This is the story of Pam and John; she in her early 50’s and John is 62. Pam is a college professor. John taught at a local community college until diagnosed with Parkinson’s in March 2008, then Lewy Body Dementia in April.


Thursday, July 24, 2008


The comments on yesterdays post have me focusing back to the issue of whether we should move, which I put aside before we went away and haven't gotten back to except to ask some questions of the realtor who manages the other house.

Our current house has living room/kitchen/family room/bedrooms on the main level plus a big finished basement, in which John has an office. But he comes in and puts everything down in the kitchen and family room. I've been trying for a year to get him to bring some order to his stuff, with only brief success. So part of my wanting to move is to force us to organize and simplify and get rid of some of our excess stuff.

The other house is the first house we lived in here. We still own it, but it is rented to students until May 9, 2009. It has an attic with a bedroom and bath, a main floor with kitchen, den, dining room, living room, one bedroom and bath, and a basement with three finished rooms and one unfinished room.

It is the basement level that I would like to make into a handicapped accessible space for John. The basement is above ground on one end, walk in with no steps from a carport (under a screened porch). The layout is two long rooms side by side with windows and then a square central room with the bathroom on one side of it plus a separate walk-in shower and a sink on the other (at one point it was an apartment with its own kitchen). The stairs up to the main level are in the central room. The floor plan drawing below is from when I first moved there and I suspect is not accurate, but it gives a sense.

I'm imagining that the long room with the best windows (bottom right on the plan) would be John's sitting room, with a really comfortable recliner, TV, computer, and probably a daybed set up to serve also as a sofa. The central room would have a kitchen/work table and lots of shelves and a small refrigerator and microwave, maybe a bed. The other long room would be our son's bedroom when he is home from college.

I start thinking about it and I get daunted. Moving would be so much work. I might make a handicapped accessible space for John and then end up not keeping him at home. But I do know that whenever the time comes when I am alone I don't want to be in the current house, I want to be in the old house. And I would really like to move while John can help. He was initally dubious about the idea because he remembers the finished basement of the old house as not very nice, but he has become more positive.

I tend to focus on trying to find an architect or contractor because that feels like the easiest first step. I want to have someone look at the space this summer and give me an opinion about whether it will work well or not. Both houses are paid off and I just got a home equity line of credit on the current house so we have some financial flexibility.


pearose said...

You would best be served by someone who can walk through the space with you that has actually been in your shoes. They can give the best advice. Then, and only then, go to a residential designer that has experience with this situation. If you can't find one of those, find a residential designer that is willing to listen very carefully. It does not need to be an architect or engineer unless you are moving structural walls, etc. If the plumbing is already in place, you're set to go. If not, that may require some extensive work. The contractor you mentioned several weeks ago, with aging in place knowledge, would be your best contractor - do a check on him, though.

Design is subjective - people simply have different opinions. Assessing needs is something quite different and those who have walked your walk are the best consultants. After the needs are determined, then you add on the 'pretty.'

Knowledge of physical and cognitive losses within a built environment and that relationships is not the typical architect's role - unless they have experience dealing with it.

Stella said...

I read with interest your thoughts on the future needs and backed off from contributing because my Freddie's needs have been met as we have stumbled through this LBD condition, not even knowing what we were dealing with. We blamed everything on the blindness and the small stroke. Last fall I learned about the condition and realized what I had been battling all along. Now, I have the tools [medicines] to help. After a decline and three weeks' in psych ward where we received most kind and loving help, I brought him home and we have really good days and nights [three fourths of the time]. Now that's where I can fit in with something that has made life much easier.

During the down time after I brought Freddie home from hospital, we had many bedside toilet issues. He is stronger now. His little half bath is at the foot of his bed about four feet away. We found that by leaving the door open he can reach for the door handles after inching his way to the foot of the bed, pull himself into a standing position and go to and use the bathroom unassisted. [returning to his bed is a little more precarious]

I am not suggesting that you arrange the bed and door to his room in this fashion but I do think having access to bars or something leading to his bathroom from his bed will save falls and the caretakers will be ever so thankful to say nothing of the independence it will give John. I know Freddie is so pleased that he does not have us hovering over and around him while he tends to his private needs.

Not a building expert, Stella

Pam said...

I haven't found anybody with experience around here yet, but I am sending out a bunch of emails today continuing to look. The contractor with aging in place knowledge didn't reply to my email and his web site looks like he only builds new homes (and in a town 30 miles from here) so I'm not sure he is worth pursuing further.

I don't think that anything structural needs to be done, though the house was built in the 1950s and last renovated in the 1980s so it may need some electrical and plumbing work to bring it up to code.