Senior living professionals form network to modify/build homes for aging

TRAVERSE CITY – Baby boomers are turning 60 at the rate of about 8,000 per day. Average life expectancies continue rising, thanks to healthier living and new medicines. At the same time, economic downturns and changing lifestyles show that many seniors in this area are opting for the convenience and comfort of staying in their own homes or choosing new ones that will allow them to live as independently as possible for the rest of their lives.

This "aging in place" trend is the driving force behind Homes for a Lifetime, a new network of regional professionals with construction, service, social work and gerontology expertise. The Traverse City-based not for profit organization recognizes the need for livable, ageless homes that provide easy access and safe environments for people of any level of self sufficiency. Its mission is to be a resource network for people who are interested in building, modifying or creating a home for the rest of their lifetime.

The seven-member group includes Kim Bowman, Catholic Human Services; Sally Erickson, POM Associates; Jody Fisk & Jonathan Leeds, EZ Able; Bill Packer, Packer Builders; Diana Zinsil, North Country Cabinets; and Kim Schmitz, Acts of Love Home Companions. Formed in spring 2008, they anticipate that the network will grow. All are independent contractors but offer complementary services and share a passion for and specialized training in aging in place issues.

"Environmental design for older adults has always been a love of mine," said founding member Kim Bowman, a professional social worker with added certifications in gerontology and aging in place design. "This developed from 21 years working in mental health, dementia and advocacy.

"I have seen many premature admissions to nursing homes over the years," she said. "My driving passion is to help people stay at home as long as they are able."

Advocacy and awareness are also stressed. "We'd like to pick up where Bay Area Senior Advocates leaves off," said Bill Packer, who noted that there are no other organizations in the area that address the related aspects of aging in place, including support services. As a veteran remodeler, his services are often called for after a family "crisis," such as an accident or health issue, when modifications are needed immediately. He would like to see families plan for aging in advance.

A key offering is a home assessment Bowman conducts that helps identify individual challenges and makes recommendations for homeowners or their family members. The assessment can cover a room, a section of a house or an entire home. Common recommendations include: replacing door knobs with lever handles; installing non-slip floor surfaces; widening doorways; adding grab bars; improved lighting; painting contrasting colors for visualization; making outlets and switches easier to reach; and connecting with support services.

According to AARP, nine in ten Americans want to stay in their homes as they age, even if they need help staying in caring for themselves. National statistics indicate that 60 percent of all home remodels involve some kind of age-related modifications. Recognizing the trend, the National Home Builders and AARP developed the Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) program, which teaches strategies and techniques for designing and building aesthetically pleasing, barrier-free living environments. The CAPS program goes beyond design to address the codes and standards, common remodeling projects and the costs, product ideas and resources needed to provide comprehensive and practical aging in place solutions and service.

Local CAPS training became a catalyst for Homes for a Lifetime. Bowman and Packer met during CAPS training where she met Packer, and connected with Fisk, Leeds & Zinsil who are also CAPS builders and subcontractors. Schmitz offers resources for in-home personal care, companionship and the "extra hands" that may be needed.

Visit or contact any member. BN