By Sarah Hollander
Handrails. Bath chairs. Raised toilet seats. When occupational therapist Dana Hinebaugh assesses a home for livability, she looks for ways to prevent falls and other accidents.
“Even something as small as installing a night-light can make a huge difference in helping someone navigate their home,” Hinebaugh said.
AARP promotes a similar mission through its national HomeFit program, which offers dozens of practical solutions to help homeowners age in place and maintain their independence.
This year, AARP Ohio is partnering with Hinebaugh’s employer, Cleveland-based University Hospitals (UH), and Rebuilding Together Northeast Ohio, a nonprofit that repairs and modifies homes, to promote HomeFit.
The groups are working with the Cleveland NAACP and two churches in the city’s Ward 1, where 55 percent of residents live in or near poverty, to find four homeowners whose properties qualify for improvements. Volunteers will do work on the four houses on Sept. 11—the National Day of Service and Remembrance.
And, later this year, UH occupational therapists, as well as AARP volunteers, will lead free HomeFit classes throughout northeast Ohio.
“A fall at home is the second leading cause of death for Cleveland residents over 65. HomeFit can help them reduce the risks they may face,” said Doug Tayek, AARP Ohio’s associate state director for outreach.
Preventing falls and injuries
Nine out of 10 older adults want to live independently in their homes as they age, but doing so can be difficult.
Many older Ohioans live on fixed incomes and find just maintaining a home, let alone making improvements, to be a challenge, said Rachel Jamison, program director for Rebuilding Together Northeast Ohio. The group modifies homes for those 60 and older and for people with disabilities.
The median age of a Cleveland house is about 100 years, which brings more problems.
“It can be really difficult to prioritize over basic needs like food, medication and other necessities,” Jamison said.
Many improvements, however, can be made at little or no cost, she said. Common fixes include the addition of handheld shower sprayers, bathtub chairs and security lighting, along with small ramps for zero-step entries and furniture relocation.
“A lot of times people don’t really know what they need,” said Pam Schuellerman, CEO of Rebuilding Together Northeast Ohio. “It’s surprising what they get comfortable with.”
She recalled a woman who routinely pulled herself up from the toilet using a doorknob, and others who took sponge baths and limited their movement to a small portion of the house to avoid going up stairs.
“By making some of these simple fixes, you can prevent falls and injuries,” said Brian Adams, business development manager for UH Regional Hospitals. “When you don’t prevent those problems, that can turn into an emergency situation that you can’t control.”
AARP Ohio hopes to use its Cleveland-area HomeFit partnership as a model for other cities.
For more information, go to aarp.org/homefit, email email@example.com or call 866-389-5653.
Sarah Hollander is a writer living in Cleveland.