Home modifications are changes made to adapt living spaces to meet the needs of people with physical limitations so that they can continue to live independently and safely. These modifications may include adding assistive technology or making structural changes to a home. Modifications can range from something as simple as replacing cabinet doorknobs with pull handles to full-scale construction projects that require installing wheelchair ramps and widening doorways.
WHY DO SENIORS NEED HOME MODIFICATIONS?
The main benefit of making home modifications is that they promote independence and prevent accidents. According to a recent AARP housing survey, “83% of older Americans want to stay in their current homes for the rest of their lives,” but other studies show that most homes are not designed to accommodate the needs of people over age 65. Most older people live in homes that are more than 20 years old. As these buildings get older along with their residents, they may become harder to live in or maintain. A house that was perfectly suitable for a senior at age 55, for example, may have too many stairs or slippery surfaces for a person who is 70 or 80. According to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year thousands of older Americans fall at home.
HOW CAN I TELL WHAT HOME MODIFCATIONS ARE RIGHT FOR ME?
The best way to begin planning for home modifications is by defining the basic terms used and asking some simple questions. According to the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA), home modifications should improve the following features of a home:
WHERE DO YOU BEGIN?
Before you make home modifications, you should evaluate your current and future needs by going through your home room by room and answering a series of questions to highlight where changes might be made. Several checklists are available to help you conduct this review. The National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modifications is a good place to start. Go to the center’s website at http://www.homemods.org/ and click on the link to the “Safety Checklist and Assessment Instrument.”
In addition, Rebuilding Together, Inc. has an excellent home modification checklist at http://www.rebuildingtogether.org/content/resource/detail/1192/
You can begin your survey by examining each area of your home and asking the following questions:
Appliances, Kitchen, Bathroom
Closets, Storage Spaces
Electrical Outlets, Switches, Safety Devices
Hallways, Steps, Stairways
Once you have explored all the areas of your home that could benefit from remodeling, you might make a list of potential problems and possible solutions.
HOW CAN I PAY FOR HOME MODIFICATIONS?
Many minor home modifications and repairs can be done for about $150-$2,000. For bigger projects, some financing options may be available. For instance, many home remodeling contractors offer reduced rates and charge sliding-scale fees based on a senior’s income and ability to pay or the homeowner may be able to obtain a modest loan to cover urgent needs.
Other possible sources of public and private financial assistance include the following:
Go to http://www.homemods.org/directory/index.shtml and view the National Directory of Home Modification and Repair Programs for a listing of what is available in the state where you live.
WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT HOME MODIFICATIONS?
Mentioned as a resource throughout this fact sheet, the National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modifications (NRCSHHM) is one of the best sources for more information about home modifications. The center is a major clearinghouse for news on government-assisted housing, assisted-living policies, home modifications for older people, training and education courses. Visit the center’s web site at http://www.homemods.org.