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Home Improvements for Your Future

Workshops will promote safer, more accessible homes

Missouri homebuilders

Paul Lillig, owner of a Kansas City design and building firm that focuses on making homes more accessible for older people and those with disabilities, will participate in AARP Missouri Home Fit workshops. — Photo by Jared Soares

Three years ago, Paul Lillig helped a woman in her late 80s who was a virtual prisoner in her home because rotting porch steps and a wobbly railing made it unsafe to go outside.

The repair work was simple for Lillig, but it was a life changer for the woman. And for him.

See also: How well is your home caring for you?

"I realized I could change a person's life by fixing her porch and steps," he said. "She got back something that had been taken away from her. The heartwarming part of the story is everyone in the neighborhood reattached themselves to her. She literally came out of a shell."

That realization led Lillig to a career decision. His Kansas City design firm would focus exclusively on making homes accessible for older people and people with disabilities.

Lillig, 54, will participate when AARP Missouri holds six Home Fit workshops across the state aimed at ensuring residences are accessible, safer and more energy-efficient. The workshops — starting this month and continuing through November — will be held in the areas of Springfield/Joplin, St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City. To find a workshop near you, go to the AARP Missouri website or Facebook page.

Craig S. Eichelman, AARP Missouri state director, said older people overwhelmingly want to live in their homes as long as possible.

"The workshops will be very powerful. They are designed to deliver practical information on a range of home modifications, which can help older Missourians live more independently," he said.

Adult children and caregivers who may need to help with home modifications are also encouraged to attend.

Participants will receive a "Home Fit" checklist to determine whether a residence is "fit" for independent living. The checklist also includes tips for hiring a contractor. If you are unable to attend a workshop, you can request a free copy by calling 1-888-687-2277 toll-free. Ask for the 'AARP Home Fit Guide' and give the publication number: D18959, or go to the AARP housing resources website.

Home modification projects can cost as little as $500 and be as simple as removing loose carpeting or electrical cords stretched across the floor. Another quick fix, Lillig said, is replacing traditional faucet handles and doorknobs with levers that can be opened or turned with a wrist or elbow. People with mobility limitations or arthritis or a parent carrying a child can open doors more easily this way, he said.

Next: Plan ahead when remodeling. >>

More extensive projects can cost more than $10,000. For example, a no-step shower that a wheelchair can roll into can cost $5,000 to $8,000. People should plan ahead before embarking on modifications.

Perry Onstot, 89, learned that lesson. Onstot, who flew as a gunner in a B-24 bomber over Germany during World War II, now lives in a two-story home in Kansas City.

"I am very careful," he said. "I have canes I use to walk around the house. Falling is a big fear."

Several years ago, Onstot fell and lay on his bedroom floor for eight hours until a family member found him. His daughter, Debra Clarke of Overland Park, Kan., said she and her siblings have done what they can to keep their father in his home. This includes moving his washer and dryer from the basement to the first floor and getting a chair lift installed.

Onstot found that some modifications haven't met his needs as he has aged. For example, the walk-in tub he purchased was too small to allow him to easily turn on the shower spray.

Because of her father's situation, Clarke, 60, is already thinking ahead to her older years. She will want a smaller home that is on a single level. "You are continuously trying to think of ways of modifying [older parents'] homes so it is easier for them to live in," Clarke said. "You have to think about how you can work it so that they can stay home."

Also of interest: Making home safer. >>

DeAnn Smith is a freelance writer living in Independence, Mo.

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