Does Your Home Fit You?


When we are young, we fail to consider that we might get old and have disabilities. As we watch our grandparents and parents, it occurs to us that aging might happen, but never with disabilities. We would stay fit all of our lives.

During those intermittent years, aging creeps up on us. When we hit our 50s, some of our friends already have health issues. We become aware that the house we had loved and groomed to accommodate a growing family had steps, upper levels, and finished basements that might impede future optimum living. This is what happened to Shirley Tonkin.

The impracticality of where Shirley Tonkin was living became paramount when she was faced with aging and two changes to her life.

“My husband and I had raised two daughters. We were active and had jobs that kept us busy,” said Tonkin. “When my husband was transferred after our daughters were grown, we moved to a new town, downsized, and bought a condo with stairs that led to a loft where I had an office and sewing room.

“The furnace, hot water heater, and storage space were in a large crawl space. Steps led into the house and down to the garage. A few months after we moved in, my husband died, and I found myself on my own. When I started falling frequently, I began to realize that the layout of the condo was not fitting my needs.”

After numerous tests, Tonkin learned that she had a progressive condition called inclusion body myositis, which involves inflammation of the muscles or associated tissues that causes the muscles to progressively weaken, especially in the extremities.

The word “progressive” meant that Tonkin would not get well. Even though she didn’t have to take care of a yard, her condition would eventually make her a prisoner to a few square feet on the condo’s main level.

“I knew that I was going to need a different home, and it took me quite a while to find a one-level condo,” said Tonkin.

Since then, her condition has worsened. When she moved in 14 years ago, she didn’t need any support when she walked. Now she uses a walker.

The AARP website includes “The AARP Home Fit Guide” that Tonkin recently used to score her condo for accommodation. This one-level condo has three, no-step entries—into the garage, at the front door, and to the back patio. The front has a covered entryway.

With three bedrooms, this condo has doorways, corridors, and passageways wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.

Door handles and faucets are lever-style rather than knobs. The bathtub, showers and toilet areas have non-slip floors and grab bars. The comfort-level toilets are higher than those that are standard. Tonkin wanted the water heater and furnace to be located on the main floor, so she would know if the hot water heater began to leak. Until recently, she has changed the furnace filter herself. The kitchen cupboards have pull-out shelves in the cupboards.

Presently, one-level counter tops accommodate Tonkin because she can stand, but she might need multi-level counter tops if she ever requires full-time use of a wheelchair. The kitchen tile is smooth with no unevenness.

Tonkin had a smooth, tight-weave industrial carpet installed as a prevention against stumbling.

A problem might arise if she were ever to become wheelchair bound because of the height of the thermostat. The mercury switches are easy to use, although the guide book recommends rocker-style light switches. This recent home assessment assured Tonkin that the condo has almost all of the needed accommodations for her disability.

“As my condition has worsened, I have continued to live independently. I have access to all areas of my home and garage, and I still drive a car with a hand brake,” said Tonkin. “It has proven that I made the right decision when I bought a different condo, and I recommend that others consider their options in time to make their own decisions concerning accommodations that will fit them as they age.” MSN

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