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Aging in place

Adaptations keep seniors living independently

Jill Schramm/MDN Kim Urban, prosthetist/orthotist with KeyCare Medical in Minot, holds a bathtub grab bar in the retailer’s bathroom mockup Aug. 25. The mockup shows some of the safety options that can help keep people in their homes as they age.

The best time to start thinking about age adaptations in the home is before you really need them.

Unfortunately, many people don’t think about accommodations until an injury occurs or they are struggling with daily tasks.

“So many people just keep doing the same thing they have always been doing,” said Lisa Burke, occupational therapy manager at Trinity Health.

Burke developed a guide for making homes safer and more functional that includes some simple changes that people might want to consider if they plan to stay in their homes for the long-term.

Foremost, adequate lighting and safe floor surfaces can have significant impacts on the ability to live independently, Burke said. Non-slip rugs, de-cluttering and addressing transitions between carpet and hard surfaces are critical to mobility and preventing falls.

A 2018 AARP survey showed that although 76% of respondents aged 50 and older would prefer to remain in their homes as long as possible, just 46% believed it would be possible. Many expect their homes to need major modifications to accommodate aging needs.

Not all modifications are expensive, though, and assistance is available in many cases.

Burke’s room-by-room guide suggests accommodations such as sliding shelves in the kitchen, tub benches in the bathroom, sliding closet doors in the bedroom, touch lamps in the living room and a chair or stool in the laundry room to sit for loading or unloading machines.

Burke also recommends using a cart to transport items, including carrying food from a kitchen or laundry to a laundry room. Having one’s bed or couch at a height that makes it easy to get down or up and reach items also is helpful, as are bed rails. Adjusting a closet clothing rod to an easily accessible height is important.

People also might consider structural changes, such as installing handrails on both sides of stairs and replacing door knobs and faucet controls with lever handles. Larger knobs or D-ring handles on kitchen cabinets and C-ring handles rather than knobs on bedroom drawers also are easier to use.

AARP’s HomeFit Guide is another source of both simple solutions and more extensive adaptations that people can make to stay in their homes longer.

Some of the “quick fix” solutions include placing fire extinguishers in accessible locations, installing or updating smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, adding adhesive, nonslip strips to uncarpeted stairs, installing motion sensor night lights, taping down or otherwise securing electrical cords, locating a bench near the home’s entrance for setting items or sitting to put on or take off shoes, placing a basket or tote with a handle for carrying items up and down stairs, adding a turntable inside a cabinet and placing a chair near clothes closets for use when dressing,

Simple updates might include small appliances with automatic shut-offs, task lighting over counters, step stools with grip handles and non-slip footings and chairs with armrests to help with sitting down and getting up.

More information is available at aarp.org/livable-communities/. The HomeFit Guide can be found by clicking the Publications & Resources tab at the top of the page.

Another source of help is North Dakota Assistive, a nonprofit organization that developed nearly 20 years ago out of a state-run program for assistive technology.

The organization, which operates primarily with federal and state grants, offers a large variety of assistive devices. Generating the most interest are fall prevention and vision and hearing devices, said Executive Director Mike Chaussee.

Grab bars, couch canes, weighted silverware with large handles, targeted amplifier boxes for televisions, safety alert systems and timed, secured medication dispensers are examples of some of the more popular products.

Smart-home technology is catching on as well because its responsiveness to voice-activated commands isn’t just convenient but useful to people as they age, Chaussee said.

“We can demonstrate a lot of those for people before they buy, and we have a loan program so we can lend them for up to six weeks before they would buy,” he said. With most devices, the organization offers short-term loans, and those trials come at no cost to borrowers.

A Senior Safety Program also provides seniors ages 60 or older with up to $300 in devices at no cost as long as the devices contribute to their living safely in their homes. Numerous devices fall under that program.

Information is available at ndassistive.org or by calling 365-4728 or 800-895-4728.

Chaussee acknowledged many seniors wait longer than they should to begin preparing their homes for aging in place. Particularly with smart-home technology, there is a learning curve that is easier to master when people begin adopting it before they truly need it, he said. Smartphone apps are a good way to begin getting acquainted with the technology, he said.

Assistive North Dakota has satisfied clients who have adapted technologies that they might not have previously known existed or imagined they might be able to use.

“When it works, and most often it does, they are so appreciative,’ Chaussee said. “It changes their lives. It’s not nearly as scary as they think it’s going to be.”

The Aging Services Division of the N.D. Department of Human Services also can provide assistance if more than home modifications are required, including services that can keep seniors at home who may qualify for nursing home care.

Its PACE Senior Care Services are available to residents aged 55 or older in Minot, Bismarck, Dickinson or Fargo who are Medicaid eligible and meet a needs assessment. These services include a 24-hour emergency helpline, nursing, personal care, medical transportation and occupational, physical and speech therapies.

A social worker meets with an applicant to the PACE program to discuss function and assess whether the person qualifies.

Also, the Aging Services Division’s In-Home and Community Services provides a variety of in-home assistance with the help of caregivers.

“A provider can be a family member, a neighbor or it could be an agency provider or an individual who just does this kind of direct care work,” said Division Director Nancy Nikolas-Maier. “The whole goal of our home- and community-based service program is really to allow people an alternative to a higher level of care and allow people to live in their communities and enjoy the benefits of living in the community and being around your family.”

The In-Home and Community Services program has income guidelines, but anyone with no more than $55,000 in assets may qualify. Certain services are available to anyone aged 60 or older. Among those services are caretaker respite.

To learn more, individuals can contact the Aging & Disability Resource Link toll-free at 855-462-5465, 711 (TTY) or email carechoice@nd.gov, or individuals can apply online for in-home and community-based services at https://carechoice.nd.assistguide.net/.

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