Not sure how to help your folks “age in place?” Don’t know the cost of universal design features?

National Aging in Place Week, Nov. 7-13, will feature free informational resource fairs for seniors and adult children in more than a dozen cities, including Minneapolis, Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles. Not only will there be exhibitors demonstrating ways to better accommodate elders who wish to “stay put,” but there will also be an educational forums covering home modification, financing, and real life experiences from people that are successfully aging in place.

“The highlight for me will be panels of homeowners that have made the decision to stay in their homes, addressing the steps they have taken to make that possible,” said Susan Duncan, a national housing consultant whose company, Adaptations, helps families with accessibility and design questions.

The senior panels, labeled “been-there-done-that,” also will be offered in many small communities at senior centers. The events, sponsored by the local Area Agency on Aging, the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA) and the Aging In Place Council, have two objectives:

  • Build lasting coalitions of allied business professionals in communities across the U.S. to assist homeowners with pursuing their long-term care needs, and

  • Organize educational activities to highlight programs and support services – including healthcare, transportation and housing – that enable seniors to successfully age in place.

Local coalitions include geriatric-care managers, occupational therapists, architects, interior designers, remodeling contractors (including those who have obtained the Certified Aging in Place Specialist designation), home health-care companies, insurance companies and brokerages, and reverse mortgage lenders.

“We timed Aging In Place Week to encourage families to think about this topic before they get together for holiday visits. As families gather to celebrate the holidays, it’s a perfect time to discuss livability issues,” said Peter Bell, president of NRMLA.

According to AARP, the organization formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, nearly a quarter of Americans aged 45 or older say they or someone they live with will have trouble maneuvering around their home in the coming years. A survey by the group – the United States’ largest organization for those 50 and older – showed that fewer than 10 percent of the nation’s approximately 100 million housing units have features to make them universally accessible.

The survey also revealed that 90 percent of persons older than 65 would prefer to remain in their homes, but as they age accessibility problems can become an issue and make their age-in-place goal unattainable.

Cassy Franklin, one of the event coordinators, is a reverse mortgage specialist with Seattle Mortgage and a certified senior advisor. She said one of the goals is to help local communities filter through the mass of fragmented information now available for seniors in the area.

Duncan and other independent counselors are campaigning to make all homes – not just those hosting a part, meeting or reunion – “visitable.” The essentials for visiting – and for surviving in your house with a temporary disability – are simply to get in an out of the house and be able to use the bathroom.

Steps at most entrances of a home stymie people who use wheelchairs or walkers, or are impaired by stiffness, weakness or balance problems. Wheelchair users often are stopped – by inches – from fitting through the bathroom door in a friend or relative’s home.

For visitability to become reality, three essential modifications need to become common:

  • One zero-step entrance

  • All main-floor interior doors – including bathrooms – with 32 inches of clear passage space

  • At least a half bath, preferably a full bath, on the main floor

The term “universal design” or “UD” now has several definitions within the housing industry. One of the goals of National Aging in Place Week is to clarify the term for consumers, builders and remodelers so that it truly becomes “universal” in homes built, or modified, for all homeowners.

According to North Carolina State University’s Center for Universal Design, UD is defined as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. The intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities.”

For more information about National Aging in Place Week visit www.AgeInPlace.org or www.homemods.org.

Tom Kelly’s new book “How a Second Home Can Be Your Best Investment” (McGraw-Hill) was written with John Tuccillo, former chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, and is available in local bookstores. He can be reached at news@tomkelly.com.

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