Angie's List: Make your house safer to live in as you age with some minor modifications

Aging-in-Place Specialists can help

TAMPA - Seniors or those with limited mobility may have a hard time getting around their own homes. The key for aging homeowners is to prevent falls and injuries before they happen by proactively addressing safety issues in the home. These include slick surfaces, rugs that are tripping hazards, poor lighting, stairs and wheelchair access.

"These days more and more seniors are deciding to live at home longer than they have in the past," said Angie Hicks, founder of the consumer group Angie's List . "A Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist is an expert in getting your home ready for a senior to live in. They understand exactly what needs to be done to make the home safe: what flooring needs to be in place, what hallways you need for wheelchair accessibility, and even getting the bathroom retrofitted to be a safe place for the senior."

What is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist? Millions of seniors are supporting a growing niche of contractors who specialize in addressing the needs of aging homeowners, as well as those with special needs. Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS) are specially trained through the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) to work with senior citizens and those needing specific modifications by proactively addressing safety and accessibility issues in the home.

Kent McCool is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. "We do a lot of bathroom modifications," he said, "but it can run the gamut from front entrances - making sure that the lighting is sufficient, that you've got handrails going up and down the steps. Depending on the person's capabilities or mobility issues, maybe ramps can be required. There may be stair lifts that can be required, things that help them get around the home safely."

"These modifications can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars depending on what you need," said Hicks. "If you're going to live in your house for 5 to 10 years it could very well be a good return on investment. Another tip, some of these things can be rented so if you think it's going to be a shorter period of time check about that option."

Remodeling to age in place can include:

  • Installing grab bars;
  • Widening doorways to accommodate a walker/wheelchair;
  • Eliminating steps or curbs from entryways;
  • Replacing slippery floor materials;
  • Installing pull-out kitchen cabinets;
  • Replacement of traditional bathtubs with walk-in shower/tub;
  • Installation of vanities to allow wheelchair room; and
  • A dishwasher that minimizes the need to bend

Falling is the leading cause of death from injury in adults over the age of 65, according to the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC), with three of every five falls occurring in the home. One-third of those accidents could be prevented by making the home safer. "Bathrooms seemed to be addressed a lot," said McCool. "That's where the falls happen. We want to prevent those falls. So simple things like grab bars. (Checking) the entrances and exits to your home for proper lighting. Getting rid of those tripping hazards. Making sure the stairs are clear for walking. Installing handrails if you can't afford stair lifts."

Angie's List Tips: Hiring a Remodeling Contractor

  • Talk to a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS): Its important homeowners who do need to make special modifications find a company with the training and know-how to identify the best changes to make. A CAPS contractor is trained to evaluate your specific needs and offer recommendations to make your home safe and functional.
  • Communicate your ideas: Explain what modifications you want done to your home. Even rough ideas on paper are better than nothing at all.
  • What are the costs? Aging-in-place project costs can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. Cost can vary depending on the scope of the project and quality of products used. If you anticipate being in your home at least 5 or 10 years, the cost of modifying may be lower compared to the cost of moving into an assisted living facility – explore all your options before deciding whether to move or remodel.
  • Be proactive, not reactive: Before the need arises is the best time to consider aging-in-place design. For any remodeling project, it is a good idea to look at what changes can be put in place now that will support aging-in-place, even if you are years away from needing it.
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