April 30, 2011

USA: Small changes enough to keep aging seniors in homes

OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma / NewsOK.com / April 30, 2011

By Diane Stafford

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Replace doorknobs with levers. Widen door frames. Install a ramp over the front stoop. And maybe add a few electronic monitoring gizmos.

Those are solutions that help the elderly — especially those with physical challenges — stay in their longtime homes.

Shirley Saathoff uses a small panic-button pendant and two-way communication system for her home. McClatchy-Tribune Photo

“Aging in place” is what the lion’s share of older Americans want. But in single-family houses, that can be hard to do.

So some aging residents move into a widening array of senior housing projects.

Others are getting by with something as simple as a new toilet — just a few inches higher — and some grab bars in the bathroom. That’s what it took to make it easier and safer for one elderly man to use his bathroom again.

“Sometimes I want to cry when I see how some older people are struggling,” said Clay McQuerry, a certified aging-in-place specialist at Missouri nonprofit Rebuilding Together Clay County, who visited the man.

Whether it’s remodeling a room or signing up for a panic button to press after falling, a growing and ever-more-advanced array of “universal design” and “assistive technology” features are available for aging homeowners.

Skyrocketing demand

Demand will skyrocket as the over-65 population booms. Futurists say elderly or infirm people living in their own homes may even have monitoring equipment that, using artificial intelligence, won’t just respond to but will help predict when emergencies might occur.

“There are so many little things we can do, so many new assistive devices that are being created to help people stay in their homes,” McQuerry said. “We just have to know about them.”

For now, fancy technology takes a back seat to remodeling and some basic call devices.

Shirley Saathoff, for example, got a small panic-button pendant and two-way communication system for her tidy Lee’s Summit, Mo., home.

“It’s a godsend, Honey,” said the 72-year-old woman of the device, which provides 24-hour monitoring. “I’ve fallen five times, and there was no one around to tell I’d fallen.”

A barrier-free shower like this one can help seniors live in their homes longer. The shower features easy entry, shower seat and an adjustable shower head.
McClatchy-Tribune Photo

Frankie Cline, 87, got new front steps and a railing at her front door, replacing a single, very tall step. She used to have to hold onto a chair on the step to get up it, but twice the chair slipped, and she fell.

“I feel like I’m living again,” Cline said. “And my friends — they’re getting old, too — can visit again. Before, they couldn’t get in my house, either.”

Saathoff entered the world of assistive technology after spending hours on the floor, her body twisted awkwardly, unable to reach her telephone just a yard away.

Yet she remains adamant: “I don’t want to go to a nursing home. I love my home.”

But like most aging Americans, she can’t stay in her familiar, private surroundings without help.

Once a baker who spent hours on her feet, Saathoff now can barely get into her tiny kitchen. Her walker, which she needs to move around, doesn’t fit. So, slowly and unsteadily, she parks the walker and leans heavily on a chair, then the counter to spend a few minutes preparing a meal.

Panic button

Saathoff pays $34.95 a month to lease the panic button service, which includes a two-way communication unit smaller than a cereal box. It sits next to her phone on a small table in her living room.

Her Home for Life Solutions equipment, monitored 24/7 through a call center managed by John Knox Village, is sensitive enough to pick up her voice from anywhere in her one-bedroom apartment if it’s activated by a push of her pendant button.

“I push it, and they call me through the box,” Saathoff said. “I answer and they hear that I’m OK, or I don’t answer and they send the paramedics.”

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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