For most of us, like Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.”
However, as time goes by, the very place that has provided cozy comfort for years can become inaccessible or even hazardous, because our bodies and abilities can change as we age.
Lately we’ve been talking to lots of people about access ramps to their homes. That got us thinking that we were long overdue to write a column about safely aging in place.
Around here, the Aberdeen office of the Olympic Area Agency on Aging is a great first step to find out what programs, information and resources might be available to help you or a loved one stay safely at home.
We talked with Kathy Jones, an information specialist at O3A, about the various government programs available to help people stay in their homes as they age.
To get the details, it’s best to call O3A yourself. The number is 360-532-0520. However, we will give you a brief overview of what Kathy shared with us.
One of the provisions for the Medicaid in-home care program, called COPES, is that it will pay for environmental modifications for safe access to a home, she said.
Another possible place for funding for things such as a ramp is a newer program called “Tailored Support for Older Adults.” This program is more flexible on income and resource limits and includes a caregiver coming into the home up to five hours a week. While it doesn’t provide help with medical expenses, Kathy said, there is a way that funds can be used through this program to help build things like a ramp.
In addition, Kathy noted that the USDA Rural Loans and Grants — and all of Grays Harbor is considered to be rural — offers grant money or 1 percent loans that can be used to make modifications such as ramps and remodeled bathrooms. (These funds may not be available to homeowners located in the floodplain.)
Also, O3A itself has a fund that gives out up to $350 for minor home repairs. Kathy acknowledges that that might be a “drop in the bucket” when looking to finance a ramp, which typically can run about $5,000, or more, but it still is a helpful tool.
“As we age, our bodies change,” she said. “There can be vision changes, hearing changes and medication changes that can affect balance. For example, a simple change in blood pressure medicine can increase a person’s chance of falling.”
Because of those changes in balance, strength, etc., it’s important to be aware of the little things in a home that can potentially cause or contribute to a fall.
“Falls are the No. 1 reason older people end up in nursing facilities,” Kathy said. “You need to see if things are well lit, if the walkways are clutter free, if good handrails are available. Throw rugs can be very slippery, and pets underfoot can be another trip hazard.”
Michael Bradrick, owner of Live at Home on Your Own, a Montesano-area construction company, agrees.
“When I evaluate a home, I’m looking for safety issues that someone who has lived in the home a long time is just unaware of. For instance, many homes do not have railings on the stairs entering the home or railings that someone could grip if they were falling,” he said.
“The most dangerous room in the house is the bathroom, because most homes have a tub-shower combination, and the step over the tub into the shower is one that gets more and more difficult with age,” he said.
“To make things worse, we pour soap and water on the floor and turn around repeatedly, never thinking we might need something to hang on to. The time we do become unstable, we have nothing to hang on to, and we are never dressed to meet an EMT,” he said.
“Towel bars are designed to hang up towels, not to support a falling person. And if you grab the shower curtain to steady yourself, it not only does it not prevent the fall, but you also often end up getting another bump on your head on the way down!”
Some people may not want to add “grab bars” because they don’t think they are attractive, but Michael said many manufacturers have caught on to that concern and now are creating stylish grab bars — and even towel bars, toilet paper holders, soap dishes and shampoo trays that can provide 250 to 500 pounds of grip!
“After 12 years of specializing in this ‘aging in place’ arena, I have concluded that denial is our greatest enemy,” Michael said. “Denial will only force us out of our homes.
“Consider the cost of hip or shoulder surgery or replacement. The cost of just a couple of months in health and rehab or assisted living will show you the most economical choices is to remove the barriers to independent living in your own home,” he said.
We agree it’s better to be proactive. The time and money invested in things like grab bars, handles, sturdy handrails, strong stairs or even a ramp, can save pain, suffering and money in the long run if it keeps you or your loved one at home longer.
Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is executive director. This is a nonprofit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing for all residents of Grays Harbor County. For questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or buying, call 360-533-7828 or visit 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen. Our office is fully ADA-compliant.