As researchers explore how to make homes more capable of sensing impending danger, the demand for personal alarms, grab bars, motion-sensor lighting and other tried-and-true safety products remains strong.
Home modifications, such as stairlifts and bathroom redesigns, also continue to play a key role in aging in place.
Still, younger baby boomers’ views on home safety may have changed in recent years.
“Sometimes we call it ‘visitability,’” says John Graziose, owner of Wayne County-based Gerber Homes & Additions. “People want to make their houses easily able to be visited by relatives—elderly parents, aunts, uncles—so they are making their houses accessible for that reason.”
In contrast, some seniors deny that their living conditions are unsafe, “so we see that as one of the biggest challenges,” says Dee Schwartz, director of aging services at Jewish Family Service of Rochester. The agency has geriatric care managers who conduct in-home evaluations to assess safety needs.
After being on the market for decades, one of the most common home-safety devices continues to be the personal emergency response service, known as PERS among security and health care professionals. The medical alarm typically has a wireless call button on a belt clip, wristband or necklace that sends a signal to emergency responders; it also has a tabletop or wall-mounted base station featuring a high-volume, two-way speakerphone.
Since entering the PERS market in 1996, Rochester-based Doyle Security Systems Inc. has “grown that business exponentially,” says the company’s sales director, Chris Marsh.
In the past two years, the technology behind PERS has changed considerably as more seniors have “gotten rid of or are making the move to get rid of standard telephone lines and moving to cable, DSL and, more recently, the voice-over-Internet situation,” Marsh says. “They’re responding to the ads where you never have to pay a phone bill the rest of your life.”
Other PERS advances relate to fall-detection monitoring, which Doyle Security also offers.
“And so we’ve seen a tremendous push for those (wearable devices) as well,” Marsh says.
Based on the results of a two-year test run, Doyle Security also offers “Doyle on the Go,” a mobile PERS equipped with GPS. Worn as a necklace or on a belt, the device has a two-way voice feature for instant, hands-free communication.
Staying on the lookout for other aging-in-place solutions is one of Doyle Security’s priorities, Marsh says. The company has tested technology that aims to measure gait and detect stumbles, but it has not yet found a system that does so effectively.
Interest in PERS tends to spike during the winter, when adult children living out-of-town visit for the holidays and become concerned about their parents’ safety, Marsh says.
“Most of the decision-making, quite honestly, is driven by family,” he adds.
Seniors interested in modifying their homes are increasingly considering walk-in showers, says Brad Cottier, owner and operator of Your Care Medical Supply in Penfield.
“The bathroom is the No. 1 area where falls and injuries occur in the house,” he says. “So you’re seeing a lot of people either pulling those tubs out or putting in barrier-free walk-in showers, or they’re going with the less costly solution: they’re simply cutting out the side of their tub and putting a door there so that somebody can now step up two inches.”
Walk-in showers have become much easier to install in recent years. There are options now that are made of acrylic but look like tile, Cottier says.
“Depending on how the plumbing is and the existing bathroom, a lot of these can be installed same day,” adds Cottier, whose company offers a range of home modifications.
Declining prices have helped fuel demand for another aging-in-place modification: stairlifts.
“Ten years ago, the price for a stairlift was probably close to $4,000, whereas today you could get one installed for $3,000 or maybe even less if it’s a straight staircase,” Cottier says. Some local companies also offer rental arrangements for stairlifts.
Wheelchair-accessible cabinetry and wider doorways will become far more common in homes within a decade, Cottier adds.
While heated sidewalks are still pricey, a sidewalk pitched toward a no-step front-door entry costs roughly $900 for anyone having a home built by Gerber Homes.
“So that’s a fairly small investment for a new home,” Graziose says.
Floor-level cameras that monitor for falls but do not compromise privacy will likely become more popular in years to come, especially in homes with in-law suites, Graziose says.
“The days of the sunken family rooms and the one step down into the sunroom (are over),” he adds. “We’re making all of those level again.”
Home-safety issues can be complex and pose multiple threats. Hoarders, for instance, put themselves at risk for falling or becoming trapped in the event of a fire, Schwartz says.
Some situations are easier to sort out, she adds.
“I see people use neighbors’ equipment or their husband’s old equipment, and that may not be the appropriate equipment to use,” Schwartz says. “So we want to get the experts in (the home).”
Among the seniors Jewish Family Service currently serves, very few rely on medication-reminder apps or smart pill dispensers to improve their safety or use Skype to show their relatives they are doing well, Schwartz says. But she expects that will change.
“With the new ‘silver tsunami’—baby boomers turning 65—that’s going to happen,” she says.
Sheila Livadas is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
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