Grab Bars And Retrofits Help Elderly Age In Place

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As baby boomers reach retirement age advocates for the elderly and some Central Ohio building industry officials say more of them decide to stay put in their homes. That could be a boon for some builders as they retrofit existing homes to accomodate older residents. WOSU’ Tom Borgerding reports.

The head of the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging, Cindy Farson estimates the elder population in Franklin and surrounding counties will balloon during the next 20 years.

“By 2030 we’re going to see about a 90 percent increase in people over the age of 65.”

Right now the federal census estimates 115,000 Franklin County residents are aged 65 or older. So, if Farson’s estimates are right, in 20 years, the 65-plus population will top 218,000. Farson says one of the primary objectives of her agency is to keep as many elderly as possible out of nursing homes.

“58% of people get their care in nursing homes, 42 in home care. If we would just switch that to a 50-50 mix over the next two years we would be able to save 500-million dollars. So I think there will be a lot more interest in moving people to home care alternatives. “

But, to keep aging residents in their homes often requires some design changes. Linda and Robert Wallace of southern Delaware County are slightly ahead of the demographic curve. At age 68, the couple modified and added space to their home on Hoover Reservoir so they could stay put as they get older.

“The only bedrooms we have is on the second floor, the only bathroom we have is on the second floor. So we thought as we’re aging this is not going to work for us.”

So, the Wallaces contacted, Collamore builders and said they wanted to make some changes specifically, Linda Wallace wanted three changes.

“One, that we would have a bathroom that would be accessible to us if we were in a wheelchair or walker. We wanted to be able to sleep on this floor and actually live on one floor of our house. We needed better access to our driveway.” Custom builder Justin Collamore came up with a plan to add 1,200 square feet to the two-story 1860 structure that originally served as a school house. Collamore added a great room with windows and high ceilings that later can serve as a bedroom. It also gives a view of the reservoir to the west. Collamore made the first floor bathroom and laundry room more accessible and he added basement space too.

“The basement was designed to be used almost as a stand-alone apartment sort of. It could be used for a live-in caretaker.”

In the end, Collamore says the Wallaces home modification took six months at a cost of $175,000 dollars. Collamore says he does most of his work in higher income zip codes in Clintonville, Upper Arlingtron, and old Dublin.

“There are more and more people, I’d say at least half of the people we talk to lately at least want to start planning for the future and aging in their existing home.” But, the need for home modifications crosses income levels. Back at the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging, Cindy Farson says her agency spends between 12 thousand and 14-thousand dollars annually on so-called care plans for a person on Medicaid. And in some cases, some of that money is used for basic changes to help keep the elderly in their own home.

“Often with the Medicaid population it can be temporary access to your front doors. It can be installation of grab bars. “

Both Farson and Collamore see a trend toward home modifications for the elderly. And, building permits for Franklin County’s unincorporated areas in 2010 show four times as many permits for re-modeling work than for new residential construction. But, Jim Hilz at the Building Industry Association is less certain about a possible trend. He says new home building has slumped for five years in Central Ohio and some re-modeling may be the result of builders trying to stay in business. Hilz adds its difficult to tell from building permits alone how many are issued for older residents who want to stay in their homes, since permits are required for almost any change made to an existing house.

“You know remodeling a particular room whether it’s your kitchen, whether it’s a bathroom, decks, porches, windows, sidings, roofs, water heaters.”

Hilz says his industry is offering more training for so-called aging in place projects. But, an economic rebound and job growth in the region would allow builders to return to more home construction.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News.