Calgary retirees Dolores and Remus Aquino, aged 67 and 70, have lived in their spacious two-storey home for the last 30 years. They have no plans to leave, but some of their younger friends are already having trouble climbing stairs. The Aquinos have thought about renovating their home to age in place, but have no idea where to start.
certified aging in place specialist; owner, Aging in Place Calgary
*This is a hypothetical scenario. Any resemblance to real persons is coincidental.
Who do you call?
Accessibility experts and aging specialists
What they say
There are a few places in Calgary that offer low-income seniors housing, but, if you make more than $39,000 a year, you don’t qualify. Most people can’t afford the luxury [of a retirement home] and don’t qualify as low-income. So people have to look inside their homes and make upgrades.
First, is the investment worthwhile? They should invest in renovations proportionate to the length of time they intend to stay in the home. How is their physical mobility? Are there adaptations that should be permanent, requiring renovations, or just smaller adaptations that make day-to-day activities easier? Consider whether they use equipment like a walker or wheelchair. […] Observing how a couple like the Aquinos manages is a first step.
When people start thinking about aging in place, it doesn’t have to be big and overwhelming. For example, you don’t have to widen all your doorways at once. You can do one a year.
At 67 and 70, it’s entirely normal for the Aquinos to have changes in their mobility. These changes are no indication of weakness or frailty. By taking steps now to make their home safer, the Aquinos will be independent for longer. Often, people are afraid to admit they’re aging and won’t make adaptations until something substantial happens, like someone falls and can’t get up until a family member arrives. There is so much shame and stigma in decreasing mobility; this often prevents people from taking the first step of inviting someone to look at their home and plan for adaptations.
The most important thing about aging in place with the Aquinos is they’re still a couple. You want to be sure you’re aging in place where you’re not going to be isolated. If Grandma wants to stay in her home, but she has no friends around there, the streets aren’t very walkable, she’s not able to get out much and shopping is far away, that’s not an aging-in-place-friendly environment. The Aquinos should make sure they have some social supports. This is an important piece that people often overlook.
Common renovations and costs
The most common areas to renovate and cost estimates (excluding installation unless noted):
Considerations: entry by walker or wheelchair. To determine required heights, measure from the ground to the door’s finished threshold; 1 vertical inch requires 1 linear foot.
- Adding a ramp for 30 inches or under ($45/square foot)
- Adding a porch lift for more than 30 inches; includes landscaping ($15,000 to $21,000)
- Widening exterior doorway ($3,000)
- Adding a lift to the front door ($7,000 new; $3,000 to $5,000 used)
Tip: for those who prefer the ramp or lift out of sight, a garage can provide cover.
Considerations: slipping, falling, easy access from wheelchair to shower and toilet
- Adding grab bars around the shower, bathtub or toilet ($50 to $100 each)
- Replacing the toilet for one with a higher seat, typically 18 to 19 inches high ($300 to $500)
- Adding a shower chair ($100) and replacing the fixed shower head with a hand-held unit ($50)
- Cutting an opening in a bathtub to make it easier to step into ($500, plus $1,500 for installation)
- Replacing the bathtub with a shower enclosure ($7,000 to $8,000)
- Replacing the entire bathroom with a wet room with no thresholds; widening the space ($15,000 to $20,000)
Considerations: reaching, extending, bending, height, arthritis
- Replacing upper cupboards by fitting floor-level cupboards with lower, pullout shelves (DIY pull-outs start at $70 per shelf)
- Lowering countertops for wheelchair accessibility (cost of materials and labour depends on project size)
- Replacing cupboard knobs with lever handles for arthritis sufferers ($6 each)
- Adding a single-handle, one-touch faucet ($65)
Considerations: slipping, climbing
- Adding grip strips on hardwood ($200)
- Adding a stair lift:
- a straight stairway from one floor to another ($4,000 to $6,000)
- a two-part stairway with a landing and a 90-degree turn ($12,000)
- Converting stacked closets on two or more floors into an elevator ($15,000 to $40,000)
Other low-cost tips
- At front threshold, use a paint finish with extra grip or add grip strips
- Tape down carpet edges to avoid tripping
- To mitigate potential vision impairment, paint rooms with brighter colours and install brighter light bulbs in the bathroom, front porch, shower, staircase, hallway and beneath kitchen cabinets
- Convert a den, TV room or office on the main floor to a bedroom
- Relocate the washer-dryer to the ground floor
Sources: AccessibleUniversity.com, Carla Berezowski and Nicole Jackson. All dollar figures apply to the Calgary area.
Tax credits and grants for seniors
British Columbia: The Home Renovation Tax Credit for Seniors and Persons with Disabilities covers most aging-in-place adaptations; up to $1,000 per tax year is available and is calculated as 10% of qualifying renovations.
Alberta: The Seniors Home Adaptation and Repair Program offers home equity loans at 2.7% to help finance repairs, adaptations and renovations. A maximum loan of $40,000 is available to individual seniors and couples with an annual total income of $75,000 or less, and who have at least 25% equity in their primary residence.
Saskatchewan: The Saskatchewan Home Repair Program offers a forgivable loan of up to $23,000 for low-income households to install a ramp, lift, bathroom or grab bars, or to widen doorways. A healthcare practitioner must vouch for a senior’s disability. Also, the Special Needs Equipment program loans and repairs wheelchairs and walkers.
Manitoba: The Home Adaptations for Seniors’ Independence Program offers a forgivable loan of up to $3,500 for low-income households if the senior occupant lives in the home for at least six months after adaptations are made.
Ontario: The Healthy Homes Renovation Tax Credit has ended (2016 is the last taxation year that the tax credit is available), but some municipalities offer funding (e.g., Toronto’s program is called Toronto Renovates).
Quebec: The Residential Adaptation Assistance Program pays up to $16,000 for adaptations, including installing an outdoor ramp, widening doors and remodelling bathrooms for those with disabilities. Applicants must supply a report from an occupational therapist. Low-income households may receive higher amounts.
Nova Scotia: Home Adaption for Seniors’ Independence offers a forgivable loan of up to $3,500 if the senior occupant lives in the home for at least six months after adaptations are made.
New Brunswick: The Federal / Provincial Repair Program offers a forgivable loan of up to $10,000 for low-income seniors to adapt their homes. The forgivable portion is based on a sliding income scale and on the amount of repairs required.
Newfoundland: The Home Modification Program pays a forgivable loan of up to $7,500 or a repayable loan of up to $10,000 ($13,000 in Labrador) to install a ramp, handrails, grab bars and other adaptations for people with disabilities and an annual income of $46,500 or less.
P.E.I.: Seniors Safe @ Home Program offers grants of $1,000 to $5,000 to help seniors, with household net incomes no greater than $50,000, improve accessibility.
Yukon: The Accessibility Enhancement Grant program offers homeowners grants of up to $25,000 to improve accessibility.
Nunavut: The Senior Citizen Home Repair Program provides a grant of up to $15,000, plus freight costs. Income eligibility limits apply.
Northwest Territories: Contributing Assistance for Repairs and Enhancements offers a forgivable loan of up to $100,000 for those with disabilities. The forgiveness period depends on the amount of assistance provided.