The American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) reported in 1996 that 89 percent of seniors ages 65-74 would like to stay in their homes and never move. The percentage of older seniors is even higher: 96 percent of seniors over the age of 85 wish to remain at home. But more than 50 percent of homes need some type of modification to meet seniors’ needs. Home modification is rewarding and profitable work, and it’s a growing niche in the remodeling industry. Yet it requires special attention and products. How can remodelers make modifications for a senior who wants to remain at home or is returning home from the hospital?
The first issue a remodeler should discuss with clients is whether the home is a good candidate even for temporary modifications. To determine this, remodelers need to understand the client’s condition. Many modification requests come as people are leaving a rehabilitation facility the first stop in recovering from an illness or accident requiring hospitalization. The timing is unfortunate because the client will need the work done quickly. But doing the work can be a foot in the door for other projects.
Is the client using a wheelchair? Who will be the caregiver another senior, a younger family member or a paid assistant? For home entry, a ramp may work. If the helper is strong, the ramp can be fairly steep. If the client is on his or her own or assisted by another senior, a shallower ramp may be needed. A 1:12 ratio is the minimum for ramps. (One foot of run for every inch of rise, stretching out to 1:20 is often recommended.) There should always be an ample landing at the top of the ramp for resting and opening the door.
Bathing and toileting are probably the most common concerns. Basic remodeling work in the bathroom can include door widening, grab bars and hand shower installation. Grab bars should be installed where the client is likely to reach if about to fall and where the bars can be securely anchored. But beyond those simple modifications, people need support when they are getting in and out of the tub, when they try to pull up from a seat at the toilet, and possibly for balance at the lavatory. Other needs in the bathroom may be satisfied with equipment that is available from a Durable Medical Equipment dealer (DME), such as a bath, shower or transfer bench.
The population of seniors is growing. According to Kermit Baker of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, a major growth sector in the remodeling industry will be home modifications for seniors. With the appropriate information, remodelers can make it possible for many seniors to remain at home.
Louis Tenenbaum is a seniors housing specialist and president of Access Remodeling in the Washington, D.C. metro area.