By Stuart MacMillan, CSA, CAPS
(Third in a Series)
In this article I’ll discuss things that you can either do yourself if you have carpentry skills or hire a contractor to do and that will significantly improve your safety as you age in place and provide easier access if you become disabled, even temporarily.
Most injuries happen in the home. Most of those are from falls, and most falls happen in the bathroom. So, the first thing to consider is adding grab bars to the tub, shower, and toilet areas. These no longer need to make your bathroom look like it belongs in a hospital! There are many designer choices today that disguise the function and are even beautiful. But, you must attach them properly, and that means locating the studs in the wall and using proper length screws. Do not simply drill a hole and use an expansion fastener — that’s dangerous since they can pull out easily. If you are not comfortable doing this, hire a contractor.
If you become disabled and need a wheel chair, simple things can be done to improve your mobility around the house. For example, removing the lower half of door stops (that piece that keeps the door from swinging both ways) can widen the opening by up to an inch, often enough to eliminate the need to install a wider door. Thresholds can be replaced with lower ones, or small ramps can be made. Grab straps can be hung over the bed to facilitate getting in and out.
Ramps often need to be added to provide access into the home. Once a year, The Master Builders Association of King & Snohomish County builds ramps for deserving residents at no charge through their “Rampathon” program. See: http://www.mba-ks.com/index.cfm?/Community/Rampathon for more information and to apply for next year’s program.
Major remodeling may be required to make life easier for someone in a wheel chair, and it’s worth getting a professional opinion from either an architect or contractor with training in aging-in-place modifications. Get at least two proposals to evaluate. There are resources available from the Village that can assist you with this.
Common major improvements include complete bath remodeling with curbless showers, taller toilets, and improved sink access for a wheelchair. Another option is to combine two rooms into a master suite designed for accessibility. Kitchen usability can be greatly improved with modifications to some of the base cabinets, installing some lower counters and under counter appliances such as microwave ovens.
Aging in place modifications can be expensive, but they can be paid for in several ways. If you qualify, King County has a program for low income seniors that offers two options: Outright grants of up to $5000, or no-payment interest free loans up to $25,000. This loan is essentially a “reverse mortgage” that is paid back when you leave the home permanently. If you are a renter, there are programs your landlord can utilize to make accessibility modifications. Landlords are required to make reasonable modifications under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Click here for more information: http://www.kingcounty.gov/socialservices/Housing/ServicesAndPrograms/Services/HousingRepair/Loans.aspx
If you qualify for a bank loan and can comfortably make the payments, that’s an option. You can also dip into your retirement savings, but consult your financial advisor first. The FHA-insured reverse mortgage line of credit is an option for those who do not qualify for a bank loan or don’t want to make monthly mortgage payments. There are Village members who can advise you on your options.