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Published: Sunday, 5/29/2011

Small, unobtrusive adaptations help seniors age in own homes

KANSAS CITY STAR
A barrier-free shower like this one installed in a Lee's Summit home may help seniors live in their homes longer. The shower features flush entry, shower seat and adjustable shower head. A barrier-free shower like this one installed in a Lee's Summit home may help seniors live in their homes longer. The shower features flush entry, shower seat and adjustable shower head.
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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 modifications help the elderly — especially those with physical challenges — stay in their longtime homes.

From room remodeling to a button to press after a fall, a growing and ever-more-advanced array of "universal design" and "assistive technology" features are available for aging homeowners.

Shirley Saathoff got a small panic-button pendant and two-way communication system for her home in Lee's Summit, Mo., near Kansas City.

"It's a godsend, honey," the 72-year-old said of the device that provides 24-hour monitoring. "I've fallen five times, and there was no one around to tell I'd fallen."

Frankie Cline, 87, got new front steps and a railing, replacing a single, very high step.

"I feel like I'm living again," she said. "And my friends — they're getting old, too — can visit again. Before they couldn't get in my house, either."

Shirley Saathoff uses a small panic-button pendant and two-way communication system for her tidy Lee's Summit home. "It's a godsend, honey," said the 72-year-old woman of the device that provides 24-hour monitoring. Shirley Saathoff uses a small panic-button pendant and two-way communication system for her tidy Lee's Summit home. "It's a godsend, honey," said the 72-year-old woman of the device that provides 24-hour monitoring.
McT Enlarge

In Lee's Summit, an 83-year-old retired autoworker and his wife can keep their washer and dryer in their basement, thanks to a chair lift on the stairs.

Like many older people interviewed, they cited security worries and requested that their names not be published. But they were happy to show their renovated bathroom, featuring a flat-entry shower stall with a seat and an adjustable shower head.

"Our intention is to stay here," the man said.

Ms. Saathoff pays $34.95 a month for 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.

The equipment 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," she said. "I answer and they hear that I'm OK, or I don't answer and they send the paramedics."

Paul Lillig, a designer who specializes in home remodeling for seniors, says he most often does bathroom and kitchen work.

"Typically I can put in a lot of those accommodations for nothing more than $10,000," he said. "That may sound like a lot, but it's $10,000 one time that may help people stay in their homes for three to five years longer versus $10,000 a month for many months in an assisted living center."



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