- DR. MARION'S METHOD
- CAREGIVER TRAINING
Honey, I Shrunk the Den
Nina Gruen and her husband, Claude, own a successful economic and market strategy firm in San Francisco. They’re constantly on the go, juggling work, family and a packed social life. Nina is years away from retirement, but that hasn’t stopped her from thinking about it.
“I’ve always been a realist, and I don’t plan on stopping at this point,” she says.
So last year when the couple decided to downsize, selling their El Cerrito home for a condo in the heard of San Francisco, Gruen made sure the new place would meet their needs now and 10 or even 20 years down the road. The Gruens purchased two adjacent units before the interior walls were erected in place, permitting them to design the unit to fit their specific needs.
It’s something a growing number of empty nesters are considering for themselves or their aging parents – how to customize a space to fit both immediate and long-term needs. “To have the foresight to do these things now, whether for yourself or for your parents, really helps,” says Marion Somers, Ph.D., a geriatric care manager and author of Elder Care Made Easier (Addicus Books, 2006). Somers suggests considering four key factors before a big move to smaller quarters.
ACCESIBILITY – Last year Nina Gruen had hip surgery, which could have made life with stairs complicated. Of course, her 22nd-floor condo is served by an elevator – a requirement Gruen had for any building they considered. She wanted to make sure she could get in and out.
It’s something Somers also considers with her clients. When looking at a new property, accessibility is essential. There must be an elevator in a condo or apartment building; if not, consider only ground-level units. The same goes for houses – they should be single story or at least have a first-floor master suite.
LOCATION – The Gruens’ ultimate goal was simple: They wanted to be near all the activities they love – the opera, the ballet, the museums. “Location was a big consideration,” she says.
“You need to make sure that location works with your interests,” Somers agrees. “How close do you want to be to your children? Do you want to go to events? Be in a religious group? Enjoy entertainment? I want my clients having a social life other than going to doctors’ appointments.”
MOBILITY – Being able to move freely from one room to another is something we usually take for granted. But Somers says it can quickly become a struggle.
“Things change when you’re in a wheelchair,” she says. The thresholds between rooms become small mountains. Thick carpet can be impossible to navigate. And narrow halls and doorways can effectively close off entire portions of the home.
To avoid this, look for zero-rise thresholds. They make it easier to walk – or roll – between rooms. Check if halls and doorways are wide enough for a wheelchair to navigate. Somers also suggests installing wood floors, which are easy to roll over. They also have more give than tile, so they’re easier on the knees when walking. Plus, says Somers, “They look great.”
ADAPTABILITY – Most condos have only one door; the Gruens’ has two. “If we ever need a caretaker, they can have their own entrance,” she says. That sort of flexibility ensures that Gruen and her husband can enjoy their space for as long as they choose.
Somers says older adults generally want to remain in familiar settings as long as they can. An adaptable space – such as a garage that can become a caregiver suite – secondary access and an open floor plan help to make that easier.
“These are things that people can and should think about,” Somers says.
Gruen, for one, is glad that she and her husband did just that. “We downsized our home,” she says, “but we upgraded our lives.”
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