Q: My 69-year-old parents are remodeling to add safety features so they can continue living at home as they age. The construction is very stressful to them. They are agitated, unhappy and scared of having construction around them. What can I do?
A:There is no question that the construction process can be disorienting, noisy, dirty and inconvenient for seniors. The good news is that most people soon forget about the disruption once the builders finish and their home proves to be an easier and more beautiful place to live. Meanwhile, you can take steps to ease the potential anxiety of the construction process.
Many people do not understand the construction process, so getting educated about what is going to happen is the first step to reducing your parents' legitimate fear of the unknown. Have your architect, designer or builder explain the process to them step-by-step. This may include "front end" activities such as acquiring financing and building permits. It may also include design consultations, which most clients find fun and exciting.
Where your parents will reside during construction depends on the extent of the work. If the work is relatively minor they may decide to remain in the house during construction. If they do, have the builder discuss with them what will be happening each day. This will help your parents understand what is happening each day and build anticipation and interest. If a particular work day involves noisy hammering and drilling, it would be good to arrange time out of the house during working hours. You'll be able to coordinate this with your builder.
If the construction work is major, such as a room addition or a whole house renovation, it is often less stressful for your parents to not live in the house during construction. Whether they live with you or rent a furnished apartment for the duration of the construction, make sure that they stay apprised of progress and make periodic visits to the house while the work is progressing. This will help them to feel connected to the work being done and gives context to the metamorphosis that is underway.
Alan Kanter, AIA, is a certified Aging in Place specialist, working in home design and modifications for aging. Read his full biography