Living safely and comfortably at home can become difficult in older age. Stairs to climb, inaccessible bathrooms, and poor lighting are common challenges. Experts at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore developed an innovative program to help people remain at home as they age and improve their overall wellbeing.

The program, called Community Aging in Place – Advancing Better Living for Elders (CAPABLE), teams a nurse, an occupational therapist, and a handyman to help low-income older adults make home updates they likely could not otherwise afford. It also works individually with each client to improve self-care and the ability to function at home.  

Now, Habitat for Humanity International Foundation is partnering with John Hopkins to pilot the program in additional communities around the country, one of which serves the seven-county Twin Cities’ metro area. Pat Lund, manager of Twin Cities’ Habitat for Humanity’s Age in Place Initiative, said that so far 16 area homes have been modified, and that another 12 are in process.

“We partnered with health care for referrals, and Allina Health was interested,” Lund said. According to Habitat’s website, Allina Health occupational therapists, nurses, and social workers are already in patients’ homes to assess their needs and listen to how they would like to improve their mobility. Modifications tailored to each individual are then prescribed to make homes healthier and safer.

All of this fits with Habitat’s desire to preserve home ownership and use universal design applications. (AARP has guidelines on this topic at aarp.org: search HomeFit Tour). Lund said that common modifications are installing grab bars, replacing tubs with accessible showers, changing lighting, and making it easier for residents to get into and out of their homes.

Lund said that after a person is referred to Habitat, his team “confers with the homeowner about what they want and what they feel makes them function better to stay in the home.” He added that an important feature of Habitat’s involvement is that, “If we’re there and other home improvements are needed, we can go ahead and do those.”

Income eligibility is based on the homeowner earning less than 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). Lund said the percentage will increase, making more people eligible, after the pilot program concludes and Habitat rolls out an ongoing plan.

CAPABLE was also developed as a new approach to reducing medical costs. The program notes that people with functional limitations and chronic conditions — such as many who participate in CAPABLE — are among the costliest users of health services. Data gathered from Johns Hopkins shows that its CAPABLE program creates more than six times the savings in medical costs as a result of reduced inpatient and outpatient expenditures.

Funding for the local endeavor comes from the Weinberg Foundation through Habitat International and from the state of Minnesota. Lund said that it is too soon to judge the cost effectiveness of the local program, although Habitat is gathering baseline data.

“We will measure outcomes over a year and two years,” he said, looking at whether residents have fewer falls, and spend less time in emergency rooms and hospitals compared to others.

For those whose income is outside the criteria set for this program, Lund said people should look for local groups or contractors who have the expertise to evaluate homes for modifications. This column recently spoke with Alissa Boroff, a certified aging in place specialist (CAPS) with Centrex Rehab, which offers these services.

People who meet the income guidelines for the Habitat program should pursue participation through their health care provider, Lund said. He added that Habitat hopes to work regularly with all local health care organizations as the program rolls out. More information can be found at tchabitat.org/services/age-in-place.

For more resources for housing or other topics of interest to older adults, visit agefriendlymaplegrove.org.

All Maple Grove residents are invited to participate in Age-Friendly Maple Grove. The Leadership Team meets at 8:30 a.m. on the second Friday of each month at the Community Center.

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