By Gery L. Deer
CNN iReports, The Jamestown Comet.com
Current statistics show approximately 1.3 million American seniors now reside in nursing homes at an annual cost of more than $83,000 per room. As more of the population comes to retirement age in the next decade, those numbers are expected to triple. Some seniors, however, are choosing to invest money to modify their current homes to meet specific accessibility needs so they can remain there as long as possible.
The professional building trade refers to it as, “aging in place,” adapting an existing home to serve as a long-term residence including the retrofit of service equipment such as grab bars, ramps, side-entry bathtubs and so on. Other alterations include the widening of hallways, lowering of cabinets and sinks, or the addition of an elevator.
Some builders now offer certified contracting services for the express purpose of refitting a home for longer occupancy, regardless of disability. For the last several years, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has provided a specialized certification called, “Certified Aging in Place Specialist, or CAPS. The program is designed to educate contractors on the latest methods and products for creating a safe, supportive environment in a senior’s existing residence.
Keep in mind that when you hire a Certified Aging in Place Specialist you are buying a service rather than a product. Each CAPS professional draws from a different knowledge base and will approach your project from a unique perspective, focusing on your needs.
Marty Walling, owner of Marty Walling Construction, LLC, in Riverside, Ohio, has been an NAHB Certified Aging in Place Specialist for more than two years. According to Walling, the process should be all about the individual experience and meeting the needs of the resident.
“A CAPS professional is trained to identify and recommend attractive design solutions that create a safe and comfortable environment for individuals who want to age in place,” Walling said. “Aging in place is more than the simple addition of grab bars and bathtub seating. These modifications offer seniors the ability to live in their own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably regardless of age, income, or ability level.”
According to Walling, aging in place requirements fall within three basic categories:
1) Those without urgent need
2) Those with progressive need
3) Those with needs caused by traumatic change
But not every contractor is right for this kind of work and consumers should do their homework before hiring. As the first step, Walling suggests homeowners contact the NAHB to find a local CAPS designated builder. This is a niche market and few remodelers have the proper certifications.
Next, he recommends, “(Have) a meeting with the builder in the home to be remodeled and discuss the needs and expectations of the project. Attendees should include the caregiver and, if possible, the individual who will most benefit from the alterations. He or she can demonstrate any accessibility problems in their existing environment so the builder can properly adapt solutions to the need.
Expense and time are also of importance and should be discussed as soon as needs are assessed and products are selected. Walling noted, “Project costs will vary with need but the average bathroom upgrade, for example, takes about two weeks to complete and the resident can remain in the home while the work is done.”
Décor should also be considered when making changes to existing furnishings. “Savvy CAPS builders will work with designers to incorporate color and style to match the home’s décor and do their best to avoid the sterile, hospital look,” Walling said. “There are safety products available that blend right in with the current design of the space which can sometimes make the modifications less obvious.”
For those who are building a new home with the intention of remaining there for many years, builders can incorporate plans for future modifications into the original blueprints. Universal design is the process of creating spaces of proper size and layout to be adapted for special needs in the future, such as wheelchair access or an elevator.
It’s also important to stress that aging in place alterations are helpful to many people, not just the elderly. Alterations can be made for any need and it is all about making the homeowner more comfortable and providing them with a feeling of safety, security and ease of access.