Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Stay out of nursing homes and in your own home with a few remodeling changes

For many elder Americans, growing older often means uncomfortable changes in the ability to do day-to-day tasks and even basic mobility. One aspect of aging that millions of seniors are clear on is that they do not want to move out of familiar surroundings and into a nursing home. One alternative that is becoming increasingly more popular is to adapt the home to make it more user-friendly as we age. There are now even experts in the aging-in-place concept who can assist in these modifications.

The National Association of Home Builders, one of the largest organizations for contractors, engineers and home designers, offers a certification for licensed builders who want to concentrate and expand their skills for the aging population.

The Certified Aging-in-Place (CAPS) designation is earned after a three-day workshop, with testing each day, and must be maintained with regular continuing education. More than 170 such workshops were offered by the NAHB in 2012 to nearly 2,000 people. The 5,000th certification was awarded to an Ohio builder last March.

The first day of training starts with several sensitivity exercises, explains Theresa Crahan, NAHB executive director for remodelers. Students are asked to wear sunglasses smeared with Vaseline, to simulate aging eyesight. They are told to sit in a wheelchair and then maneuver in and out of rooms, opening and closing doors.

Perhaps the most telling exercise, Crahan notes, is when students are told to place a tennis ball in their non-handwriting hand, cover it with a sock and then write a check — to simulate arthritis. "That's an a-ha moment" for many, she says.

Occupational therapists often are involved when an older person transits from the hospital or rehab center to home, so many take the course to be better informed, Crahan says.

"The majority of people age 55 and older say they want to remain in their homes for as long as possible," according to Joseph Irons, chair of the CAPS board of governors. "We want to help consumers make their homes their homes for a lifetime," he said, "even when their needs and abilities change."

Glenn J. Gullo, who has been a general contractor for a dozen years, says his Tampa-based company, Home Safe, focuses almost full-time on remodeling homes, townhouses and condos for aging consumers and customers with disabilities.

"That's our core business," he says.

Gullo, who took the CAPS course about five years ago, says there are three categories of people who need help making their homes safer and more ready to support an aging resident. The first category includes items they can do themselves. " They don't cost anything," he says. Like picking up throw rugs. "Throw rugs are dangerous."

Put night lights along the path from your bed to your bathroom. Stub your toes a lot on the foot of the bed, on the feet posts and footboard? Put foam rubber around them.

The second category of changes are ones a neighbor or relative might be able to help with. Electrical plugs, for example, "are never in the right place," Gullo says. "They're behind couches and under tables, hard to reach without bending over." He suggests buying a surge protector that can be mounted to the wall so the plugs are easy to reach.

And the third category is where Gullo and his fellow remodelers come in. A professional is required, someone who has the tools and skills to make significant additions or modifications without damaging the home.

There are a dozen or more modifications that Gullo recommends consumers consider, according to their specific needs and budgets:

. Grab bars in the bathroom over the tub and/or in the shower. Gullo, 57, says he has grab bars in his shower. "They're great to hold onto when you wash your face and your eyes are closed."

. For people in wheelchairs or using a walker, consider a ramp over the stairs. This would apply even for an apartment or condo with a low threshold.

. Reduce the step-up on stairs from the traditional 7 inches to 4 inches.

. Take out the tub and put in a shower — with the proper safeguards. Gullo says 65,000 serious injuries happen in showers each year. A roll-in shower for people in wheelchairs can be built, with no lip or step and a drain slightly below floor level.

. Keep the tub and turn it into a walk-in. There are replacement walk-in tubs that can be expensive, Gullo notes, or a less-expensive kit can be used to create a door that can be cut into the side of a tub and the edges smoothed.

. Standard bathroom doors are 24 inches wide; the doorway can be widened to 30 or 32 inches by using off-set hinges.

. Replace round door knobs with levers. "Can you pass the closed-fist test?" Gullo asks. "Can you open the door or turn on the faucet with a closed fist?" If not, then a lever door knob is much more practical and paddle levers for faucets.

. Tables and kitchen counters can be made to accommodate residents in wheelchairs. These are custom-made jobs, Gullo notes. Exact measurements are made with the customer in his or her wheelchair.

. Kitchen ranges can be installed with controls in the front. Microwaves can be mounted lower for easier access.

. For residents with walkers or wheelchairs, "carpets aren't all that great," he says. Vinyl or wooden floors are clearly better.

. Dead bolt locks can be installed with a remote button, similar to what is used on many new cars, along with the traditional key.

. Every home is different," Gullo says, with different designs, ages, layouts and challenges. Some homes cannot be remodeled for an aging-in-place resident. "I've seen so many people who moved to Florida when they were 50 years old and now they are 70 or 75 years old. If they live in a townhouse, there's very little we can do."

Fred W. Wright Jr. is a freelance writer living in Seminole. You can reach him at


One of the elements that can make a home feel more secure, especially for an aging resident who may be feeling more vulnerable, is a home-monitoring system.

These systems offer a range of services, from standard fire, smoke and carbon monoxide monitoring to intrusion alerts mounted on doors and windows. All such systems are monitored 24/7.

For residents wanting more security regarding health emergencies such as falls or heart attacks, these systems also provide alert buttons. These buttons can be worn as a pendant, clipped on a belt or worn on the wrist. Push the alert button and a signal goes out from a monitor to telemetry centers. Most alert buttons work outside a house, up to a radius of 300 or more feet.

Calls will then be made, depending on the system, to a neighbor, nearby relative, caregiver or 911. Monitoring personnel, often trained in medical emergency responses, will call the customer as well in an attempt to confirm the emergency alert and the details.

Many monitors need to be installed by a service technician for a base fee. Some systems can be bought online and installed by the resident. All systems then require a monthly fee for monitoring; most require a contract of a year or more.

Nearly all monitoring systems come with a battery backup in case of loss of electricity, up to 30 or more hours.

In case an emergency response is required, a key can be placed with a neighbor or nearby relative. Also, a lock box similar to those used by Realtors, can be placed nearby with a key inside and an access code registered with the monitoring system.

Among the major monitoring systems available on the market are:

• Link Medical Alert, toll-free 1-888-227-3301 or

• Protect Your Home, toll free 1-800-580-1342 or

• Medic Alert, toll-free 1-877-451-7138 or

Great Call, toll-free 1-800-650-3977 or

• Lifeline, toll-free 1-877-689-6704 or

• MobileHelp, toll-free 1-800-800-1710 or

Fred. W. Wright Jr.

.To find a CAPS remodeler, architect, contractor, home designer or engineer in your area, go to

Stay out of nursing homes and in your own home with a few remodeling changes 04/23/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 22, 2013 6:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Estimated 5,000 people marvel at MOSI over solar eclipse

    Human Interest

    Packing pinhole cereal box viewers, cardboard glasses and curiosity, solar gawkers gathered outside Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry on Monday for a show that required no ticket.

    At center, Sophia Butter, 8, and Kristina Butera, both of Valrico, watch the sun through eclipse viewing glasses during a solar eclipse party Monday at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa. MOSI will reopen after renovations on November 18. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
  2. Florida State sees plenty of upside in Dade City native Jacob Pugh


    TALLAHASSEE — No, Florida State senior Jacob Pugh is not as versatile as teammate Derwin James.

     Florida State Seminoles linebacker Jacob Pugh (16) and Florida State Seminoles defensive end DeMarcus Walker (44) celebrate after sacking the Miami quarterback Saturday October 8, 2016 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
  3. Tampa officer treated for knee injury after police truck, police SUV collide


    Times staff

    TAMPA — A Tampa police officer was treated and released for a knee injury when his unmarked police truck collided with a patrol SUV while the officers were tracking a stolen car, a police spokesman said.

  4. Waiting for the eclipse: 'Everyone thinks this is cool'

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Hunter Holland came to school Monday with a NASA space T-shirt and solar viewers in his button-up shirt pocket. But he'd rather be in Missouri.

    Jayda Hebert (front, center), 11, uses her protective glasses to watch Monday's solar eclipse with her cousin, Judah Adams (back left), 11, and her brother Jake Hebert (right), 9, while with their family at St. Petersburg Beach. "We're skipping school for the eclipse," her mom, Sarah Hebert, said. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  5. Second person resigns from Hillsborough diversity council after Confederate activist appointed


    TAMPA — A second person has resigned symbolically from the Hillsborough County Diversity Advisory Council after the appointment of a known activist of Confederate causes to the panel. 

    Two people have resigned from the Hillsborough County Diversity Advisory Council after the inclusion of David McCallister, a leader of the local branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.