Easy fixes help seniors ‘age in place’

Posted April 11, 2014, at 8:50 a.m.
Last modified April 11, 2014, at 9:06 a.m.
A volunteer with the EZ Fix program offered by the Eastern Area Agency on Aging moves from curbside to the front steps a mailbox for an elderly homeowner who encountered great difficulty in reaching the end of her driveway to get her mail. This simple project meant the woman could get her mail safely.
EAAA
A volunteer with the EZ Fix program offered by the Eastern Area Agency on Aging moves from curbside to the front steps a mailbox for an elderly homeowner who encountered great difficulty in reaching the end of her driveway to get her mail. This simple project meant the woman could get her mail safely.

There’s no place like home. For seniors who want to “age in place” in their own houses, the Eastern Area Agency on Aging has hands available through its EZ Fix program to help make that easier to do.

Small modifications — such as removing hazards around the house — or renovations — such as freeing up space to have a bathroom, bedroom, and laundry room on the first floor — can add to the value of a senior’s house and enhance the quality of life within it, according to Carol Higgins Taylor, EAAA director of community education.

“Sometimes small changes can make all the difference, said Robert T. Crone, EAAA director of nutrition and auxiliary services. The changes could be as simple as adding handrails to stairways, placing nonskid mats in the bathroom, or putting nightlights in hallways.

Higgins Taylor said she knew of a woman whose porch and steps had deteriorated to such an extent that the woman became fearful of falling through the rotten boards and rarely left her house. But after an EZ Fix volunteer did repairs, the homeowner became difficult to reach because she was never home.

Going out had become a pleasure again. The woman went to church, had her hair done, shopped, and spent time with friends. Practically overnight she went from being on the brink of isolation to reclaiming her place out in her community.

“Our goal,” Higgins Taylor said, “is to keep seniors in their houses. Renovating or modifying [a house] often makes that possible.”

The first thing that happens when a senior opts to talk to EAAA about making modifications or renovations is to have the living space assessed. “The key question to ask,” Higgins Taylor said, “is where [on the first floor] can I put a bathroom and bedroom? Not having to climb stairs can go a long way to keeping someone home.”

EAAA, through its EZ Fix program can help seniors answer that and many other questions.

Program volunteers undertake repairs, modifications, and renovations within their ranges of skill and expertise. If a renovation requires greater skill than is available through the program, the senior will be referred through EAAA to reputable carpenters, plumbers, and electricians.

If creating enough space for a downstairs bathroom or bedroom requires help with getting rid of possessions no longer wanted or needed, EAAA can refer clients to reputable professional organizers to assist with the task.

Crone, who has a background in building contracting, said the need for home modification and renovation is growing. Currently, EAAA has assisted 260 clients in the Bangor area. He expects that number to swell by the end of the year to 1,000 throughout the 13,000 square miles comprising the counties in the EAAA service area: Penobscot, Hancock, Washington, and Piscataquis.

More volunteers are needed for the EZ Fix program, Crone said, and efforts are now being made, especially in Hancock, Washington, and Piscataquis counties, to find men and women with carpentry and related skills to give time to the program.

The carpentry jobs that EZ Fix volunteer and on-call staff can do include door and step repair, railing repairs, deck repairs, household hardware such as grab bars. Volunteers also can repair or replace leaky faucets and toilets and minor leaks in sinks and drains; install smoke detectors and change their batteries, replace light bulbs, repair and install light fixtures, and replace fuses and circuits.

EZ Fix also offers seasonal home maintenance such as yard clean-up, and cleaning services such as window washing, housekeeping tasks, and laundry.

The EZ Fix services are open to all. The cost is $20 per hour, including travel. Clients with verified low income may qualify for a subsidized rate, Crone said.

“We want to see people stay in their homes for as long as they want to be there, and if we can help modify their environment, or their habits, we’ve met with success,” Higgins Taylor said. “If you keep an open mind about possible changes to the home, we can help you figure out what you need and what will work best for you. Call EAAA and ask an expert what’s possible.”

For information, call 800-432-7812 or visit eaaa.org/fix.

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