sensors. If she has Alzheimer's and tends to wander off, you may need either special door locks that will keep doors shut or chimes to alert you to her attempts to leave the house. Window sensors with remote alarms are also available.
  • Special doorknobs and window pulls. Older adults may not have the hand or arm strength to open a door using a regular knob. Arthritis can rob even a relatively strong person of the ability to grasp something hard enough to turn it. Consider replacing conventional knobs with easier-to-use lever door handles -- or look into an automatic door opener that opens and closes with the touch of a button or by voice activation (around $1,500). Search the Internet by typing automatic door opener. You can also find products that make opening windows easier.
  • Accessible shelving. As people get older, the simple act of bending down or reaching up can become an ordeal. If possible, put extra shelves in closets, pantries, or cabinets at heights an older adult can reach without a struggle. If she's in a wheelchair, or you anticipate she may be soon, adjustable brackets will enable you to change the height as needed.

Other changes inside and out

Outside the house and between stories

  • Ramps. If there are steps leading to the entrance to your home, can she handle them? If not, you may need to put in a ramp. They start at about $400 for a 4-foot ramp that's 36 inches wide; an 8-foot ramp is about $800. Do a search using the keywords home ramp.
  • Chair lifts. If you can't put her on the first floor and she doesn't do well with stairs, consider an electric stair-climbing chair lift. They generally cost between $1,500 and $4,000. Another option is a home elevator or a platform lift to take her up and down. The cost of home elevators varies widely, but you can expect to pay $15,000 or more. You can find more information by searching the keywords stair lifts or home elevators.

In the bathroom

  • Grab bars and adhesive strips. Grab bars in the tub or shower and besid e the toilet will help her lift and lower herself. These are inexpensive ($40 to $140), and they're potential lifesavers when it comes to preventing falls. Low-cost no-slip adhesive strips decrease the risk of slippery bathroom areas and steps. Other bathroom additions to consider:
  • Walk-in bathtub. These roundish tubs have a door that opens so she doesn't have to step over the side to get into the tub. Do a search for these by typing walk-in bathtub.
  • Bath lift. A person sits in this tub-level chair and uses a waterproof remote to lower herself into the tub. The chair then raises her back up after the bath. Some models recline and have other features ($500 to $2,000).
  • Anti-scalding devices. These inexpensive devices (about $40) automatically turn off the water if it gets too hot. They can easily be installed in the bathroom sink, shower, tub, or kitchen sink. An alternative solution: Turn down the thermostat on your hot-water heater so the water never gets above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the bedroom

  • Temperature controls. An older adult may like it a lot warmer than the rest of the family. To keep everyone comfortable and your utility bills under control, it's best to have a separate thermostat in her bedroom. If that isn't feasible, a portable space heater may keep her comfortable.

Monitors and alarm systems

  • Baby monitors and walkie-talkies. Sometimes a simple device can make a huge difference. If an older adult's room isn't near yours, for example, an audio or video monitor can save you a lot of trips back and forth. (Obviously, you have to consider her need for privacy, so this is something the two of you will need to discuss beforehand.) A two-way walkie-talkie system can help you easily communicate with her anywhere in the house.
  • Personal emergency response system. If you're going to be out a lot and worry about her being alone, you can sign her up for a personal emergency response system, or PERS. (See our PERS buying guide .) These systems, which work through a console that plugs into your phone line, enable an older adult to summon emergency help with the push of a button.

A live operator at an emergency response center will respond to her call, sending a paramedic or ambulance, if necessary, or, if it's a minor problem, contacting you or a neighbor to check in on her. These systems can be rented on a monthly basis from the American Red Cross (through Lifeline Systems) and from individual providers. They generally cost $25 to $35 a month for the ongoing serv ice, which is available 24/7, 365 days a year.

  • Wrist monitors . These devices can record a person's heart rate, blood pressure, and stress level and automatically send a signal to your cell phone or PDA if the measurements get dangerously low or high (from $1,000).
  • TV silencer. For older adults with hearing problems, this device automatically mutes the TV, stereo, or DVD player whenever the phone rings, so she won't miss important calls.

Two big-ticket items that might be worth the money

  • Three- or four-wheeled scooter or golf cart. These help older adults get around outside if they're too weak or unstable to walk. They vary widely in size and price, from about $350 to $3,000. Golf carts generally cost $4,000 and up. Scooters and carts can also be rented weekly or monthly. Do a search using the keywords electric scooter or golf cart.
  • Hospital bed or adjustable bed. These enable you to raise or lower the head and knee area of the bed, as well as the level of the entire bed, either electronically or through the use of hand cranks. The flexibility of these beds makes life easier and more comfortable for someone who's ailing. They generally cost $500 and up. You can find them by doing an Internet search using the keywords home hospital bed or adjustable bed.


SEE ALSO: Find In-Home Care Help Near You

Mard Naman

Mard Naman has written extensively on health, housing, and real estate issues for San Francisco magazine, Diablo magazine, the Institutional Real Estate Letter, and other publications. See full bio

about 4 years, said...

Very thorough overview of things to consider and adapt if possible

over 4 years, said...

Special doorknobs and window pulls are so important for folk with arthritis, and how much better to put them in/on ahead of time. Accessible shelving - a bain in my life as I am on the short side in any case! So important.

over 5 years, said...

I need suggestions. We need some sort offer barrier but mom uses a walker and pet gates have tiny openings plus that floor piece on apet gate she will have to hurdle. There is a huge arch with no door for her room, now covered with nice heavy drapes for privacy. The big problem the dogs are going in and out all day and leaving little surprises on her floor. I could kennel my dogs all day, but doesn't seemlike a good option. Trying to think of some sort of partition she may move easily to enter her room? Ugh short of having a contractor some in and install doors, I can't think of a good solution for everyone. Ps. Otherwise she LOVES this space, large, close to bathroom, has her private living area in the next room. Please tell meif you have dealt with anything similar?

over 5 years, said...

Very very much! I could have used MANY of these ideas when I was the caregiver for the neighbor, there all excellent ideas!

over 6 years, said...

Question: my basement is concrete slab with laminate flooring. I am moving my mother into this bottom floor and am wondering if she would fall, landing on this hard surface could cause a break. Would I be better off wall to wall carpeting or leave the laminate flooring?

over 6 years, said...

Before we moved my father in law in, we put in a ramp,took out a wall to make room for a ramp into the family room, refit the bathroom with a pedastool sink for his scooter, walk in shower and grab bars. my sister inlaw thinks this is dumb! because of resale value, well we did all this so he can get around, not for upgrades. we turned the living room into his bedroom. all is easy access, for him and we spend all our time together. i didnt want him in a seperate living space. he enjoys the company, and activities we do .

almost 7 years, said...

I would never recommend a walk-in bathtub for anyone. You have to open the door, sit down and shut the door, then wait for the water to fill up around you, then when you're finished, you have to wait for the water to drain away - getting colder and colder while you wait - before you can open the door and get out.

almost 7 years, said...

I lived through this and wrote a book with Shira Block called "When Your Parent Moves In" It covers everything in this difficult family dynamic!

almost 7 years, said...

You may want to verify that turning down the water heater temperature to just 120 Deg F won't create conditions for Legionairre's Disease!

over 7 years, said...

One client had an interesting idea for a chair rail. Rather than putting up decorative trim, the client had a more functional rail made, which was used on long stretches of wall around the house. In this case, the rail was used along the living room and in hall areas. Standing back, it looks like woodworked trim, but up close it's much more functional. It serves as a sturdy hand-rail or banister, and also as wall protection against bumps by the wheelchair or walker. The idea was taken from the bumper rails used in some nursing homes and many hospitals, and is fairly simple to install. This rail was made from just 2-by-4's and smooth... 1-by-6 lumber. The 2-by-4's were put up first, and then the smoothed 1-by-6's were firmly attached over them with their underside flush with the bottom of the 2-by-4. The 2-by-4 spacer provided enough distance from the wall so that fingers weren't pinched when grabbing the rail. The whole thing is solid, with the lumber fastened into wall studs. In the photo, the trim was ended at the corner, but it could easily be taken around corners. Just remember to sooth off or bevel everything so the corners aren't sharp. Picture here: http://eldercarenotebook.blogspot.com/2011/03/safety-chair-rails.html

over 7 years, said...

Happy to see this article written. It's going to be helpful for children of aging adults. And even though it may sound odd, "elderly-proofing" your home requires some thought. I work with a company called Juvo and they offer products that are designed specifically for aging adults and anyone that needs a little assistance around the house. I'm sure anyone in this situation would find their products useful. Check them out if you get a chance - http://www.juvoproducts.com/

over 7 years, said...

Thank you so much for the info in this article. My mother is getting frail and Altzimers has set in. Reading the specific information within your article reduced a lot of the anxioty I had for getting my home ready for her to move in. My wife's mother very well may move in also. She's 88 years and my mother is 83 years. We'll keep a look-out for more helpful articles on Caring.com! -Kirk

over 7 years, said...

It was specific, not general. I can add the non-slip bath strips, grab bars, and turn down the hot water heater to 120 degrees.

over 7 years, said...

One of the big things is to give your relative some privacy if you can...a little part of the house that is just for them so they won't feel so much like they are imposing on your space.

over 7 years, said...

You can learn more about home improvements designed to maximize senior independence in their homes from this article from the HUD federal agency, which also points seniors to home improvement resources suggested by AARP. The National Association of Home Builders has even developed a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist program to identify and refer home improvement specialists trained in: * The unique needs of seniors * Home modifications that can help seniors continue living independently * Common remodeling projects * Solutions to common barriers facing seniors More information about that program is available on the AARP Web site. Many communities have nonprofits that can help retrofit your house for safety at reduced or no cost. (Usually, those with major disabilities and/or financial limitations are the best candidates for free assistance). Government agencies for seniors are the best resources for finding these nonprofits.