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MailTribune.com
  • Healthy Aging: It might be time to make your home 'age-friendly'

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  • There's a term that beckons me -- "age-friendly living." It goes far beyond having an accessible bedroom and bath on the main floor of a home and lever-style handles on the doors. Way beyond.
    It's about the direction that light enters a room and the use of "no-fall" floor coverings and easy access to adaptive equipment that does not resemble "equipment" at all. Specifically, it is about how we want to live at the end of our days.
    When we moved into our home more than 10 years ago, everywhere I looked I saw those easy-access door handles and was lulled into thinking they were indicators we could live in this newly-acquired home forever. It was not until we started measuring the width of the doorways and found they would not accommodate a visiting friend's wheelchair that I began to really think about this business of age-friendly living.
    Where do you want to be living at age 70-plus? Surveys show, overwhelmingly, people want to grow old in their own homes. A report from MetLife www.metlife.com (Aging in Place 2.0: Rethinking Solutions to the Home Care Challenge) affirms that preference. But it reminds us (as if we needed that) a lot of aging adults are living in "Peter Pan housing"-- built for "people who will never grow old."
    I love our home and enjoy its familiarity and comfort. But I recognize it will not meet our needs when we become less mobile and more dependent on each other or a caregiver. I'm amazed so many people recognize that same thing -- but do not act on it. I am a little amazed at myself. I think about this a lot -- and I've even given speeches about it -- but, to date, I have not acted on age-friendly living other than to assure I have enough of those rubberized circles available to help me open too-tightly capped jars.
    Today, I'm taking a look at my home, neighborhood and community and envisioning myself 10 years hence. The writers of the MetLife report and the authors of a retirement website on this topic (http://money.usnews.com/money/retirement) had me in mind when they suggest "sustained improvements in at least three areas" will be needed.
    The first improvement needed involves the right mix of medical, social and community support services tailored to an aging individual's changing needs. The second calls for the home to be a "technologically-enabled hub" with "remote sensing and communication tools and interactive medical diagnostic testing devices."
    But the final point in this report is the most common sense and a very easy place to actively launch a path to age-friendly living. If you're ready, I am. Let's put "universal design" principles in place, one by one. These often are such simple home modifications as "averting falls by removing throw rugs, installing grab bars and grips, and assuring soft path lighting for nighttime mobility."
    The concepts offered are as straightforward as the re-location of furniture or the addition of a hand rail or a no-step shower. You get the idea.
    There are a multitude of age-friendly suggestions out there for the taking " go ahead, help yourself to one or two. Aw heck, take several. Help yourself.
    Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, ext. 210.
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