Monday, December 7, 2009

How to Make Home a Safer Place for Seniors

Get Informed
Your first step is to learn where the potential hazards lie in your parent’s house and what you can do to reduce them. A good place to do this is at the Home Safety Council’s Web site ( where you can take a house tour that points out the possible dangers room-by-room. Many of the changes the site suggests are simple and inexpensive, like removing clutter and throw rugs to avoid tripping, installing brighter bulbs in existing light fixtures to improve vision and adding grab bars to the bathroom for support.

Get an Assessment
If your parents have medical issues like chronic arthritis or poor vision, ask their doctor to prescribe a home evaluation by an occupational therapist who specializes in home modifications. They can analyze the potential challenges and shortcomings of your parent’s home to come up with a plan that you, a handyman or a contractor can easily follow. Many health insurance providers, including Medicare, will pay for a home assessment. However, they will not cover the physical upgrades to the home.

Another option is to contact your nearby independent living center (see These are nonprofit centers that provide information on home modifications and assistive living equipment, and many even offer free or low-cost home assessments.

Ways to Pay
If your parents need or want to make substantial changes to their home, but don’t have the cash to pay for them, they should consider taking out a home equity loan. Another possibility is a reverse mortgage. Available to people over 62, a reverse mortgage will let your parent’s convert the equity in their home into cash that doesn’t have to be paid back as long as either one of them are living there. But the fees can be substantial, so be sure to speak with a financial planner before taking out this type of mortgage. For information on ways you can tap into your home equity, go to, a site run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

If your parent’s happen to have long-term care insurance, they should call their insurance agent and ask whether home modifications are covered under their plan and what documentation they need to be reimbursed. A policy will not pay for upgrades if they are still healthy.

If funds are scarce, contact the Area Agency on Aging (call 800-677-1116 or visit to find your local office) near your parents, and inquire about home modification loans and services available to seniors. Many state and local communities have low or no-interest loans, tax credits or other programs to those with low or moderate incomes.

In addition, get in touch with Rebuilding Together (, 800-473-4229), a national nonprofit organization that repairs and modifies homes of older, low-income homeowners to help them age in place.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

Savvy Senior Newsletter
December 2009

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