Home Modifications for Seniors Gone Wrong

Home Modifications for Seniors Gone Wrong

How to Avoid the Common Pitfalls

The decision to age in place triggers a chain of events for many seniors that often leads to home modifications. From levelling flooring to providing an alternative for the stairs, home modifications can be critical to seniors’ safety and comfort as they age. While these modifications can be crucial, so is planning for them and knowing what to avoid. After all, as with any renovation project, the secret to success is in the planning. Though you can’t plan for everything, and you may hit a speedbump here or come across a red light there, there’s one particular way to make sure your modifications stay on-track: hiring a home modifications specialist. 

Just as you might hire construction workers and installers, accessibility experts can weigh in on options to help streamline the planning process, ensuring the results meet residents’ needs. However, whether you hire an expert or not, it’s always good to know what could go wrong, so we spoke to someone in the know to find out the pitfalls he’s seen in the past.

Home modifications: the professionals you’ll need

From designers to contractors and installers, a whole range of technicians will need to traipse in and out of your house to get your home modifications set up. However, before anyone so much as lifts a hammer or even a pencil, some different professionals may well be required: your healthcare team, including an Occupational Therapist, can assess your home and needs to provide a futureproof plan. Invaluable expertise in identifying current and future potential hazards makes these professionals a must in your planning process to ensure you’re making the right investments, long-term.

Home modifications: the main areas of a house targeted

Though the home modifications made and areas targeted will all depend on an individual’s needs, some areas of a house tend to be more hazardous than others – two of which are bathrooms and stairs. Eliminating slips, trips and falls in these two main areas are key to aging in place safely, and often require solutions to be carefully chosen with the particular senior and their home in mind. Once chosen, designs are drawn up of how they will be implemented, after which the work begins… but it doesn’t always go quite as expected, as Lonnie McInnis knows all too well.

Lonnie McInnis on Home Modifications Gone Wrong

A home modifications expert, Lonnie McInnis has spent many years providing invaluable expertise to clients across the board. Having pretty much seen it all, he warns of potential missteps, which he highlights “can be amplified when the health and safety of the client are involved”. Here are the main ones he warns against so that seniors planning their home modifications know what to look out for:

Problematic stairlift installations

Until you get one fitted, problems with stairlift installations are something not many people have thought about. However, though most installations go to plan, helping seniors navigate their stairs safely for years to come, Lorrie warns of some instances where that’s simply not the case:

1. Insufficient space

Not for the installation itself (though that’s definitely important too) – for its users to get in and out of the chair safely should they need to transfer from a wheelchair, need help from a carer, or just a bit of space to turn around. Having to sit back into a chair at the top of the stairs, especially for users with a balance, strength or pain-related disability, could mean they no-longer feel safe using their stairlift, rendering it ultimately unusable.

2. Wrong length of Rail

Though stairlifts are supposed to be designed to fit your stairs, sometimes stairlift rails become more of a hinderance than a help. For any number of reasons, they may be too long or short, which leads to them failing to solve the problem of the stairs (by stopping half-way up) or causing more mobility problems around the home (by blocking access to doors, especially for those whose mobility is already limited).

3. Maximum weight limits

When bariatric seniors are sold a standard stair glide, they’re left with more of a safety hazard than a solution.

And how about the dementia client who would forget to get off the lift?” Lonnie concludes.

The main blunders made when modifying washrooms

Something about the mixture between piping, water and slippery surfaces makes bathrooms ripe for disaster, so here are some of the most memorable mishaps Lorrie has had to deal with:

  • Water being places it shouldn’t once the work is (supposedly) done: on the floor, in the basement, in neighbour’s apartment.
  • Water being the wrong temperature, whether burning, freezing or fluctuating between the two with no middle ground. 
  • A toilet installed on the shower ramp. 
  • A toilet that’s too high, low or short (not elongated)
  • Decorative pedestals that block accessibility.
  • Suction grab bars or grab bars with no backing, which are likely to fall off the wall when any pressure is applied.

After seeing all these mishaps, Lonnie has the following advice: “The bottom line is that your contractor needs to know how the equipment provided will interface with your needs; without that knowledge there could be costly and dangerous consequences”.

Don’t get scared off!

Though there are a lot of horror stories out there of home modifications for seniors (and everyone else, for that matter), gone wrong, the moral of the story here is to make sure you’re involved, every step of the way. Though you don’t need to inspect every drawing or okay every nail, being aware of what’s being done will mean you can stop any disaster in its tracks, rerouting it so that your home is just the way you want and need it to be by the time your contractors are done.

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