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Article: Huge Demand For Aging In Place Specialists

 Remodelers in Idaho gear up for 'aging in place' need

Dani Grigg

Idaho's Certified Aging in Place Specialists, or "CAPS," talk about construction costs in terms of a unique measurement: months of assisted living.

A side-entry bathtub purchase and installation might cost a month or two of assisted living. A more extensive BAHTROOM REMODEL could cost up to six months of assisted living. A couple in Boise recently spent 24 months worth of assisted living expenses on a HOME REMODEL that brought the master bedroom into the living room and created an extra bedroom for future live-in help.

"Our goal is to keep everyone at home," said Steve McNearney, a CAP specialist and partner at Life@Home LLC, a Boise company that specializes in modifying homes to accommodate the needs of aging homeowners.

Demand for services like those offered by CAP specialists (of which there are eight in Idaho) will increase in the coming years as baby boomers get older and start to think about how they want the end of their life to play out.

McNearney's business partner, John Frazier, also a CAPS, said people tend to live longer when they don't have to move from their homes as their abilities decline with age.

"If we could empty all the assisted living units we would," he said. "We can't and we won't, but we dream about it. Very few people want to live in assisted living. There are a few exceptions of the very social people or those in a bad situation who need to be in assisted living, so there is a place for them. Our role is to provide alternatives to them. "

Frazier said someday homes will be built to a standard that means owners won't have to come in later and make big modifications to make a home accessible, but he doesn't anticipate being pushed out of his job anytime soon.

"In the future, new housing is not going to need our services," he said. "But the housing stock that is out there - it all needs our services. There's a huge market of existing stock. ... So we have to retrofit all the existing stock that has been built, with accessibility in mind. "

"And that's a lifetime project," added Dennis Butterfield, CAPS and co-owner of Accessible Bathrooms & More in Meridian, which specializes in MODIFYING BATHROOMS.

His wife and business partner, Janet Butterfield, said in an ideal world, every home would be designed from its inception in a way that allows its occupants and visitors to navigate it no matter their age or abilities. Doorways and hallways would be wide enough for wheelchairs, light switches and doorknobs would be easy for arthritic hands to navigate, lighting would be plentiful for weakening eyes, spacious bathrooms would be located on the ground floor for individuals with bad knees or in wheelchairs. Such design is referred to in the industry as "UNIVERSAL DESIGN" and adheres to a principle of "visitability. "

Houses with the accessibility features already in place add an element to a home that has proved marketable. Janet, also a CAPS, talked about a man who'd had his home remodeled to facilitate aging in place. When he sold the house about a year ago, he marketed it as an accessible house and it sold right away.

"That is a selling point for REMODELING," she said. "You can spend this money and it adds money to your house, versus moving into assisted living and it's gone. "

Janet said baby boomers will approach AGING IN PLACE in a different way from their parents.

"A lot of these older people now make do with what they have," she said. "We don't anticipate baby boomers will do that. They're used to having whatever they want, and they're more willing to pay for modifications. "

Aging in place is a goal which the AARP is trying to get baby boomers to think about early.

"Barriers between the individual and environment can result in a sense of isolation and can make it difficult for an older person or a person with disabilities to have the social interaction and independence that contribute to a healthy lifestyle," said AARP Idaho director Jim Wordelman. "Perhaps one of the more difficult obstacles to overcome is getting younger people, such as boomers, to think carefully about their potential future needs in housing accommodations and to plan accordingly. "

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