As of 2011 there were a total of 777,314 Wisconsin people over the age of 65. The average life expectancy is 77.9 years. This is expected to rise steadily due to improved medical care and nutrition. Sooner or later the question will be asked in most families ”What should we do with mom?” It’s a hard question, one of the most difficult we are apt to face. Most of us don’t want to see our parents enter nursing homes, but there comes a time when mom can no longer live on her own, whether for financial reasons, or because of declining mental or physical abilities. She will no longer be able to live on her own without at least some supervision. Although it isn’t always possible, a mother-in-law apartment or house is an old concept that is a new solution to this enviable situation for many families.
In times gone by parents were usually taken care of at home, most often in the home of their children, until they passed away. Multi-generational households were common. After a mother was widowed it was quite common to provide her with a small guest house or apartment in the yard or somewhere in the main house itself. Like many old things becoming new again, the concept of the mother-in-law apartment is back and is becoming a popular remodeling or building project today. When part of the main house these apartments generally have a separate entrance, kitchen, bath and a living area. This may be an open concept with a sleeping alcove and full bath or a separate bedroom suite. If there’s room in the yard a garden apartment can be built for an elderly parent. These arrangements provide a parent with freedom and privacy, their children with their privacy, and someone is usually close by to supervise or lend a helping hand. The parent can buy her groceries, make her own meals—if possible– and possibly pay her own utilities but she no longer has to worry about high rent. She can keep a pet if she has one, something that is often impossible in elderly housing complexes or rentals. With the high cost of independent or assisted living facilities an in-law apartment can be an affordable alternative. A 900 square foot separate structure can be built for around $58,000 to $65,000.
Some municipalities do not permit construction of a secondary building unless it is originally included in the building plan. However many will permit the construction of a mother-in-law apartment as long as it isn’t being rented out and it must be occupied by an elderly relative. Building an apartment above a garage or as a part of the main residence is usually not a problem. If the apartment will be over a garage an interior stairs will be needed and a lift to prevent falls. These are generally in the $3,000 to $4,500 range. Check with Arrow Lift in the Fox Valley and there are many other lift providers elsewhere in the state.
A walkout basement that is dry is a possible space to create an apartment with easy access to the outdoors. This is being done quite often, some basement family rooms already have full baths and it’s a simple matter to add a small kitchen and sleeping area.
When building or converting a space for a mother-in-law apartment aging in place design should be adhered to. Many things need to be considered such as easy open windows, grab bars in the bathroom, bath and plumbing fixtures that are approved for aging in place/Universal design. Remember your mother may be functioning relatively well now but the day may come when she will not be able to get around easily and may need a walker or even a wheelchair.
Keep in mind:
- No-step entry with no interior step ups or step downs
- Reachable front controls on cooktops and wall switches
- Lever-style door handles and faucets, and rocker light switches to make opening doors, turning on water, and lighting a room easier
- Raised front-loading clothes washer, dryer, and dishwasher
- Side-by-side refrigerator
- Easy-access kitchen storage
- Low or no-threshold stall showers with built-in bench or seat
- Non-slip floors, bathtub, and shower
- Raised, comfort-level toilet
- Kitchen countertops with an open space underneath, so the cook can work while seated
- Task lighting directed to specific surfaces or areas
- Easy-to-grasp D-shaped cabinet pulls
Give mom privacy, freedom and independence just as she gave you when the time came. And, just as your mom has always ‘’been there’’ for you whatever your age, you can ‘’be there’’ for her now by providing mom with an in-law apartment where she can be safe and comfortable.