PERTH - When he was a kid, Jamie Shipley loved shoving his brother down the stairs on a toboggan. Now that he is older and wiser, he has graduated to throwing his co-workers down the stairs.
To explain, the first story was a typical tale of childish daredevilry, while the second was actually something he had to do at a training facility to measure falls and their impact on people, as part of his work as a senior advisor on accessible housing by design at the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation in Ottawa.
“You were in a harness so you don’t actually fall,” said Shipley, of the exercise that measured how and where people tended to fall down stairs. “We were all volunteering. We spent all day throwing each other down stairs.”
While Shipley’s own falls were for research, the falls of seniors are no laughing matter, and it is Shipley’s job to make sure that houses are built, or renovated, to accommodate their needs and requirements.
It is estimated that Canada’s population will have 4.6 million seniors by 2036. By 2017, only four years away, seniors will account for a larger slice of the population pie than young people under the age of 15. The number aged 75 and older will also double by 2036.
“That will really affect housing,” said Shipley during a speech at the Tools for Rural Housing Development conference at the Perth Civitan Club hall on Thursday, Feb. 7, which was sponsored by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
As anyone who has ever had to have that chat with their aging mother or father about it being time to move into a home has seen, “they love their house and they want to stay there,” said Shipley. The lure of home can be strong.
In order to accommodate this, “that will require some major, major renovations,” to their existing homes.
His own parents still live in their 19th century farm house in Lucan, Ont. and he has heard it too.
“They want to stay in Lucan,” he said.
He reminded the audience though that just because someone is old, does not make them down and out.
“Just because we are old doesn’t mean we are going to watch television all day,” said Shipley. “We want to go out and have things to do.”
This will necessitate a bit of a shift in society, including making communities safer and more walkable, better transportation, and a greater range of housing choices for seniors.
“Some communities are very much for having second suites and other communities are opposed,” he said of so-called ‘granny flats.’ “The farm house where I grew up is not flex housing,” he admitted.
A lot of things can change in the decades that a family owns a house. The hip young couple who moves into a house today will be the hip replacement-candidate seniors of 60 years from now.
“We’re not thinking forward to when people change,” said Shipley, who even sees problems with homes being built today. Seniors friendly houses will need adaptations like being walker and wheelchair accessible, as well as barrier free and suitable for visiting grandkids. Switches, handrails and even ramps are other considerations, depending on the mobility of the senior. A hospital in Toronto is even testing out a device, not unlike a camera, that will pick up if a senior falls on the floor and cannot get up, sending a warning to a caregiver.
“And it can make the distinction with just lying on the couch, watching T.V.,” Shipley made sure to say, pre-empting the next obvious question.
He has seen examples of what happens when a house is built with future physical changes to the owners in mind – and when it doesn’t.
In one good example, two closets, on two separate floors, were built on top of each other, to accommodate an elevator at a future time, or staircases with handrails on both sides. Another time, he saw an elevator that, because of limitations in the house, would land in the middle of the living room.
“You just hope that the cat’s not sitting there when the lift comes down!” he joked.
Another time, a ramp had to be built from the doorway to the driveway to accommodate a wheelchair ramp, cutting off half of the usable space on the driveway.
“This family had to buy a smart car in order to park in their driveway,” he said. He also recommended against putting too much stock, figuratively speaking, in to basements.
“From an inspectors side, that is where we go to find problems,” said Shipley.