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  • Cassandra Spratling

Planning and Resources are Key to Overcoming Barriers to Aging in Place




The four-bedroom brick house on Detroit’s LaSalle Boulevard was Vera Boyd’s dream house. She enjoyed entertaining friends and family in the spacious, stately house nestled on a large green lot adorned with colorful flower beds.


But after 20 years, she made the difficult decision to move. “It broke my heart,” says the 81-year-old Boyd. “I stayed as long as I could.”


As Boyd aged, she could no longer care for the house, physically or financially. A trusted, affordable handyman who she depended upon passed away. Others she called upon were beyond the retiree’s budget. Boyd worked most of her life in various administrative jobs, mostly for the City of Detroit.


In 2019, she sold her house. The decision to age-in-place or move is a tough one for many older adults. Like Boyd, most would rather stay in their homes. Almost 90 percent of adults aged 50 to 80 would prefer to live in their home as long as possible, according to a 2022 University of Michigan poll of 2,277 people, supported by AARP and Michigan Medicine.


But doing so is not always possible. Major deterrents to aging in place are safety, mobility, financial resources, and accessibility to services, stores, programs and people essential to daily living, say advocates for older adults.


“It’s such a huge issue,” said Lisa Dedden Cooper, manager of Advocacy for AARP Michigan. “AARP’s mission is to empower people to choose how they live as they age. If people don’t have access, they can end up going into a nursing home when they just need help with activities of daily living.”


Ronald Taylor, president and CEO of Detroit Area Agency on Aging, advises people to begin thinking about their future living arrangements before they’re at the point of having to make a decision. “You should have a plan instead of having the decision spring up and not having a game plan in place,” Taylor said.


He recommends people take a hard look at the livability of the structure they’re in, their current and likely future income and their own overall physical and mental health.  “Also, what would be the person’s support system?” he asked.


“It’s a person's choice, but aging in place is not for everyone, especially if it creates a safety issue,” Taylor said. “Having an honest lens is going to be critical.”



Nurse Practitioner Nancy George, 64, and her husband, Henry Brockner, 60, purchased a home in Grosse Ile three years ago and had it remodeled with the goal of aging in place. Among other things they had a bathroom remodeled to include a walk-in shower big enough to comfortably accommodate a wheel-chair, though neither needs one.  As a nurse who used to do home care, she witnessed first-hand the challenges people faced as they aged.


“Getting in and out of the tub is when many seniors fall,” George said. In fact, the bathroom is the most dangerous place in the house for older adults because of the chances of slipping and falling on wet ground, said Keith Paul, a certified Aging in Place specialist who does building and remodeling work for HandyPro International, LLC.


An essential resource for assessing needs and ways to make the home safer and more comfortable is AARP’s Home Fit Guide.  The guide is available in several languages and is chock-full of tips.


Both Paul and occupational therapist Dr. Brandi Archie, who runs a business to help older adults age in place, recommend exploring what products and services exist—ideally before they’re needed.   


Archie advised that anytime someone does a home remodeling project, they consider ways to make it more aging-friendly.


To learn more about products and services offered by HandyPro, including a free in-person assessment, call 734.254.9160 or visit www.handypro.com/service-categories/home-modification


Archie’s business, AskSAMIE, offers free advice on products needed and they will do a virtual home assessment for $49. It also has an online store of products and a free on-demand assessment. For more info, visit www.asksamie.com/pages/get-helpc7e63


One other asset older adults should keep in mind is the importance of  being physically active as much as possible, Archie advised. Even if there’s a slip and fall, the chances of a quicker recovery are enhanced for people who are physically active, she said, and it doesn’t necessarily mean joining a gym.


“I mean moving your body in ways that are meaningful, that you enjoy and that you can and will do on a regular basis.”


Older adults also need to be assertive about seeking services that may help them age in place. Federal, state and local programs exist or are being developed to help seniors age in place, though much more is needed, advocates say.


Nationally, the Eldercare Locator may be helpful. Additionally, churches, community centers, nonprofit groups and other agencies should be checked.


Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed legislation that will provide a tax credit to help family caregivers  who are trying to help older loved ones age in place. The Caregiver Michigan Families Tax Credit would provide a nonrefundable credit to help offset the amount of state income taxes owed. Covered expenses could include but are not limited to adult day care, transportation, home modifications, equipment, and home health care aides.


“We know there are so many Michiganders who work hard to provide for themselves while also caring for an aging or sick family member,” said Whitmer. The credit would allow Michiganders caring for a loved one to save up to $5,000 on their taxes. “That’s money back in their pockets to pay the bills and put food on the table as they juggle all their responsibilities. We know the burden of caregiving falls disproportionately on women and especially women of color. While this informal caregiving work is often invisible, it is invaluable. I remember caring for my mom, who was dying of brain cancer, and my newborn daughter at the same time. It was hard. Anything to lighten the burden will help.”


Meanwhile, the Area Agency on Aging where you live is a good place to start looking for assistance. After an assessment, the AAA can set you up with assistance or direct you to resources. Examples include having someone assist with activities of daily living, like transportation, grocery shopping, food or personal grooming.


Bridging Communities is another helpful resource, especially for residents of Southwest Detroit. “That is at the heart of our mission, to help people age in place as long as it’s best for them,” said Jennie Weakley, deputy director of the organization. The service is available to people at least 60 years old. Workers do an assessment of an individual’s needs, then help connect those individuals to services they are eligible for, such as help with chores like lawn care, snow removal or transportation to medical appointments or filling out applications for home repair grants or property tax exemption forms.


Seeking grants or other sources of assistance? Check with those agencies already mentioned and keep an eye and ear open for what may be available.


The Cass Community Social Services, for example, offers $2,500 grants that are not income restricted to help seniors with minor home repairs.


One of those grants helped 73-year-old Betty Tate add a safety bar and new cabinetry in the bathroom of her house in Southwest Detroit. The small changes made her small bathroom safer and more attractive, thus more enjoyable.


“It helps me when I can see something nice and clean and new,” she says. The bathroom’s facelift, completed last December, lifts her spirits. “I plan on staying here. I want to do what I can to remain independent.”


One of the major, but often overlooked, barriers to aging in place is social isolation, both Weakley and Taylor of the Detroit AAA said.


“We have people who normally only see the postman,” Weakley said. “We know that people are more whole and better off when they engage in community.”


Taylor agreed. “How do we keep folks engaged in things they enjoy and continue with hobbies and stress-reducing activities that bring joy?”


In addition to having those organizations help make social connections, they advise checking local recreation centers, churches and other community centers that offer social programs for seniors.


Boyd, who had to move from her cherished four-bedroom home in the LaSalle Gardens neighborhood, now lives in a two-bedroom apartment in the Hartford Village senior living campus. The gated, attractive campus, which offers townhouses and apartments, has a waiting list.


Though Boyd misses her house, she has come to love her new place. There are safety bars in her bathroom. Each unit of the apartment building has an outdoor patio or balcony. And there are recreational activities that bring residents together.


“It’s wonderful,’’ she says. “It’s roomy and everybody is extremely helpful.”



Cassandra Spratling is an award-winning writer who specializes in people profiles and coverage of family issues, women, health and inspirational stories that effect change and empower people in metro Detroit and throughout the nation. She spent 34 years as a features writer for the Detroit Free Press.

                                             

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