The Canadian population is aging and seniors constitute the fastest-growing age group. This trend is expected to continue for the next several decades due to a below replacement fertility rate, an increase in life expectancy, and the aging of the baby boom generation.
By 2036, the senior population aged over 75, is expected to double, making up twelve per cent of the overall Canadian population. About 41 per cent of this group of seniors will have some form of disability.
Many surveys conducted in recent years have indicated that the majority of seniors still wish to age in place. For those individuals, living independently at home is considered more cost effective and a welcome alternative to living in an institution. The design of much of our housing stock, however—whether it’s high rise apartment units or individual residences—does not allow for the increasing disabilities that accompany the aging process.
A study from 1987 indicated that over 45 per cent of Canada’s elderly population who continued to live at home had some difficulty in carrying out one or more of the Activities of Daily Living (ADL)—getting in and out of bed, for example, going up and down a flight of stairs, bathing, bending, reaching, handling objects, and cooking. Because of this, the percentage of seniors living in private homes decreased as they aged.
There have been several studies over the years that have outlined the social and economic benefits of enabling elderly people to remain in their homes. Adapting residences in order to accommodate aging Canadians’ needs is the surest way to achieve this.
Helping elderly tenants stay independent longer
For landlords catering to elderly tenants, there are a few minor, inexpensive adaptations that can be carried out to accommodate the changing needs of seniors. The simple rearrangement of furniture or the installation of a shower seat or grab bars in the bathroom can make a huge difference.
For a larger scale look at what can be done, CMHC offers an assessment tool to identify home improvements or adaptations that will enable elderly individuals to remain independent for longer. The three basic principles of the assessment tool include:
1. An accessible environment
Elderly tenants should be able to fully use their complete apartment space in a safe way. Stairs that are too steep to climb, balcony thresholds that are too high, and toilets that are too low can create barriers for aging residents. Some of these barriers can be eliminated without major repairs or rehabilitation.
2. An attractive and practical environment
It is important not to over-adapt a space. Only those changes that provide appropriate, practical and attractive environments for everyone should be carried out. In extreme circumstances, when some specific modification or specialized technical intervention is necessary, the simplest means should be used. Time and energy can be saved without turning a property into an emergency unit. Any specialized equipment should be avoided.
3. A flexible environment
While the goal is to be accommodating, it’s important to making specific changes that will require ‘undoing’ later. The changing needs of older people can be satisfied by providing flexible environments and adjustable equipment that can be removed when no longer needed.
Think safety first
Many seniors cite similar barriers as they age, and these can include navigating stairs, reaching low cupboards and electrical outlets, accessing clothing, etc. Through minor modifications, it is possible to address safety issues in order to ensure that seniors have the ability to move about and accomplish tasks in the kitchen and the bathroom, for example. Floor surfaces can be replaced to ensure they don’t become slippery when wet. Electrical outlets can be relocated to higher areas, and new, accessible shelving can be installed under the kitchen cupboards for easier access.
Adding handrails in hallways, lever handles on doors and extra lighting in dark spots are also some other helpful and inexpensive adaptations that can be made. It is also good to remember that it is important not to over-adapt the environment, but to modify it in such a way that elderly people can make best use of their strengths and abilities.
To help you learn more about home adaptations, CMHC has two publications called Maintaining Seniors’ Independence: A Guide to Home Adaptations and Maintaining Seniors’ Independence Through Home Adaptations: A Self-Assessment Guide. Download your free copies at www.cmhc.ca or call 1-800-668-2642.