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Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 12:09:06 PM CST

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For 11 years, Bill Gordon, 76, has lived in his remodeled Lincoln Park condominium. Gordon, who served as the executive director of the American Library Association before he retired, said he was familiar with disability and wheelchair building requirements, which helped him to design his handicap-accessible home.

Home-improvement services help seniors age in and with communities

by Jayna Omaye
Apr 17, 2013

Jayna Omaye/MEDILL

Dianne Campbell, founding executive director of Lincoln Park Village, an organization that helps older adults age in and with their communities, talks about the benefits of helping seniors stay in their own homes.

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Erika Cruz, executive director of the Ivy Apartments, a supportive living community in Lincoln Park, explains the advantages of senior communities that offer around-the-clock care.

Related Links

Lincoln Park VillageChicagoland Methodist Senior ServicesCantata Adult ServicesH.O.M.E."Empowering the Mature Mind"Ivy Apartments

Tips to help improve accessiblity and safety of older adults' homes

• Levers instead of round doorknobs for those with arthritis or stiff joints.
• Wider doorways and hallways for those with wheelchairs or walkers.
• Chair lift or elevator for homes with stairs.
• Shower where drain slopes in so older adults don’t need to step over and into the tub.
• Taller toilets so seniors don’t have to strain as much to sit down and stand up.
• Refrigerator with freezer on bottom; usually people don’t open freezer as much as main portion.
• Grab bars in bathroom and shower.
• Rough tiling on shower room floor to help prevent slips and falls.
• Roll out shelves/cabinets for heavy dishes.
• At least one handicap accessible entryway with no steps.
When Bill Gordon, 76, was diagnosed in 2001 with conditions that caused nerve damage and weak muscles, he thought he would need to move to an assisted living community. However, with the help of a designer and a contractor, Gordon, who uses crutches and leg braces, was able to stay in his home by remodeling it to meet his physical needs.

“When I moved in here, I presumed I’d live here until I died or until I had to move to a community,” Gordon said. “A lot of people have aged in their homes.”

As the country’s aging population grows, many seniors prefer to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, according to AARP.

A new Chicago company, PrimeLife Home Improvement, specializes in home-improvement and handymen services to help older adults, like Gordon, age in their own homes. PrimeLife is a consolidation of three organizations’ handymen services: Cantata Adult Life Services, Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services and H.O.M.E. (Housing Opportunities & Maintenance for the Elderly).

PrimeLife, which screens its contractors through drug testing and background checks, offers repair services to those 55 and older, such as fixing leaks and changing light bulbs, to full-scale home-improvement projects, CEO Chris Roller said. Remodeling projects can help to extend the time older adults are able to stay in their homes, he said. Rates for these projects vary based on scale, but handymen services are $55 an hour, he said.

“It’s all the services, but more at a personal level,” Roller said. “A lot of times, it is just things that seniors, as a unique population, they have different needs.”

Gordon, who remodeled his condominium 11 years ago, said he planned for the future by making his house handicap and wheelchair accessible by widening doorways, adjusting kitchen counters to fit his height, installing grab bars in the shower and choosing higher toilets.

Aaron Murphy, an architect and managing editor of a website for seniors who want to age in place, said contractors should plan ahead for what might happen down the road. Many homes, he said, are not designed for seniors’ needs.

“It doesn’t have to look like a hospital,” said Murphy, who spoke at this year’s Aging in America Conference in Chicago in March. “How all of these products and features go together, every solution is completely different, even to the point of the angle you took the grab bar at.”

However, Murphy said home improvements are not the only answer to aging issues. For some seniors, he said, moving to assisted living facilities is “not ‘if,’ it’s just ‘when.’”

Dianne Campbell, founding executive director of Lincoln Park Village, an organization that helps older adults age in and with their communities, said home-improvement and repair services can make older adults’ lives easier.

“‘There is no place like home’ is the biggest thing,” Campbell said, adding that some seniors eventually may need a level of care they can’t get in their own homes. “People want to do as much as they can for as long as they can. It’s part of self-worth and independence.”

Although Gordon, a member of Lincoln Park Village, keeps active by participating in book discussion groups and health seminars, he said one day he might need to move to an assisted living community.

“Because I’m on my own and not in a senior community, there’s life alert issues,” Gordon said. “There’s always a certain anxiety, if we’re willing to admit it, in being alone.”

However, for the past 11 years, Gordon said he has been able to live independently in his remodeled home with the assistance of Lincoln Park Village’s transportation and support services. Similarly, Campbell said each situation is different, where some older adults transition differently in the aging process than others.

“Life is going to change; there’s going to be a new normal,” Campbell said. “It’s different strokes for different folks, but isn’t it wonderful to have a choice.”