Karen J. Martin, LLC
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CONSULTANT - Making Your Home Aging-Friendly

Nurse Adjusts To Aging
Counselor Moves, Renovates To Confront Impaired Mobility
March 1, 2007
by CHERYL CRABB, Special To The Hartford Courant

          Karen Martin counsels people for a living about aging and leaving the family home. When the Farmington-based moving consultant for older clients confronted her own loss of mobility and its consequences, it was with some trepidation.
          At 53, Martin thought she was still too young to be facing the prospect of full knee replacement.
          However, with difficulty getting up and down stairs in her multilevel home, increasing pain and the prospect of surgery, she knew it was time to get practical.
          "Most people don't want to think about the changes that occur as part of the natural aging process," said Martin, a certified nurse and the owner of Life Moves. "But I needed something to meet my changing physical needs."
          She found what she was looking for about 18 months ago during a stroll through her neighborhood, tucked away off busy Route 4. She recalls the excitement of realizing that the sprawling contemporary for sale up the street could be modified for one-story living.
          The only problem was that the nearly 2,800-square-foot home hadn't been updated in decades and required a full-scale renovation, Martin said. However, she loved the neighborhood's quiet, wooded cul-de-sac setting, which affords a panoramic view of the Farmington Valley in the winter, and thought it would be worth rehabbing the $625,000 property.
          With a background in home health care, Martin was well aware of the challenges that renovating for this purpose posed. Her decreasing mobility meant she would need to keep safety and ease of living at the top of the agenda. At the same time, Martin didn't want to sacrifice her personal style, including a preference for neutral colors and clean lines.
          She set out to create a comfortable living environment within a $300,000 budget.
          The primary goals:
  Eliminate steep steps and level floors
  Create an open floor plan
  Widen doorways
  Raise countertop height
  Build a functional master bathroom
  Improve lighting
  Select easy-to-use appliances
  Create a low-maintenance yard


          The job also would entail replacing the roof and windows, eliminating a bedroom and bathroom to create a first-floor master suite, and giving the three guest bedrooms upstairs a basic makeover. Updating the heating and air-conditioning system and installing a high-tech sound system that could hook up to satellite radio were part of the makeover, as well.
          "It's really to live on the first floor," said Martin, who often works out of her home office next to the kitchen, and this month will self-publish "Gaining Control Over Home Downsizing," a book she wrote about her clients' experiences during the past five years.
          Raising the height of the floor in the screened-in, A-frame porch to eliminate a step down from the main floor of the home was among the biggest projects on the roster for Martin, who has problems bending her knees on steps.
          Knocking out an interior doorway between the kitchen and dining room to create an open eating area and living space connected to her home office and the porch was another major change.
          "An open design allows whoever is with you to see you, and interact," said Martin, who has two grown daughters.
          Martin also asked the contractor, Brown and Michaud Builders of West Hartford, to create 3-foot wide doorways throughout the house to improve accessibility. Many feature pocket doors, which are easy to open and close, and enable areas to be closed off, if desired.
          "When you're aging and negotiating doors, you don't want narrow, small doorways," she said. "Wide doors make the house accessible if you need a wheelchair, crutches or a walker."
          Improving lighting, especially in hallways, was another safety feature incorporated into the design to help avoid trips and falls. Short pile carpet was installed in many areas because it provides cushioning, yet does not pose a tripping hazard, as rugs can.
          Martin also raised the height of the kitchen countertops to 36 inches where possible to reduce the amount of strain from lifting and lowering herself onto her chair. She purchased stools that are 24 inches high to enable her to sit comfortably while doing prep work.
          She also chose wood floors, as opposed to tile, to create a softer walking surface in the kitchen. The light oak coloring complements her neutral color scheme, as well.
          For appliances, Martin purchased a wall oven and a side-by-side freezer and refrigerator to avoid having to bend to pull out a roast or reach items on the bottom of the freezer.
          In the master bedroom, which is on the main floor, Martin decided to knock out a wall between two rooms to create one large open area. She also converted former closet space into a golden taupe Italian tile bathroom. The shower is designed without a door to provide easy access. It also has a ledge to sit on, and a wand-style showerhead, which can be reached while seated. The toilet seat, too, is raised to reduce knee strain.
          Although Martin achieved many of her goals in the master bath, she was not able to remove a small barrier at the entrance to the shower, which she must step over before getting in or out.
          "You can't do everything when you retrofit," she said. "It's not like building new."
          Martin does not know exactly when she will need knee-replacement surgery. In the meantime, she's exploring possible alternatives and managing her chronic pain with various regimens, including hot tub therapy every morning. The four-bedroom, 2-bath house has a hot tub outside the master bedroom, and Martin added a door and deck to provide easy access.
          "I'm trying to postpone it as long as I can," she said. "But I'm also trying to be practical."



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