Q: We're getting ready to move my mother into our home but can't afford to build a "mother-in-law" suite or any addition. Any suggestions to upgrade features for a regular room that's safe and as economical as possible? - Darlene Daughter
A: Dear Mrs. Daughter: According to Kiplinger's Retirement Report, it's relatively easy and inexpensive to create a caregiving suite or room for your mom. The suite demands can be met if you've a game room; everything from bedroom, sitting room, bathroom and even a small kitchen can be subdivided if you put up walls. While ideal, most of us don't happen to have a spare game room so the more traditional extra bedroom is the key.
• Make two areas from a single room. Whether utilizing a bookcase or room divider, everyone likes to have some additional space other than just a bedroom. If space allows, this becomes a separate sitting room - a great way to enjoy visitors, reading, television, crafts, and so forth. Again, giving your elder a sense of privacy as well as independence is essential. (Add keepsakes, personal photos, a phone and the family member's own furniture to provide a sense of well-being and familiarity.)
• Lighting is crucial. Because older eyes don't see as well (I know!), it's imperative the room be well lit for both safety and comfort. Nonglare lights at several intervals will ease mom's or dad's eyes; even better, install lights with motion sensors and in all rooms where the elderly family member might roam, such as the bathroom and kitchen. If you don't add motion sensor lighting, be sure to adjust the switches and controls if your parent is in a wheelchair.
• If your parent uses a wheelchair, you'll need to widen doorways to have room for the chair. Avoid a seamed threshold which might cause falls or an obstacle for a wheelchair. In fact, it's better, according to experts, to use low-pile carpet with a tight weave or even hardwood to make it easier for one to move around, especially if in a wheelchair. If you do use rugs, be sure they're secured so they don't move.
• As for the bathroom, be sure sink and toilet are of a height to be more accommodating, whether higher or lower than it is prior to her moving in. Add grab bars to the shower, as well as a hand-held shower head. A small seat is a wonderful (and safer) tool, too.
• Install levers rather than keeping knobs on doors, sinks, and windows. Consider remote-controlled shades Mom can open or close while sitting in bed, especially is she's unable to adjust curtains or blinds.
For additional info, visit the National Association of Home Builders (www.nahb.org) for aging-in-place specialists.