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Aging in Place a viable option for seniors

Norbert and Janine Klatt have enjoyed living in Calgary's Edgemont community for 20 years. They know the neighbours and love being close to the grocery, pharmacy and gas station. Before COVID-19, the couple enjoyed travelling, so being close to the airport has been important too.

As they enter their retirement years, the Klatts (Norbert is 60, Janine is 59) have explored the idea of 'aging in place' so they can stay in their family home another 20 years. Enter Annabelle Mastalic, a Certified Living in Place professional and owner of ADM Interiors. With her help, the Klatts took on a home renovation project, upgrading the kitchen and bathroom in a way that will work with the couple as they age.

“Kitchens that were built 20 years ago had shelving, so you’re always bending down," said Norbert. "Now we put drawers beneath the countertops, put in a cooktop instead of the stove and added a built-in oven so it’s a little higher off the ground. The microwave is right above it, so now everything is at the height you need to minimize bending. If you have to be in a wheelchair for some reason, you can still use these appliances.”

Living in place has become a hot topic over the past few years, as Alberta’s demographics (and that of Canada’s) shift to an older population. According to Alberta government projections, the province’s senior population is expected to hit one million by the year 2035, doubling the number of seniors from today.

The pandemic has likewise caused many seniors to question whether they can stay at home instead of moving to a care facility. Concern over exposure to the virus has many wanting to retrofit their homes so they can stay much longer.

A nurse for 17 years prior, Mastalic made a career change by studying interior decorating at Mount Royal University and then getting a Certified Living in Place designation. Leaning on her “love for less and a life-long fascination for design”, Mastalic now helps people create calm and joyful places in their homes. While she doesn't work exclusively with seniors, many of her clients are older and come to her wanting to stay in their current homes.

“It has to do with educating people about what their health needs may be in 15 or 20 years, and what to change so they can stay in the house because nobody wants to do renovations down the road. For seniors, transition areas become critical," she said.

A curb into the main door can be a tripping hazard or be difficult to get over for someone in a wheelchair, Mastelic explained. Is there a place in the home that transitions from tile to carpet? Is there an incline? Are the two areas the same colour? Even changing room colours can provide benefit, she said, as a two-tone contrast helps define edges and is helpful for vision changes with aging eyes.

Age-friendly modifications made to the Klatt's home include wider spacing around the kitchen island, an open, walk-in pantry, lever-operated faucet and double swing doors on the fridge. The bathroom gained grab bars, a shower bench and a horizontal accent line on the shower door to re-orientate the eye for vertigo symptoms or problems with balance.

Downsizing can be another option. According to a survey by Housewire, 62 per cent of seniors said they're downsizing so they can spend less and save more. Leslie Beliveau, a professional home organizer and owner of Les is More, said most people have too many things and want a simpler life.

“My clients are happy to have time to take on more life pursuits. They’re not dragged down by the work of having a large property," said Beliveau. "They want more time for recreation and travel, and time to connect with family and friends.”

Beliveau also works with clients who want to stay in their homes but declutter rooms to make better spaces.

“While we’re staring at our four walls during the pandemic, it's a great time to assess what we really need," she said. "The more space we have, the more we will clutter.”