Guest Blog: Aging in Place

homeBy Mary Jane Carroll

Home modifications are a big issue for many older adults who wish to age in place. Questions about the types of changes that can be made to a home, and the expense of these changes are common in my type of work. For those living on a fixed income the prospect of making home modifications can be worrisome. Frankly many older adults just don’t know where to begin. So it will come as no surprise, then, that one of the questions that I have asked myself as a researcher, designer and professor over the past few years has been how we, as an academic institution with a focus on undergraduate research, can disseminate information on affordable, practical home modification solutions to homeowners in a meaningful way. And additionally, how can we educate the next generation of designers to realize the importance of this emerging area of design? This issue of knowledge transfer is the focus of my talk at next Thursday’s “It’s a Wrap” symposium hosted by the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research. The program for the day is focused on technology and aging in place and is really a celebration of both the accomplishments of the Centre over the past six years, as well as a look at what’s next. My talk is called “Keeping it real: Aging in place for the next wave of seniors,” and I’ll be sharing with the group an exciting new home assessment project that we have developed in response to these questions and that we plan to launch in January 2017 with the Bachelor of Interior Design students. Here’s how the project works: Interior design students in groups of 2 or 3 will be matched with homeowners to evaluate the aging-in-place readiness of that homeowner’s current residence. The students will be using a pre-determined checklist, generated by Sheridan and with student input, and they will be looking for potentially hazardous areas in the home – areas that could pose a real challenge for homeowners as they age. The end goal is for students to provide the homeowner with a home modification plan as well as with a breakdown of estimated costs of products and services associated with these modifications.

The idea for this project began some years ago with a research thesis by one of our fourth year students. From there we launched a pilot project that asked students to assess two ranch style bungalows owned by older adults who had expressed interest in aging in place. The project proved so successful, and was so helpful to the homeowners that we have decided to expand the scope to include at least 10 homes this spring. And as part of my talk next Thursday I will be sharing the results of the pilot project with the session.

In late November we will begin our recruiting efforts in search of local homeowners to volunteer for the project. If you are interested in a free home assessment, or in more information on what to expect if you do volunteer your home, please don’t hesitate to contact me at Or better still, join us next Thursday on the Trafalgar Road campus at the “It’s a Wrap” conference and ask me about the program in person!
Mary Jane Carroll is a professor in the Bachelor of Interior Design program at Sheridan College. She developed a specialized post-diploma program at Sheridan called “Aging in Place Design Specialist”. Mary Jane was published in “Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments,” and has presented her papers on Universal Design in England and the USA.

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Guest Blog: Tub tips for aging in place

file000975936314Bathtubs are a mixed blessing for those of us who wish to age in place. From the time we’re young, soaking in soothing hot water is associated with relaxation, stress reduction and quiet contemplation. There’s nothing like a good soak at the end of the day, as my mother always said. But as our mobility decreases, and we become less and less steady on our feet, the traditional bathtub with its high sides and slippery surfaces may become less user friendly. In fact, it may even become down right dangerous! For those older adults who would like to continue to enjoy a bath even though it has become more challenging to do so, and for those who have been prescribed bathing as a recommended part of a therapy program, selecting a safe, cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing accessible bathtub can seem overwhelming. There are just so many choices. In this article we will look at some basic tips on how to choose the right bathtub for your long-term bathing needs.

First it is important to understand that bathtubs are generally more expensive to install than a shower, and any option that requires the use of a contractor will not be cheap. According to the website, accessible tubs may be defined by: the door type (no door, inward, outward, upwards or sideways opening doors); the entry style (walk/step-in, slide-in, lift-in); and whether the user sits or lies down inside. Below are some options to help you to refine your search:

Option 1: A “walk-in” tub: Just as the name implies, a “walk-in” tub features a side opening that swings either inward or outward and the bather walks into the tub through a very small opening by stepping over a low threshold while the tub is empty. If you are steady on your feet, this tub type reduces the chances of falling as the low threshold eliminates the need to step over the raised tub side of the traditional 30” x 60” bathtub found in so many Canadian homes. To use the tub, the bather sits on a built-in seat, closes the door, and adds hot water. The advantages afforded by this tub-type include the very low entry threshold, the molded raised seating within the tub, and the aesthetic appearance of the finished product. Of the options discussed here, this is the most aesthetically pleasing. However it is also the most expensive as units can cost between $7,000 – $20,000 to install. Why so costly? Because the contractor must remove and discard the old tub, new equipment must be purchased, and installation may require plumbing upgrades, a new tile surround and new flooring. Also consider the renovation hassle as the installation of this type of tub can take from several days to several weeks, leaving you without access to the bathroom during that time.

And then there’s the bathing experience. Bathers must enter the tub when it is empty so that the door may be secured properly. Filling and draining times can take 10 minutes or more (these tubs hold between 40 and 80 gallons of water). This can mean a very cold start and finish to your bath. Bathers are required to sit rather than recline leaving shoulders and chest exposed. And finally, for taller users, closing the door can be difficult as the space within the tub is generally very tight when sitting down.

Option 2: Modifying an existing tub: The “tub cut” alternative is particularly well suited to situations where one or more in the household wish to bathe while others wish to shower. For this option, a contractor cuts a door into the side of an existing bathtub (tub cutters can accommodate any type of tub material from cast iron to plastic) creating a low threshold for entry. The door insert may or may not swing but when sealed allows and the tub to be used as a regular bathtub. This is a much more cost-effective alternative than the walk-in tub (prices for modification start at around $1,500 and work is completed the same day) but the end result is not as aesthetically pleasing. Anyone who visits the home will immediately know that the bathroom has been modified. And many of the same issues that confront the walk-in tub user will also apply with the tub cut. This tub type also presents an additional safety hazard as the bather must raise and lower themselves into the water. Grab bars will need to be installed to ensure safety. The bottom line: the tub cut option is probably best suited for people who prefer to shower.

Option 3: Motorized bath chair: This is by far the most inexpensive, safest and easiest of the three options discussed here. The motorized bath chair is placed inside your existing bathtub. At the push of a button, the seat lowers the bather down into the water and it raises them back up at the end of the bath. There are a wide variety of tub chairs on the market, ranging in price from $200 to $500 or more ( has a good selection). Look for a motorized chair that ensures there is sufficient power to both lower and lift the bather before beginning the bath. Best of all, there is no need for a contractor or for any alternations to made to the bathroom. The chair can be removed and taken with you to a new location or when the time comes to sell the home.

In summary, before buying, do your research. Ask friends who have been through the experience what they have found works best, do a web search to see what others are saying about specific products, and whenever possible, try to use the product first hand before making your investment. For a more comprehensive overview of bathing solutions, including images, visit

Mary Jane Carroll is a professor in the Bachelor of Interior Design program at Sheridan College. She developed a specialized post-diploma program at Sheridan called “Aging
in Place Design Specialist”. Mary Jane was published in “Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments,” and has presented her papers on Universal Design in England and the USA.

Guest Blog: Age-Friendly Community – A Quest for Connexion

By Mark Venning

At a time when we seem to be building an increasing number of senior living communities, ranging from adult lifestyle condo concepts, to retirement residences, assisted living housing and other variations of older age based centres, one can be left asking how this fits into the broader concept of age-friendly community. The original intent of the report 2007 Age-friendly Cities Guide produced by the World Health Organization (WHO) included a section on housing options, making several recommendations that address, among other things, the issue of affordability and adaptable design.

indexOne of the other key elements in this WHO masterpiece is respect and social inclusion, which also contains the promotion of
inter-generational interactions. Yet when
I look at this rash of construction for senior
living I wonder: how much are we inadvertently perpetuating social exclusion? There is obviously a market for all this building, some of it a little “upmarket” for everyday people, but the spirit
of age-friendly design asks for much more from us as a community.

People do want options, reflective of a wider range of views on how they to want to live in later life. A new narrative must frame how communities are to be designed, while considering specific incremental life stage needs of older people, alongside the shared needs of all generations – remembering that positive social interaction is a major contributor to the healthier lives of all generations. By 2030, when the early millennials start turning 50, will they look at the construction options of this early century as serving their needs in the same way as todays’ seniors market?

The evolution of cities is every generation’s project – function, form, flow and the fabric of human interaction. Over the next fifteen years, the percentage of persons older than 65 will be significantly higher and thus the need to adapt the urban agenda to a workable inter-generational model for an aging population is a key opportunity.

In a quest for connexion, there is a hope-inspired trend emerging that integrates into this building boon – the development of urban ‘intergenerational community hubs” or “zones”. In the UK, the Oxford Institute for Population Ageing posted a blog in August 2015, titled “Intergenerational Contact Zones- What and Why?” which is a very good start for understanding this trend. It truly supports the WHO Age-friendly initiative.

Where else but in Vancouver BC would you find a wonderful Canadian example of this trend – the Frog Hollow Community Intergenerational Hub. And last month, there was a feature story in Metro News about a Greater Toronto Area collaboration between a 27year-old design student from OCAD and his 67year-old neighbour who together worked on a proposal to redevelop an underutilized elementary school in Vaughan which could turn into an intergenerational community hub. Other examples exist, but this is enough to make the point.

Now, here is a hometown opportunity. The Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, based in Oakville, is uniquely positioned, with its “possibility making” approach, to further promote this age-friendly quest for connexion as it already is by its very nature, part of a true intergenerational contact zone. Sheridan College is home to a young creative population of students who can be easily encouraged to join this conversation on designing a stronger age-friendly community.

Further still, I would encourage my fellow members of the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research Business of Aging Global Network to stimulate interest in this topic by having a facilitated discussion at a future meeting where students join us to explore the options for the future of housing and community design – 2030 style. Perhaps together, we could the re-phrase this as designing “age-inclusive community”.

Mark Venning works with not-for-profit and business leaders, providing presentations, research and advisory services on the Business & Social Aspects of Aging Demographics – and 1:1 with business executives “leaving the corporate crow’s nest” to explore Entrepreneurship in Later Life.

Guest Blog: Caring for an Elderly Parent? A Plan is Critical!

By Susan Hyatt

You want the best for your parents as they age. But managing care for your ageing mother and father can be an emotional and time-consuming undertaking that takes hours every week, usually on top of career demands and other family obligations. Often referred to as the “sandwich generation”, we call it the “struggling and juggling” phase of life. But there is a better way. The key is planning ahead. Take a few minutes to ask yourself these questions and consider how planning would sense for you.

Your Commitment

How many hours per week are you able to devote to properly caring for your parents? And for how long? A recent Canadian study found most men and women care for their parents for 5 to 10 years. Forty percent reported high levels of stress at work and at home, leading to an increase in absences from work, decreased productivity, and a negative impact on career goals. Still, overwhelmingly, people said that elder care is a family responsibility they want to undertake.

How do you ensure that you have the physical and emotional strength to care for your ageing parents for years? What resources might you need to help you navigate the health system and advocate on your parents’ behalf? When considering a plan for them, it’s important to factor in your financial position and the potential for a leave of absence to provide care, should that be necessary.

The Paperwork

Do you or your sibling have a Power of Attorney for Property and for Personal Care for your parents? This is essential if you are to act on their behalf, in the event that they can no longer advocate for themselves. Next, do you know what your parent wants for medical care if he or she has a life-altering episode, such as a massive heart attack or stroke? Do you know what decisions your parent would want you to make? Many families prefer not to have conversations they may consider uncomfortable, but it is essential to know before a crisis hits how your parents think and feel about medical care, how they want their finances handled, and how to pay their bills and meet their obligations.

Family Squabbles

When a parent has a medical crisis, emotions and stress can sometimes get the better of even the most well-meaning family member. Sometimes, major disagreements occur. The person named as Power of Attorney is given the legal responsibility of making all critical decisions. That person’s job is to honour the wishes of the person they are acting on behalf of. If you are that person and encounter problems with your siblings, it’s important to have a clear picture and the resolve to follow through with your parent’s wishes. In some cases that may mean questioning people in authority and holding them accountable for their actions. For example, if your mother or father was not being well-cared for in the hospital or assisted living residence, it may fall to you to take action, with or without your sibling’s support.

Changing Levels of Care

As your parents age, the level of support they need is likely to increase, and you may choose to bring in a caregiver. It’s important to understand the licensing and qualifications of anyone you hire to ensure they are trustworthy and will act with your best interests at heart. If your parents are living in a retirement home, the facility may notify you that they can no longer provide accommodation due to mental/physical changes. Understanding their requirements and rules will help you anticipate potential changes and plan accordingly. For some people palliative care and end of life health care issues will also be a part of providing support for ageing parents. Knowing your parent’s wishes will help to ensure you are comfortable in this role right to the end.

These are only some of the challenges the “sandwich generation” may have to juggle as they care for elderly parents. Families can easily become overwhelmed with the sheer number of decisions that must be made. It is critical to have a well-thought out plan to manage both your parent’s situation and your own family situation.

Susan Hyatt  BScPT MBA is the CEO of Silver Sherpa Inc. She is passionate about changing the way we look at ageing and is determined to put her extensive health care and international business expertise to work to provide a very different professional service model for her clients.

Silver Sherpa provides independent planning, coordination, and navigation services for seniors and their families. Our scope encompasses financial and legal affairs, physical and mental health plans, social engagement components, nutrition, personal safety plans and more. We help you plan for the future, as well as navigate unexpected transitions and crises.