Accessibility Matters for Your Aging-in-Place Project

Angie Hicks
Written by Angie Hicks
Updated October 31, 2013
Remodeling to age in place can include installing pull-out kitchen cabinets, a walk-in bathtub or a dishwasher that minimizes the need to bend. Photos courtesy of National Association of Home Builders and Chuck Tanner

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.

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Glenn and Carillon Moak have spent 35 years of their happily married life together on Indianapolis’s northeast side. But last year Carillon was diagnosed with a nerve disorder that severely limited her mobility and required her to use a walker to get around. Suddenly their home wasn’t the haven they’d known for more than three decades. It was a danger zone to Carillon, and the couple was faced with a decision about whether her infirmities would force them to live apart.

The Moaks’ situation isn’t uncommon and one many of the 75 million baby boomers nationwide will face one day.

“We’ve been here a long time,” Glenn Moak said. “We like our home. Everything I need — medical care, the dentist — is accessible. If she went to an assisted living home, it would likely be a long way from here. She’s more comfortable here and they can’t give her the attention I can give her individually here.”

Fortunately for the Moaks, Glenn examined the full range of options and was able to remodel their existing home rather than find a new home for Carillon.

The Moaks are far from alone in their decision to stay at home. They’re among millions of other seniors who are supporting a growing niche of contractors who specialize in addressing the needs of aging homeowners, as well as those with special needs.

Kent McCool — a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) through the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) — of Home Safe Homes in Noblesville, Ind., added a walk-in tub and extra-high toilets for the Moaks, widened their doorways, installed grab-bars throughout the house for Carillon to support herself as she sat down and stood up, and added ramps to allow her to get in and out of the house more easily.

Aging-in-place project costs can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands, depending on the scope of the project and quality of products used. Moak estimates he paid between $15,000 to $20,000 for the modifications to his home. For the retired radiologist, though, it was money well spent.

“If we didn’t remodel and have these accessibilities, we wouldn’t be able to keep her at home,” Glenn Moak said.

The key for aging homeowners, says Matthew Hardwick —a design specialist with AccessBathrooms in Indianapolis — is to prevent falls and injuries before they happen by proactively addressing safety issues in the home, like potentially slick surfaces, rugs that are tripping hazards and poor lighting.

Falling is the leading cause of death from injury in adults over the age of 65, according to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with three of every five falls occurring in the home. One-third of those accidents could be prevented by making the home safer.

“We like to be proactive and prevent accidents from happening,” Hardwick said. “Unfortunately, many times folks are reactive and we’re getting work when they’re coming out of rehab for hip surgery, for example.”

It’s 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.

“We work with Medicaid, the (U.S. Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs) and institutions like that,” Hardwick said. “You don’t stick around with those organizations unless you provide real solutions for people at reasonable prices.”

McCool recommends homeowners explore all of their options before deciding whether to move or remodel.

“People want to stay at home,” McCool said. “That’s where they’re happiest. They don’t want to move. It’s expensive to move. Making the home safer so they can continue living there is cost effective. Some of the assisted living (communities) can be pretty expensive. If their condition allows them to live at home, we can make some special modifications to allow them to do that.”

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published on July 2, 2011.

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