Posted on July 12, 2011 by Mike Means

Thanks to Dyrinda Tyson with Newsok for this piece!

'Aging in Place' is a concept that allows seniors to remain in their homes safely

Kimmi Houston, a
homebuilder and Realtor,
and Jack Werner, commercial
and residential inspector, look
at chairs where a ramp would
be more suitablle for
"aging in place" at a home in
northwest Oklahoma City.

The people around Suzanne Broadbent's table were professionals, but their stories of aging parents, not surprisingly, were extremely personal.

Jack Werner's father, who died about 20 years ago, had a series of fender-benders just backing out of his driveway.

"It was like that old joke," said Werner, a home inspector and engineer. "He'd say, I back out of that driveway at the same time every day'  like everyone is supposed to know that."

Homebuilders Kim and Kimmi Houston said they learned lessons hard and on the ground.

"My mother was quite independent, and she did not give up," Kimmi Houston said. "Broken hips, broken wrist, broken leg, all sorts of breaks throughout this whole thing, and she did not give up."

Her father-in-law, on the other hand, did start to coast.

"So you really don't know what you're facing," she said. "My mom was very meek, very quiet, like a mouse, but she was a fighter. And his dad was quite the opposite. He'd just sit in his chair and watch Westerns all day," Kimmi Houston said.

Kimmi Houston's mother died in 2004 and Kim Houston's father in 2007, but millions of Americans wrestle with similar problems.

Members of the baby boom generation  born between 1946 and 1964  began turning 65 this year, and adults ages 65 and older made up almost 13 percent of the U.S. population in 2010, according to U.S. Census figures.

With the group right behind them, those 45 to 64, comprising 26 percent, it's not an issue going away any time soon.

Many of those baby boomers are concerned about their parents as well as their own well-being, Werner said.

"We get more and more calls (about aging parents)," said Werner, who owns A to Z Inspections in Oklahoma City. "That's the first step. And then, Would you provide ideas for improvements?'"

That prompted Werner, along with the Houstons, to seek out training for Aging in Place certification through the National Association of Home Builders. All emerged as Certified Aging in Place Specialists, CAPS  Werner with extra credentials allowing him to teach.

The designation is relatively new, but the idea behind it is not.

Aging in place

"Occupational therapists have been talking about it for about five to 10 years," said Anne Marie Grassman, a registered occupational therapist with OU Medical Center.

The aging-in-place concept focuses on what it takes for people to live at home safely and comfortably as they get older. Certified Aging in Place training helps builders understand how to accommodate an older person's changing needs.

Broadbent's Putnam Heights home, originally retrofitted for her mother, provides a lesson in doing it gracefully.

The front walkway gently slopes up to meet the front porch with no steps to trip over, and the doors inside feature lever handles instead of doorknobs elegant but also easier on arthritic hands.

Such touches can't hurt when it comes time to sell a house, either.

"If you can make it so that you can age in place, but it's not obvious, your resale factor becomes a lot better and probably a lot less of a burden to the family," Kimmi Houston said.

But the effort involves more than structure.

A variety of components are brought into play, Werner said, from community resources such as Meals on Wheels to health care providers to family members. Occupational therapists are vital to the effort, he said. Their home assessments help families draw up a battle plan.

Those plans are going to vary from person to person, but some simple measures can help: installing railings near key areas such as the bathtub and along steps, replacing doorknobs with levered handles and removing floor rugs that can trip a person up.

Shifting furniture around to open up space can help, too, critical if a wheelchair comes into play.

"Just try to take a tour of your own house (in a wheelchair)," Kimmi Houston said. "It's eye-opening."

Baby boomers themselves are also looking ahead for themselves, building and buying homes featuring wider doors and hallways, walk-in showers spiraling inward with no ledge to step over and levered plumbing fixtures.

Werner said he's seeing such features in homes being built for buyers over age 50.

"We may never need it, but what's wrong with a wider hallway?" he said.

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