Tips for Making Your Multigenerational Home Grandparent-friendly

Grandparent-friendly bathroom features a therapeutic bubble tub with modern grab bars, thoughtfully placed for ease of entry. A hand-held shower wand allows for hair and body rinsing without the need to stand under a shower head. Designers: Jennifer Fox + Tonia Omeltchenko of Fox + Chenko Interiors, Port Washington. (Photo by Cathy Salamone)

Extended families living together in harmony is the norm in some cultures in which caring for aging parents is traditionally expected and easily embraced.

But turning your home into a loving, grandparent-friendly place can be quite challenging. Every family’s situation and needs differ, and there are financial, medical, space/privacy, and personality issues to consider. It’s a complicated process, so whether your favorite elders are sharing the home or aging in place, caregivers should plan ahead – and think with their hearts, as well as their heads.

In a U.S. News & World Report piece (“Should Your Aging Parent Move in With Your Family?”), Carol Bradley Bursack, caregiver and author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories, suggests that this major commitment should be made with eyes wide open vs. a misty-eyed view of that new reality. 

Here, experts offer insights and suggestions.

“Living well in our homes involves making them welcoming and comfortable for all members of the extended family,” says Port Washington designer Jennifer Fox of Fox + Chenko Interiors Ltd. 

But she and co-owner Tonia Omeltchenko both have a few areas of concern that come up time and again, where seniors are concerned, that center on comfort and safety:

  1. Seating: Trends in seating favor the young these days, with their low-to-the-ground, deep-depth, sink-in, lounge-y casualness. Unfortunately, this trend opposes the need that many seniors have: to sit down and stand up without assistance. Chairs and sofas with seat depths of 36 inches or less that have arms to provide leverage to raise oneself up are always preferable.  

  2. Floor coverings: choose flat-weave vs. thick-pile rugs with non-slip padding to reduce the risk of falls. 

  3. Clean up clutter: A neat, organized space is safer, especially for grandparents who use walkers or canes.

  4. A guest bedroom and bathroom are a plus: Beds should be standard height, with a mattress that has medium-level firmness. Other thoughtful touches: a tableside water decanter with glass, and/or a soft luxe throw. Ideally, this room is on the first floor. 

More tips: A therapeutic bubble tub with modern grab bars and handheld shower wand; a medicine cabinet with LED lighting within the mirror, which supplements ambient overhead and sconce lighting.

Age-Friendly changes

Mobility, strength, balance or vision issues, and the impact of chronic illnesses can make homes that used to be easy to get around in very difficult to navigate, i.e., Grandpa may need a walker or wheelchair. So, depending on budget, homes can be retrofitted with ramps outside, to avoid staircases. Also, widening doorways going into the house or inside. Flatten out thresholds in rooms or showers for easier access, suggests Richard H. Morgan, Ph.D., associate dean and graduate program director and clinical professor, School of Social Welfare, Stony Brook University.

To make it possible for seniors to live comfortably with their families or remain in their own homes, caregivers should make the dwelling more accessible and accommodating as grandparents’ physical abilities change. More involved home renos might include lowering the height of kitchen/bathroom cabinets and countertops. And don’t forget smart technology.

“Companies and contractors who work with home remodeling are more familiar now with the changing needs of seniors and can design these kinds of plans for both small-scale and large-scale needs. County and town agencies that serve the needs of aging citizens usually have information about contractors in the area who do this kind of work,” Dr. Morgan says.

In addition, various organizations such as the United Disabilities Services Foundation offer information related to aging in place: Visit udservices.org/blog/aging-in-place-design. These kinds of design innovations can make caregivers’ homes much more age friendly while also empowering seniors to remain at home in a safer environment.

Sometimes, it takes a village

Multigenerational homes are great, but these arrangements have pros and cons – and the dynamics involved may not work for everyone. To be successful, it also takes teamwork, some part-time help, and a lot of emotional resilience.

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