PART IV My 80-year-old Stay-at-Home Mom

We moved into a 1938 house that had not been updated for decades, and to accommodate our needs we had to do some remodeling. Most urgently, we needed a larger bathroom for Mom’s suite and a whole new bathroom for what would be our master suite.

We chose a remodeler who qualified as a Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist (CAPS). The National Association of Home Builders started to train professionals in senior housing after the AARP got results from a survey that showed most people over 45 would prefer to stay in their homes rather than move to a retirement community.

Our remodeler, Gregory Miedema (Dakota Builders), advised us to first talk to an interior designer who also had trained for the designation CAPS. I asked Gayle Bouché to walk through the house with our architectural drawings in the first draft. Since she worked for a social service agency, she could not charge us. However, because we would not have qualified for her agency’s services, we made a donation to the organization. Today there are more designers (and architects) who are CAPS-trained.

I learned a lot from her, including that some of my best intentions had been misguided.

For example: I wanted a clear glass wall for Mom’s curb-less (wheel-in) shower so someone could watch her. Even with very thick glass, this would have been dangerous as long as she was still walking in on her own. Though the glass would not easily break, she might become disoriented and fall.

I realized, too, that I had overlooked her desire for privacy. So instead we made an archway to separate the shower space from the rest of the room. I had two, water-resistant fabric panels sewn for the extra-high opening. The caregivers could easily peek between these curtains (or look in the mirror on the opposite wall) to make sure Mom was all right.

Nor had I foreseen a latter stage of her life when she did not want to take showers at all. Fortunately, we had made the shower space five feet wide, and several times the caregiver or I had to get in there with her.

Another thing I learned about “senior showers” is that it makes sense to put the faucets and temperature controls just inside the entry, far from the shower head, so you don’t have to be in the flow when you turn on the water. That eliminates the possibility of scalding oneself or getting a full-body freeze.

Another suggestion the designer made was to eliminate one of the closets. In her bedroom there was one near the exit to a back hallway, and another across from the bath. Gayle’s concern was that Mom would forget which closet was for what, and would imagine she had lost things. We simply made the closet near the bath a little bigger by adding some of the other closet’s space. (We spared a little for a niche on our side of the wall; it holds a chest of drawers for storage in our new bath.)

There will be one more post in this series.

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