March 17, 2010

AGNIGGetting a leg up on

MEREDITH GOAD

— 89 percent of people age 50-plus wish to remain in their own homes indefinitely.

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Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Friday, February 1, 2008: Tina Ruel, of Aging Excellence, opens up a portable ramp, one of many deices they sell to help seniors make life easier.

Jack Milton

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Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Friday, February 1, 2008: A Cane Bulter at Aging Excellence, one of many devices they sell to help seniors make life easier.

Jack Milton

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75 percent of remodelers have seen an increase in requests for aging-in-place work.

60 percent of remodelers perform aging-in-place work.

Source: National Association of Home Builders

ABy

Staff Writer

fter Kathy Adams' 88-year-old mother broke her hip, she bought a special handle for her car door that would make it easier -- and safer -- for her to get in and out of the vehicle.

When her elderly friends saw it, they acted like 10-year-olds whose BFF just scored tickets to Hannah Montana.

''She was showing it to the three ladies in her bridge group, all over 85, and they're all, 'Oh I need that, I need that,' '' Adams recalled. ''It was funny, but that was a very important device, because they want to be able to get in and out of their cars. I'm not saying they want to be able to drive to Boston every day, but they want to be out around town.''

Every year, more gadgets come on the market that are designed to make life at home simpler and safer for older people who want to remain as independent as possible. No longer limited to the medical market, senior-friendly products are becoming much more mainstream and available in the marketplace.

Web sites and businesses that cater to seniors' daily needs are sprouting up everywhere. Some specialize in particular diseases, such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.

These new products, when combined with a few straightforward modifications to kitchens, baths and other parts of the home, make it easier for elderly family members to stay in the house they love and ''age in place'' rather than move into an assisted-living community.

''I definitely think that as our population is aging, people are a lot more active, people are really wanting to stay in their homes,'' said Ketra Crosson, an occupational therapist with Alpha One in South Portland, which offers independent living services to people with disabilities. ''And a lot of boomers also have the financial ability to do that.''

The growth in assisted-living products may also alleviate some of the strain aging boomers will be putting on the health-care system.

''It's very hard to find enough direct-care workers these days,'' said Diana Sculley, director of Maine's Office of Elder Services, ''and that will become exacer-

bated with our elder waves. So any other forms of support for people to remain independent are very important.''

Log onto an assisted-living Web site these days, and you'll find everything from floor-washing robots to bagel slicers designed for people with bad vision.

There are voice-activated controls for lights and home electronics, and all-terrain wheelchairs for active seniors who don't want to give up their love of the outdoors.

Some design sense is also starting to creep into this market, perhaps tapping into baby boomers' desire to hold onto a youthful outlook.

For example, collapsible canes now come in snappy patterns.

''Grab bars in the bathroom no longer have to look like they're stainless steel and came out of a hospital,'' said Adams, an occupational therapist with Maine Cite, the state's assistive technology program in Augusta. ''They can be colorized for your bathroom decor.''

Wheelchair ramps are more accessible, portable and lightweight, said Beth Lawrence of Aging Excellence, a private provider of elder care services in Portland.

''People tend to use a ramp and fold it up and carry it over to their daughter's house and use it there,'' she said.

Accessible bathtubs that once just had a simple seat may now have seats that lower the bather into the water and back out again. Walk-in bathtubs don't require someone with arthritis to climb over the side to get into the water -- you just open a door that then seals tight so water can't escape.

Senior-friendly kitchens have cabinet doors that open like drawers so there's no bending and crawling into the cupboard to find things.

Newer faucets, door handles and drawer pulls don't require as much twisting or the use of fine motor skills.

Rocker switches for lights have been around for a while, but they are now becoming the norm in seniors' homes, Crosson said.

''You can hit them with your elbow, you can pop them on with your knuckles,'' she said. ''They don't require a finer movement to get them on and off.''

And movement sensors are no longer just for the outdoors. Adding lights triggered by sensors can make a midnight trip down the hallway to the bathroom much safer for a senior with mobility issues.

Some of these innovations can be pricey. The walk-in tubs, for example, range from $5,000 to $20,000.

As with most new gadgets, however, the longer the products stay on the market, the more affordable they become. Power door openers are becoming more common as prices have fallen in recent years, Crosson said.

''One fellow I know uses a sip-and-puff,'' she said. ''It's a straw that he has set up near his mouth, and he sips or puffs into it, and it will open the door so he can get in and out of his house on his own without someone helping him.''

Insurance won't pay for many of these items. While gadgets and home modifications do make life easier, they usually are not considered medically necessary, Crosson said.

But there are low-interest loans available in Maine, through programs such as mPower, the state's adaptive loan fund. Seniors and family members who want to help them remain independent can apply.

''Anybody who has the ability to pay back a loan can borrow money as long as it's being borrowed for something that will help a person with a disability,'' Crosson said.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

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Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Friday, February 1, 2008: A doorknob extension handle at Aging Excellence, one of many devices they sell to help seniors make life easier.

Jack Milton

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Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Friday, February 1, 2008: A transportation chair at Aging Excellence, one of many devices they sell to help seniors make life easier.

Jack Milton

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Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Friday, February 1, 2008: A MEDGlider medication alarm at Aging Excellence, one of many devices they sell to help seniors make life easier.

Jack Milton



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