Keeping a senior safe during renovations
August 11, 2023 4:20 PM   Subscribe

The property management of my dad’s building is planning to renovate the balconies, which will take 6-8 months. My dad lives on a high floor, with moderate cognitive impairments. How can I keep him safe during this reno? How can the contractor guarantee it (what would they do)? What is standard for this reno? Based in Ontario

From the PM’s letter:

“Specifically, the job entails removing existing railing, repairing damaged sections of the balcony slab (ceilings/floors), waterproofing the slab and installing new railing. Please note there will be machinery in use, resulting in significant noise/vibration levels at times. Also, swing stages will be used to access the balconies. The balconies will be closed off during this job, depending on the Phase.”

My dad is physically fit, and because of his professional background, is still sort of capable when it comes to figuring objects out etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to loosen whatever they put there, or to open the door. As mentioned, moderately cognitively impaired, with some good days and some worse when eg he gets a UTI. He will not remember that the Reno is happening and may at times (with UTI) think the door opens to the outside/ground.

What can/should I request? Have already written an email requesting they guarantee his safety.
posted by cotton dress sock to Law & Government (20 answers total)
If the door can’t be locked in a way that prevents him from opening it, could you install one or more boards across it, on the inside ?
posted by walkinginsunshine at 4:35 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]

A few thoughts that might help
- put a sign on the door that says OUT OF ORDER - USE OTHER DOOR
- add a lock in place that is out of his normal sight-line, either very high or very low
- ask them to attach something like two foam noodles nailed into place at chest and waist height that will discourage him from proceeding out the door if he opens it
- possibly add a door alarm if you think that the noise might startle him or alert someone who lives with him.

If you think your dad would still proceed to do an unsafe action, despite the clear warnings, then I think you may in the territory where you have to consider if it is not safe for him to be living on his own.
posted by metahawk at 4:37 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]

I'm not trying to be mean to you, but this sounds like someone who is beginning to need 24 hour care. Even if you solve the balcony problem you won't be able to solve the leaves the apartment and gets lost problems or the left the stove on and forgot problems or the taking medication either too little or too much problems.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:37 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]

One more thought - add a keyed deadbolt and remove the key. Ordinarily that would be fire hazard but since he can't use the door anyway, having it locked doesn't add to the danger.
posted by metahawk at 4:38 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: AlexiaSky, he’s been assessed multiple times - just this year by a geriatrician and care coordinator. He has in-home support workers a few times a day, cameras, and a GPS. He just started a day program where he is three days a week, has already shown improvements (unexpected by me). He’s with friends two days of the week. I’m there the rest of the time. He sleeps alone but so far has yet to try to leave. Home safety assessments have been done recently as well.

Can answerers stick to the question asked please.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:45 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]

You could install some sort of child lock with a key (example) on the door to the balcony for the duration of the construction project.
posted by mjcon at 5:06 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]

A couple of questions -

How often is he in the apartment unsupervised?

Does he need to be able to access the balcony himself in case of a fire? Is there other emergency egress?

(I know it will be inaccessible anyway for the renovation process, but there's a difference between an unsafe balcony that's there as emergency fire egress, and no access to a balcony/egress at all.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:13 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I'd get myself to your local baby/toddler supply store and treat this exactly like a family that has a toddler + a balcony would. There are probably multiple levels of locks that you'll be able to add to defeat his curiosity, and at least one should require a key that you keep somewhere he won't have access to it.

Separately, I'd just confirm with the landlord that no repairs will require workers coming into Dad's apartment -- which might lead to the door not being secured properly when they finish. If that's the case, I'd potentially plan to take your Dad out of the apartment completely when they're working on his unit for those days.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:19 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]

I’m living though a balcony renovation right now and the contractor keeps a large piece of plywood nailed up across my sliding glass door so that I can’t access the balcony. I wouldn’t be surprised if your contractors don’t do the same. You could also ask them to do so if, alarmingly, they don’t take similar precautions.
posted by rdnnyc at 6:05 PM on August 11 [14 favorites]

Unless the contractors need access I'd just screw the door shut. The risk of falling to his death from an unsecured doorway seems much higher than that posed by any sort of fire or other egress emergency. There are a variety of security screws available that while of no use against a motivated attacker with access to amazon would work fine against butter knives and other improvised or household tools.

Though I bet the contractor does something equivalent anyways. It's pretty much standard to semi permanently render any door with such an immediate risk inoperable.
posted by Mitheral at 8:52 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]

It makes very little sense to me that a property management company would 'renovate' a balcony while a tenant was living in the unit.

How is the tenant supposed to maintain the quality of life they are paying for with that much noise and disturbance? Why can’t they just wait until a unit is empty and then wait to rent it again when the renovation is finished?

At best this is greed at the expense of the tenants, but at worst it’s meant to drive the current tenants out so they can charge more for the new tenants who can move in and enjoy the improved balcony.

If your father has any kind of long term claim on the unit at an affordable price, whether through rent control, statutory limits on annual increases for a current tenant, or a long term lease, I’d be virtually certain it was an attempt to drive him and people like him out, and in that case you would need to consult an attorney.
posted by jamjam at 10:10 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]

See if you can talk to the project manager and find out how the access to the balcony will be blocked. If they secure a piece of plywood from the outside with nothing to be messed with from the inside, that seems to work, yes? I would also ask them to cover any way for him to view the work so he doesn't get any ideas.

If he is on a high floor, what prevents him from getting ideas even without the construction? The question I would ask is how is he going to react to the vibration and noise? My guess is that the noise and vibration will primarily be noticeable when they are within a few balconies left and right as well as a few floors up and down.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:43 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @Kutsuwamushi - On days he’s not at the day program or with friends, my dad would be physically alone for a few hours in the morning, when he’s usually resting, and after 9 pm (unless he’s got a clear UTI in which case I would be sleeping there, too. Will say, sometimes the signs are subtle, but as soon as I see a hint of delirium I am there). He never leaves when it’s dark. Even when he’s alone, I’m monitoring him from a distance via the cameras and by phone calls at least once an hour, and any time he moves faster than 3km/hour (when the GPS/app alerts me he’s moving).

Of course if a sudden threat were to happen, monitoring from a distance doesn’t do much. My brother used to be ten minutes away, has just moved another 20 minutes away. I’m 20-30 minutes by cab and 1h20-30 by transit. The friends who take care of him are ten minutes away by car and willing to come 24/7 in case of any trouble. I’m trying to move closer but it’s very hard to sell and buy in Toronto at the moment (also very hard to rent, to your very well-taken point, @jamjam). But yeah horrible things can happen in a second.

There is no alternative emergency egress…

@JohnnyGunn - he’s not usually confused about the balcony existing or the fact that he’s in an apartment unless he’s got a UTI and it’s nighttime.

Thank you so much everyone. I’m going to run this by the geriatrician and care coordinator, too, as soon as I get more info from the PM about what steps they’ll take to keep him (and other seniors, children and pets) safe through this.

Ah re the noise - he’s somewhat hard of hearing… when they renovated the underground parking last year, he mostly wasn’t bothered and only commented on QUITE loud sounds. This, though, will be louder, obviously.

If needed I will also speak to a lawyer about whether we need to ask for them to pay for alternative accommodation while they’re working near him. Doubt it would succeed…
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:52 PM on August 11

I wonder if by explaining the risks to the property management and/or the construction company you could have them expedite his balcony work so his balcony is under construction for the bare minimum amount of time.
posted by lulu68 at 12:52 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]

If the workers don’t need interior access, what my condo association did for a family that had similar concerns for a toddler during our balcony renovations was to temporarily install a wooden railing (on the outside) right up against the door. (Like a false/faux/Juliette balcony, though not nearly as pretty. But it did the job it needed to do.)
posted by eviemath at 5:51 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]

Joining the chorus to say that when my high rise building with balconies embarked on a similar renovation, the very first step was securing the balcony doors shut—they basically drilled the door shut from the outside. If I were confused I could have gotten quite frustrated trying to open the door, but there's no way I could have opened it, even with tools, short of breaking the glass.
posted by telegraph at 6:41 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]

He may be able to see workers outside his windows which would likely cause distress. I remember when my relative reached this pre-full time care stage and how quickly outside stresses caused escalation. I would strongly consider moving him.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:49 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]

Lots of good suggestions above, but if you're looking for extra ideas to further reinforce the idea of a "no-go zone"... At the home where my mother was in memory care, the staff used two techniques to keep people away from doors, hallways or elevators they didn't want people to access. One was to put a dark mat in front of the elevator – apparently people with dementia will often interpret that as a hole, so they walk around it or stay away altogether. The other strategy was to put a velvet rope across the doorway – like what you'd see blocking the entrance at a club– which gives off a similar, symbolic, "don't go here" message. The residents were of varying degrees of dementia, sightedness and literacy, some spoke no English, but these tools seemed to be fairly widely understood.
posted by notquitejane at 9:56 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]

As a contractor we can make a site safe for the workers, prevent access to work areas by non-work people, post signs regarding danger and inform affected parties directly of the risks.

Our obligation is to mitigate harm and damage. This explanation is from your property manager covers this but the human factor is one we can't control. Once informed the onus is on you, as a concerned family member/guardian, to decide if the risk outweighs the benefit.

I can't control the teenager who climbs over a fence to scale a construction crane, a curious passerby wondering if the surface next to a wet paint sign is dry or person who lights a cigarette next to a fuel pump.

The contractor will secure and prevent access to the balcony. I am positive they will not guarantee your fathers well being. It would be outside the scope and work obligations.

Your best approach is to move your Father out of the building to ensure his safety and be under your care.
posted by ashtray elvis at 2:32 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ashtray Elvis, I hear you but the human factor is part of safety. There’s a difference between what some have described here and what I saw happening at the building across the street from my dad’s (different contractor), which was a single 2X4 across the door from the outside… There are a lot of seniors and families with kids in the building, I’m sure they wouldn’t like the liability? What about their insurers?

I have a quick update - the super let me know they’re going to check out my dad’s place and take special care with it, they will also do his unit first. Very pleased about this. My brother will add to anything we think is lacking - thanks everyone for the great ideas, we will use them. I’ll also contact my dad’s geriatrician.

(I’ll stay at my dad’s while his unit is being done. I’d love to have him at mine, except I live in a quite small condo with my partner, who has health issues of his own, and it was all hands on deck to keep my dad here during COVID lockdowns. He’s not settled overnight in a comparatively unfamiliar setting, be it my place, our friends’ place, or the hospital whenever he’s been there. He gets panicky and restless if he’s not in his place at night. Trying to keep things as routine and familiar as possible for him. )
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:34 PM on August 15

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