2008-01-30 / Seniors

Senior-Friendly Home Makeovers

Dear Savvy Senior,

My husband and I (both in our 60s) are interested in remodeling some areas of our home to make it more senior-friendly, but we're not sure what to do or who to call for help. Any suggestions?

Home Bound Bobbie

Dear Bobbie:

How to make a home safer and easier to live in as you age has become a common question today, as most older Americans want to live out their lives in their own homes. Here are some resources that can help.

Getting Started

There are literally dozens of different things you can do to modify a home for aging-in-place. Modifications can range from simple, inexpensive do-it-yourself projects to extensive remodeling jobs that can cost thousands of dollars (see Home Modifications below). To learn more about seniorfriendly modifications and universal design, see these resources:

National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification (www.homemods.org). They offer a national directory of home modification resources, information on design and products and places to find architects and contractors.

AARP Home Design section (www.aarp.org/families/homedesign). This Web page provides information and resources on universal design and remodeling solutions, including a checklist that helps you evaluate each room for safety and long-term livability.

North Carolina State Center for Universal Design (www.centerforuniversaldesign.org). This site offers an array of information on universal design projects, services, publication lists and other resources.

Finding Help

Looking for more hands-on help? A good resource to start with is your Area Agency on Aging (call 800-677-1116 to get your local number). They may be able to refer you to aging-inplace resources or professionals in your area.

Another option is independent living centers, which are nonprofit organizations that provide services to seniors and people with disabilities. There are about 600 of these centers across the country, many of which offer free or low-cost home assessments and can make recommendations on how to modify your home to make it more senior-friendly. They can also help you find household product resources, design consultants and contractors in your area. To locate a center near you, visit www.ilru.org.

Occupational therapists are another good resource to call on. They understand both the physical and mental processes of aging and can make recommendations based on your home and specific needs.

Hiring a Contractor

If your project requires a professional contractor or remodeler, look for one that's a Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist (CAPS). These are professionals that have special training in dealing with the specific needs of older homeowners. See www.nahb.org/caps to learn more or to search for a CAPS contractor in your area.

Savvy Tip: As with any other type of contractor, it's wise to get several bids on a home modification job before deciding on one. Be sure they have experience, ask for a written agreement with estimates and check them out with the local Better Business Bureau. Servicemagic.com and angieslist. com are also good resources for researching contractors or handymen.

Home Modifications

Simple, inexpensive changes can include:

• Securing carpets and throw rugs with doublesided tape.

• Adding non-skid mats inside and outside the bath/shower.

• Adding reflective, non-slip tape on all noncarpeted stairs.

• Installing hand rails on both sides of all steps, inside and outside.

• Replacing doorknobs with levers and light switches with rocker switches.

• Installing easily grasped D-shaped handles for all drawers and cabinet doors.

• Using brighter full-spectrum bulbs in light fixtures and installing night lights throughout the house.

• Placing a bench near each entrance for setting down packages and resting.

• Installing closet lights as well as adjustable rods and shelves.

• Widening doorways by two inches and installing offset door hinges to accommodate wheelchairs or walkers.

Some projects that might require a handyman or contractor are:

• Creating a no-step entrance into the house. Ramps are a simple solution.

• Widening doors and hallways, installing a stair-lift or elevator for multi-floor access.

• Adding light fixtures around the house for better visibility and putting multiple controls in different parts of a room or installing sensors that turn lights on automatically.

• Adding features like hand-held, flexible shower heads and grab bars in the shower and by the toilet. Replacing the tub with a walk-in shower or installing an elevated toilet, which is easier to stand up from.

• Adjusting the height of kitchen countertops, cabinets, appliances or sink for easier access. Adding pull-out cabinet shelving or installing a lever-handle faucet.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to "The NBC Today Show" and author of The Savvy Senior books.

The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.

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