*You might have to press pause on the video just below if you want to read everything before you watch it, it seems to be playing automatically.
A quick note before the video/article:
Early in 2017 I found myself in the middle of a transaction that had a very strong thread for all parties involved, aging family members. My sellers were helping their mother sell their childhood home, which needless to say had to be emotionally impactful. Not long after the house went on the market I was approached by a lady saying that her daughter lived a few doors down from the house, and they thought it would be nice to live closer to one another. I later discovered that this very witty and charming person was in the earlier stages of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Long story short they purchased the home after a few bumps in the road, and she and her daughter renovated the home – and it is immaculate…
I’m currently writing this with tears in my eyes next to my grandfather who is on his deathbed. In the last few years I lived for a while with my grandparents as they were getting settled into their final residence. We’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time, and in the middle of taking care of him for his final stage of life I saw this article pop up in The Daily Oklahoman, telling the wonderful story of some of my newfound friends, Deb and Amy on one side and Larry and Sue on the other. I’m so grateful for everyone involved. Being a part of their story makes me appreciate my own even more, and I’m pretty much bursting at the seems already with love and appreciation for my own family.
NORMAN — Amy Brewer wanted her mother closer, especially when memory issues began to surface. But it took several years and an Alzheimer’s diagnosis for things to come to a head.
“In April, she got lost for five hours,” she said. “That’s when I decided that she needed to move.”
Her mother, Deborah Brewer, raised a finger.
“Now I have a different story,” she interjected. She offered her explanation, mostly off the record, possibly tongue-in-cheek. “So I knew where I was,” she concluded with a nod.
Still, her daughter saw it as a call to action. Interstate 35 and major chunk of Norman lay between them. And as unpredictable as Alzheimer’s disease can be, the one thing for sure is it doesn’t retreat.
“I decided I’d put this off long enough,” Amy Brewer said. “For five years, I knew we needed to do something. And I’d been floating the idea and floating the idea.”
Her mother, though, was reluctant, at least until Amy played her trump card: “I finally said, ‘There’s going to come a time when I’m going to have to take your car away, and you’re still going to want to see your grandkids. So you need to be right by us. And, she said, ‘I understand.’ ”
The perfect bungalow came on the market that weekend, just two doors down from Amy’s house in central Norman. Things bogged down, however, as she grappled with the logistics of selling one house while buying another.
The bungalow was still on the market when they finally laid a plan in place. They gave the go-ahead to their Realtor, Grady Carter, of Metro Brokers in Norman. But they worried about trust issues on the seller’s side.
“He must have done some magic on his end, though,” Amy Brewer recalled. “I was in San Francisco about to board a flight to New Zealand.”
That meant many hours in the air cut off from communications, so she laid it out in a phone call to Carter. “I said ‘I’m going to land in 13 hours, Grady. Whatever they need us to pay, we’ll pay. Whatever earnest money, we’ll do cash.’ ”
That did the trick. By the time Amy Brewer came home from her extended trip, the deal was done. Friends had pitched in during her absence to ensure Deborah Brewer made it to closing, then helped her move out of her old home and into her daughter’s house to await remodeling on her new digs.
Oh, yes, the remodeling.
“I was really focused on securing this house, which took a long time,” Amy Brewer said. “And after we purchased the house, I realized I had plans to do a complete remodel and no plans to do a complete remodel. I guess someone who knew what they were doing would’ve had that lined up before they closed. A week or two went by, and I realized I had no idea what I was doing.”
So she did what almost everyone does in this day and age, namely take her plight to social media. And social media gave back, leading her to Kendra Orcutt and her Home Mods By Therapists team. Orcutt channels her experience as an occupational therapist into designing spaces to accommodate people’s physical challenges.
Orcutt and her team opened up the space inside by getting rid of hallways, allowing the bedrooms and bathrooms to open directly up into the main part of the house.
They widened hallways, repurposed space lost to a heater closet to enlarge the laundry room and installed a sliding barn door on the master bathroom, adding not only a trendy touch but one that saves space and is easier for a person on a walker or cane to open.
Even the color scheme in the kitchen was designed with a purpose. The gray-and-black floor tiles are low-contrast, which is easier to navigate with impaired vision or balance.
“By making this house accessible to memory loss, she doesn’t ever have to move,” Orcutt said. “She won’t have to relearn another space. She knows her daughter is down the street. All of those things are important. So what I did was I made things easier to live in.”
Easier to live in, but not institutional. It’s often just a matter of style. What appears to be a towel rack by the bathtub, for example, is actually a grab bar. Its brushed silver surface matches the faucet and, frankly, it could function just fine as a towel rack.
And that’s the point, Orcutt said. “Everything we did in the house, someone else could live in.”
That was a major consideration as Amy Brewer worked to persuade her mother to trade her four-bedroom home for the bungalow.
“She had a great big house, and I didn’t want her to feel like she was having to give up anything,” she said.
Deborah Brewer finally moved into her revamped home in late November. She gave up two bedrooms and a lot of square feet in the move, but may have gained so much more in return.
Amy Brewer smiled as her tween daughter, Harper Sterr, wrapped her arms around her grandmother. “These two are best friends,” she said.
Deborah Brewer held out a hand to compare their heights. “And she’s almost as tall as me.”