One of my friends just added a gorgeous, walk-in shower to a first-floor bathroom that sits nicely behind a kitchen pantry and easily is accessible to the kitchen, den and home office. The huge rectangular glass-door enclosure features a sliding shower head that can rise more than 8 feet above the stone floor.

"Are you expecting grandkids that will be 6-foot-7," I laughed.

"That … and if something ever happens to us, we’ll need a shower downstairs. That office could quickly become a bedroom."

Finding the perfect house is a dream we all share. Having that house remain perfect — or even functional — for our specific needs during the later part of our lives is a totally new ballgame. Many older Americans are now finding their once-perfect house that sheltered their babies no longer is perfect for them in retirement or once the kids have gone.

Do you sell, pay the closing costs on the house and a real estate commission, and move to a different neighborhood, church, grocery store and senior center? Or, do you stay in the home and remain in the familiar environment you’ve enjoyed for years? If you decide to stay — and an overwhelming number of elders would prefer to stay put — what will you do to make it work?

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. In addition, fewer than 10 percent of the nation’s 100 million housing units have features to make them universally accessible.

Households with residents of all ages have roots in their communities and strong emotional ties to their homes. Few people want to move solely because their house no longer fits their needs. Allocating money for modification needs, however, may get lost among many other pressing items, especially in an economic downturn. While adding a wonderful new shower is nice, "home mods" typically entail smaller projects.

Home modifications refer to adaptations to homes that can make it easier for someone to carry out daily activities, such as preparing meals, climbing stairs, bathing, as well as changes to the physical structure of a home to improve its overall safety and condition. These project designs have come a long way and are custom, attractive amenities that no longer sing out that "an old person lives here." They can also enhance the resale value of the home once the present homeowner must move to another place. These improvements and alterations can serve all ages, hence the name universal design (UD).

"Seniors and boomers are so active now that some of the activities are clearly putting stress on their bodies," said Susan Mack, a California-based occupational therapist. "I’ve got people who are getting hip and knee replacements in their 60s and people in their 40s getting their knees scoped. This did not happen with previous generations because they didn’t live as long nor did they put this stress on their bones so soon.

"If you’ve got a sports injury, do you want to come home to a house that is fraught with hazards and barriers? These are not just designs and ideas for the frail elderly. We are also providing solutions for people who never thought they were going to get old — at least not this quickly." …CONTINUED

Why now? First, people remodel, rather than move, in a down market. Plus, an AARP study compared persons living in a UD house with others in traditional settings. The study found significant cost differences for health care — those in UD settings paid less than half the amount paid by those living in regular designs. The study pointed to savings by "undergoing less physical decline." For example, by providing at least one no-step entry to homes, the likelihood of falls and injuries is reduced and also allows for safer exits during a fire or other emergency.

More importantly, U.S. builders and remodelers have anticipated the huge need — and financial rewards resulting from it — and jumped on board. The National Association of Home Builders, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association representing more than 205,000 members involved in home building, remodeling, property management and other services, now offer a certified aging-in-place (CAPS) designation.

Maybe I should speak with one those specialists before I get me knee scoped.

Helping at Home: Basic Home Modifications



Using the bathroom

* Install grab bars, shower seats or transfer benches
* Place non-skid strips or decals in the tub or shower

Turning faucets or doorknobs

* Install faucet or doorknob adapters

Getting in and out of the home and narrow doorways

* Install permanent or portable ramps
* Widen doorways or install swing-clear hinges

Climbing stairs

* Install handrails on both sides for support
* Install a stair glide
* Increase lighting at the top and bottom of stairway

Source: National Resource Center for Supportive Housing and Home Modification


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