Senior with pink shawl and black cane smiles at camera

Home modifications — from grab bars to ramps — can go a long way toward keeping seniors healthy and remaining in their homes, and reducing the number of home care workers’ injuries. That was the word from both a contractor and prominent home care field leader at a National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) webinar Monday.

“Falls change lives, but on a very simple level, grab bars can protect lives and almost save lives,” contractor and HomesRenewed founder Louis Tenenbaum said.

Kathy Dodd, a leader in the home care industry and former NAHC board member, urged home care providers to encourage home modification efforts with clients and in the communities they serve.

“We’ve known for decades that people want to age in place and we can play a major contributor to making that happen through relationships with contractors,” Dodd said.

Homes in disrepair

Roughly 80% of people 65 and older own their own homes. About 90% of those homeowners want to age in place. Unfortunately, Tenenbaum said much of the nation’s housing stock is more than 70 years old and less than 4% of it is modified in a way that promotes safe aging.

Habitat for Humanity estimates that about 19 million seniors are living in homes that are in disrepair or in need of modification in order for their owners to live safely. Habitat offers an Aging in Place program that widens doorways, lowers counters, installs grab bars and builds ramps. Rebuilding Together is another program that modifies homes for seniors, but both of those programs primarily benefit low-income seniors.

Proposed tax law change

Tenenbaum said many middle-income seniors can’t afford some necessary modifications. He advocates a change in tax laws that would allow those homeowners to tap into 401k plans and independent retirement accounts (IRAs) to finance home modifications.

“If you’re allowed to use a portion of your money without a penalty no matter what your age, you would probably do your remodeling in a way that made your home age friendly and would save healthcare dollars and would promote growth in the home care market,” Tenenbaum said. 

Dodd said home modifications don’t have to be expensive and can save millions of dollars in unnecessary healthcare costs. There also can be a decrease in workers’ comp claims.

“We’ve got to find ways to address it because it’s a win, win, win,” she said.

This article originally appeared on McKnight's Senior Living