I remember the time when I began searching with my mom for our first home. One thing in our “wish” list was that the house must have a second level. The main living space should be on the first level, and all the bedrooms should be on the top floor. We thought this way we could retreat upstairs to get some quiet time or rest while activity could still be going on downstairs. It seemed like the perfect idea at the time. Of course that was 8 years ago when I was still single, and my mom was in her 50’s and full of energy.
Fast-forward to the present, and things are just looking a little differently. Both my parents are riding the Medicare age wave, and I have a fully energetic and curious 1 year old. What once looked like a great idea is beginning to be more a source of concern. For one, the energy level of my parents is decreasing with each passing year. Although they are both active and keep busy throughout the day, I see the subtle changes in them. I know with time, joint pain secondary to arthritic changes might pop up, and even balance could be affected. Navigating stairs could provide in the future a very difficult task.
There is also the constant worry of my very smart and curious 1 year old. She loves to investigate things, and to try things out. She is not only walking, but she is also running. She already figured out how to sit on the couch, and on the very first step of our stairwell, and yesterday began to figure out how to descend from the living room into the garage. We now have to keep that door closed at all times. We also have gates on the stairway, and I’m always double checking to make sure that they are closed tight. She has a tendency to stand in front of the gates and hold on to the rails trying to swing them open. The energy that my parents are lacking, she has in two folds!
So although I hate moving; God knows I have done plenty of that in my life; the thought of having to do just that is popping up lately. I have started looking at all the facts and safety hazards that comes with age. Old age and toddler age although polar opposites provide the same concerns. It is the circle of life one might think. Safety is becoming a primary concern at this point and modification of my home environment is the next necessary step.
I have looked at ways to modify my current home. I could convert the two car garage into a second master bedroom for my parents, thus eliminating the hazards of stairs navigation for them. However, I would lose that space, and the convenience of having a dry safe area to load and unload my child during the many rainy days in Miami. Also I would still have the concern of stairway safety with my 1 year old. Yes, the gates are there, but how about if she figures out how to open them, or if someone distracted forgets to close them fully?
Another point of view comes into mind, that of a physical therapist who has seen plenty of geriatric and orthopedic patients throughout her career. Any time a patient has a surgical intervention whether is orthopedic in nature or not, functional independence is affected. I will take myself first as example. After enduring a C-section and massive blood loss for the birth of my child, it became quite a task to navigate stairs for the first couple of weeks. I did it, but it took an incredible amount of time and weakness and dizziness became a concern. I had to put into practice what I had taught hundreds of time in terms of stairway safety.
For the geriatric population that undergoes a joint replacement or the orthopedic patient that has any type of weight bearing restriction this could provide a major hassle. Also for those patients that suffer any type of neurological impairment such as a stroke or Parkinson’s disease, stair navigation might be a thing of the past. I had patients who live in two story houses that are not able to return home after their surgical procedure and require extended rehab care and in some cases nursing home placement. One reason is that they are not able to safely navigate stairs or have no way to modify their home environment. As therapists we are not able to discharge patients to their home environment if their safety will be compromised in any way. As a patient, I’m sure you would not want to return back to the hospital requiring another surgical intervention to correct the one you just had; or acquire a new broken bone, or perhaps developed a bigger health issue because you fell down the stairs.
So yes, second story homes are nice and could provide a little extra space from home gathering or just regular daily activities, but they can also become a hindrance as we age, become sick; require surgery or just as our family grows. I’m not telling people not to buy two story homes; I’m just providing a little food for thought.