Renovating for Mom or Dad

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Knowing your options can lighten the load for everyone. When you start to plan, carefully assess your parents’ personal care requirements today and try to anticipate what they might need in the future. Consider mobility; are they stable on their feet? Can they handle stairs? Do they need assistive devices and is there room? Is there space for a live-in caregiver or support worker?

Try to determine your parents’ level of interest in being totally independent versus wanting to share space, time or meals with the family. Look critically at the size and layout of your available space. Is your home near services that they will need? What’s the proximity to doctors, clinics, the dentist and other eldercare services? Have you thought about their participation in community events and activities? What are they giving up and what opportunities are there for involvement in your area? Is there a way you can alert the community to welcome your parents; neighbours, a local community centre, church and your social support group?

Is there a social support network? Will other family members find it easy to come and visit? Evaluate the amount of space your parents need to entertain their own friends; their need for transportation to do errands; parking; access to transit; and special needs such as smoking versus a non-smoking household.

Relocation help is available from family members or professionals to help downscale, sell, store and distribute possessions. Be sure to involve your parents in planning the move. Hire a reputable moving company to make the transfer as smooth as possible.

Choose your team

It is essential that all participants be on the same side. Be sure you have:

  • your family and extended family’s commitment to the project, their support and active willingness to participate
  • approval of the family doctor and specialists
  • contacts in social services, community care and private care to help prepare for changes, provide support and activities such as day programs or friendly visiting
  • an architect to design the space and a contractor to implement the construction
  • information on vendors of special equipment such as stair lifters
  • a sympathetic bank manager

Do the math

Costs can vary enormously in a project like this based on the design and scope. If, for example, a basement apartment is already in place, it may only require modification. The amortized cost of renovations plus monthly care costs might be about the same as a retirement home rental.

As with all major projects, obtain three written estimates. Do your homework in regards to zoning and building permits. It’s important to be very clear on who does what:

  • Your architect translates your vision into blueprints and secures all permits.
  • The contractor will manage all trades, schedules and costs and prevent overruns and delays.
  • Have alternate plans in mind and be flexible to change.
  • Compare the costs of renovation, care and ongoing maintenance to alternatives such as home care, a retirement home or nursing home.

You may be able to access funds in advance by way of a loan, line of credit or second mortgage. Investigate property tax credits, grants such as CMHC’s Home Adaptations for Seniors or Residential Rehabilitation Assistance programs, senior supplements such as GAINS and veterans funds. Find out about provincial funding programs for subsidies on assistive devices. In Ontario, for instance, you can apply to the Ontario Assistive Devices Programs via the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (http://www.health.gov.on.ca).

Keep in touch

Remember that your parents’ needs will change over time, especially due to illness or sudden changes in their health or the health of a spouse.

Be honest about care; if it becomes too heavy, maybe an accredited facility can best provide what’s needed, rather than struggling at home. Be sure your parents have independent assessments at regular intervals, perhaps by an occupational therapist or caseworker from a nursing agency of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. They might notice changes that you’ve missed and be able to make suggestions. 

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About Pat M. Irwin, BA, CSA

Pat M. Irwin, BA, CSA is president of ElderCareCanada and has been recently certified as an Eldercare Mediator by the Faculty of Law, University of Windsor. Visit www.eldercarecanada.ca

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