Make sure the livin’ is easy

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WASHINGTON (CNS) - When people plan for retirement, they usually make sure their finances are in order and make plans for their upcoming spare time.

Making their homes safer and easier to navigate isn't often on the top of their to-do list but experts say it should be.

According to a recent AARP study about 80 percent of Americans age 45 and older prefer to "age in place" or remain in their current homes and communities.

Manufacturers and contractors are responding to this trend by developing new products and technologies and talking a lot about universal-design homes that are accessible to people with or without disabilities.

For more than 70 million baby boomers who are on the edge of retirement, now is the time to remodel or modify potentially dangerous areas in the home - such as the kitchen and bathroom - to avoid future safety hazards.

The American Institute of Architects' Committee on Design for Aging recommends that people approaching retirement years get their homes ready with the following steps:

- Clear paths. Remove clutter inside a home that can obstruct pathways, such as plants and small furniture items. If a resident uses a walker or wheelchair, there should be at least 36 inches between objects for easy navigation. Homes also should include plenty of light and have light switches at all room entry points.

- Adopt a universal design. Small adjustments can enable basic rooms - bedroom, bathroom and kitchen - to be on one floor. Universally designed rooms feature lower countertops, grab bars, level door handles, entryways without steps, wide hallways, and showers without curbs for safety and accessibility.

- Be more eco-friendly. Make adjustments to help lower energy costs such as substituting traditional light bulbs with energy-efficient ones, replacing old appliances with Energy-Star certified appliances and making sure renovations involve environmentally friendly materials.

AARP similarly suggests that retirees remodel their homes using concepts of universal design which features a no-step entry, wide doorways, reachable controls and switches and handles that are easy to use. It also urges retirees to install universal-design products such as front-loading clothes washers and dryers, side-by-side refrigerators, easy access kitchen storage, nonslip floors, bathtubs and showers and showers with built-in benches or seats. Other adjustments include: windows that are easy to open and easy-to-grasp cabinet pulls.

The process of adapting homes to senior living is something Support Our Aging Religious, or SOAR, which is a national organization working to help U.S. religious congregations finance the retirement of their elderly and infirm members, is more than familiar with.

Each year the organization distributes about $1 million in grants to help with basic building repairs and safety features needed in the care of the elderly and infirm. Funds are primarily used for installing fire alarms and security systems or for replacing boilers, elevators and windows, and renovating rooms for handicapped accessibility.

A news release from SOAR said the "severity of need among religious congregations cannot be overstated."

The group's news release also noted that although the needs and ministries many change for older men and women religious, one thing doesn't change. They never "retire from their commitment to mission."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970