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Aging in Place: Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Being able to to bathe, dress, and feed ourselves is something that many of us take for granted. But for seniors, being able to manage these basic daily tasks can mean the difference between aging in place in their own homes, and requiring a move to a nursing home or other medical facility.

Armed with this knowledge, the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing has been running an experimental program called CAPABLE (Community Aging in Place – Advancing Better Living for Elders), that’s “designed to help seniors live more comfortably and safely in their homes”.

What the CAPABLE team has discovered is that little things really can make a big difference. The program talks to seniors about what their goals and priorities are, and what challenges they face. Then, the program engages handymen and occupational therapists to improve seniors’ physical surroundings, and give them the gadgets and skills to accomplish the actions they need to do to live safely at home.

What are these small fixes? A recent story on ABC 6 News gives some examples:

“The fixes sound simple. A double banister let people rest their weight on both sides to get up and down stairs safely. Handymen fixed trip hazards, installed grab bars and lowered shelves so seniors could reach without climbing. Occupational therapists bought assistive devices to help people with tremors feed themselves, and taught the frail how to get in and out of high-sided tubs.

Even simple fixes can be life-changing, like the reaching gadget therapists gave Bertha Brickhouse to help tug on her socks and shoes.

“You just don’t want to ask someone, ‘Can you come to my house and help me put my boots on?'” said Brickhouse, 69, of Baltimore, who has diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and uses a cane for damaged knees. “It was like I was born all over again from their help, the things they did to make my life much easier.””

The results of the study have been overwhelmingly positive. After completing the 5-month program, 75% of participants had improved their ability to take care of themselves. Symptoms of depression had also improved, with similar results to taking antidepressant drugs.

The average cost (including home repairs, assistive devices, and home visits from health professionals) was about $2,835 per participant — a drop in the bucket, compared to hospitalization or nursing home costs.

Data from the CAPABLE program are currently being analyzed to see if these proactive investments and actions translate into cost savings for Medicare and Medicaid. The results look promising — and there’s no question the program has a positive impact on seniors.


Heffner & Associates, Elder Care Law & Estate Planning

Jefferson Office Park
615 Jefferson Boulevard
Warwick, Rhode Island