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Posted: August 31, 2008

Mobility Consultants Help Elderly Stay in Their Home

Aging in Place

I never realized how many obstacles the average home holds for a person in a wheelchair until we took my Dad to visit his sister Priscilla at her small Cape Cod-style home in Northampton, Massachusetts.

It took three of us to precariously bounce Dad -- in his wheelchair -- up the concrete steps and wedge him through the front door. Then poor Aunt Pris watched helplessly as we descended on her tidy home like a SWAT team, rolling up rugs to clear a wheelchair path and relocating much of the living room furniture to the back porch.

Most of us hope we will be able to live in our own homes well into old age. The odds are, though, that many of us will, at some time, lose mobility due to accident, illness or disability. And traditional home design, such as my aunt’s Cape, presents many obstacles to mobility. Stairs, narrow halls and doorways, carpeting, throw rugs and bathtubs are all common home design features that can stop us in our tracks when our mobility is impaired.

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Mobility Consultants Offer Solutions

Fortunately, growing awareness of this problem has resulted in the emergence of consultants who specialize in finding solutions for people with impaired mobility.

Mobility consultants have expertise related to adaptive equipment or accessible home design and construction. They might be physical therapists, employees of a company that sells adaptive equipment, certified geriatric care managers, realtors, architects or building contractors. The common thread, in this instance, is their knowledge of and interest in safety and mobility for the elderly.

Mobility consultants use their expertise to assess individual situations and recommend customized solutions. For example, a consultant with physical therapy experience can work with your loved ones to determine what type of equipment can help in their situation. A real estate broker who is also a mobility consultant can help buyers select a home that offers the best accessibility. A mobility consultant in the construction business can create plans and perform construction to remodel an existing home or to build a new one with elderly-friendly accessibility features.

Certified Aging in Place Specialists

The National Association of Home Builders and elder-advocacy group AARP collaborated to create the Certified Aging in Place Specialist designation for builders. To become a CAPS requires taking courses, passing an examination and completing continuing education requirements, all related to accessible home design and construction principles.

Frank Gucciardo, president of Frangeli Consulting & Remodeling in Levittown, New York, is a CAPS whose expertise is designing and remodeling homes to help people remain in those homes for life. He is also a trained physical therapist, which gives him added insight into the home accessibility needs of people with disabilities.

“Our company does everything from assessment to design to demolition to construction,” Frank said in an interview. “We use universal design principles to create homes that are ‘functionally beautiful’ -- meaning they are designed for maximum accessibility without the institutional feeling of a hospital or nursing home. When done right, these changes can actually add to a home’s value.”

Frank says that the most common remodeling changes he finds in existing homes involve bathroom access, followed closely by the need to replace steps with wheelchair ramps.

Mobility Rules

Cathie Ross started Mobility Rules near Portland, Oregon, as a grass roots effort to educate real estate brokers about the housing needs of their disabled clients and prospects. Her company worked with the Fair Housing Council of Oregon to create easy-to-understand guidelines for accessible home design and to develop an online training and certification program leading to the Certified Mobility Consultant designation.

Cathie said, “CAPS certification is geared toward construction specifications for builders and may not be user-friendly to the average person. We created Mobility Rules to make basic information about home accessibility design understandable in layman’s terms.”

Cathie also created the Mobility Ruler, a tool that helps you determine what changes should be made in the home to make it more accessible. Information about accessibility features in the home and the Certified Mobility Consultant (CMC) designation can be found at her website.

How to Choose a Consultant

Mobility consultants are relatively new on the scene, and consequently there is not yet a national network of consultants, but many professionals in fields related to healthcare and housing have developed expertise in this area. In addition to the information on CMCs available from Mobility Rules, information about CAPS can be found on the National Association of Home Builders website.

Selecting a mobility consultant requires that you evaluate factual information as well as pay attention to the comfort level you have with consultants you interview. These steps can help you choose the right consultant for your situation:

When to Contact a Mobility Consultant

Frank Gucciardo says the overwhelming majority of clients come to him after a traumatic event has already occurred. At that point, people are typically under the gun to make significant changes to their homes at a time when they are already under physical, emotional and possibly financial strain. He adds that proactive calls – before a crisis occurs -- most often come from adult children of elderly parents who are trying to plan ahead. That’s always the recommended course.

As our loved ones age, they are likely to experience changes in their physical capabilities. If “aging in place” is an important goal for you and your loved ones, then it is never too early to find out how Mom and Dad’s home measures up from an accessibility standpoint. Armed with information, you can plan and budget for changes over time, instead of being faced with the possibility of major disruption and expense all at once -- and at the worst possible time.
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Melissa A. Goodwin is a freelance writer and photographer living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She has years of experience working with volunteer caregiving programs that help seniors and family caregivers. She can be reached at meesarj@msn.com.

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