Adapting the Home

Home adaptation is about helping your loved one remain as independent as possible, and it can involve anything from rearranging the furniture to large-scale structural improvements.

Preventing falls, burns, and other injuries can be as simple as moving electrical cords, plugging in a few nightlights, or buying some special equipment. But home adaptation can also involve larger structural changes—or even a move to a more suitable home or neighborhood.

Use the following steps to plan and execute necessary home modifications:

  1. Assess general safety and discuss potential changes
  2. Do preventative maintenance
  3. Determine your approach to larger modifications
  4. Look into community programs
  5. Evaluate private contractors
  6. Make a payment plan

1) Assessing Safety

Use our Home Modification Checklist to perform an assessment. No matter what changes you think are appropriate, discuss the situation with your loved one.

  • Remember that talking with a loved one about matters that could affect his or her independence can be difficult.
  • Be mindful of your loved one’s dignity. It may be embarrassing for him or her to admit certain frailties or other problems.
  • Make small changes first, and work incrementally. Few things can be more disconcerting than returning from the hospital to find that everything’s been rearranged.

2) Do Preventative Maintenance

In many cases, a few minor changes may be enough to give you and your loved one peace of mind. Conducting a “walk around” is a good way to identify and address simple safety problems.

  • Keep emergency numbers by the phone. Use large, easy to read printing.
  • Remove clutter from halls and stairs.
  • Make sure all throw rugs are securely held down.
  • Keep floors dry and in good repair.
  • Use nightlights or reflective tape in bedrooms, bathrooms, and hallways.
  • Use non-slip mats in the tub or shower.
  • Install grab bars where necessary.
  • Secure sinks and towel racks, which can easily be pulled off walls.
  • Keep the bathroom floor dry.
  • Lower the water temperature to 120 degrees.
  • Purchase a “grabber” tool for hard-to-reach items in the kitchen.
  • Carry out any routine maintenance that has been neglected over the years.
  • Make modifications as attractive and unobtrusive as possible. This will help your loved one feel more comfortable while preserving the home’s resale value.

3) Larger Modifications

While some modifications are surprisingly inexpensive and easy, others—like building ramps for wheelchair access, or lowering sinks and counter tops—may be more costly.

There are three ways of tackling larger modifications:

  • Do it yourself, or with the aid of family and friends.
  • Contact a home modification or repair program (see Step 4 below).
  • Hire a handyman or contractor (see Step 5 below).

4) Community Programs

There are a number of home modification and repair programs that might be able to offer support. These programs are offered through many different agencies and organizations, including:

  • Local Area Agency On Aging
  • State Agency On Aging
  • State Housing Finance Agency
  • Department of Public Welfare
  • Department Of Community Development
  • Senior Center or Independent Living Center

5) Private Contractors

If you decide to hire a private contractor, make certain that he or she is reliable. Be especially wary of door-to-door repair salespeople, and check out the contractor’s background before signing any paperwork.

  • Get recommendations from friends or relatives.
  • Make sure that the contractor is licensed and bonded.
  • Try to get bids from several contractors.
  • Ask for and check references from previous customers.
  • Ask to see some of the contractor’s completed projects.
  • Contact the local Better Business Bureau or Consumer Affairs Office regarding the contractor’s performance record.
  • Insist on a written agreement, with only a small down payment. Have the agreement reviewed by a lawyer if it is complicated.
  • Make the final payment only after the project is completed.

6) Make a Payment Plan

If your loved one’s home requires safety or accessibility modifications, consider these forms of financial assistance:

  • HUD Property Improvement or Rehabilitation Loans. Contact your local housing and community development office to find out what loans might be available.
  • Farmers Home Administration (FHA). Provides various grants and loans to rural, low-income elders.
  • Local Community Development Department. Many cities and towns use Local Community Development Block Grants to help citizens maintain and upgrade their homes.
  • Local Area Agency on Aging. Ask about funds from the Older Americans Act Title III, which may be used to modify and repair homes.
  • Welfare or Energy Department. The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) provide funds to weatherize the homes of lower-income persons.
  • Local Bank or Lenders. Some banks offer Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM), a reverse mortgage allowing homeowners to turn their home’s value into cash without having to move or make regular loan payments.

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