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Long Term Care: When to Plan and How to Pay
Benefits of Hiring an Accessibility Specialist
Current Trends in Senior Housing
Universal Design & Aging in Place
Product Spotlight: Flip A Grip

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For Boomers & Their Aging Parents

Long Term Care: When to Plan and How to Pay

Long-Term Care: When to Plan and How to Pay
Preparing for the possibility of long-term care for a loved on is a scenario no one wants to envision. But, with  63% of seniors needing long-term care, everyone must consider it. As we grow older, it’s wise to put a plan in place to ensure our aging loved ones will be cared for in the best possible way. While you may be open to being a caregiver, taking on the role unexpectedly can be a considerable burden. This article will help you understand steps to take to plan and pay for long-term care.
Planning for Long-Term Care

When you help a friend or family member make decisions about the possibility of long-term care, it won’t be easy. It can be hard for our aging loved ones to accept the potential of needing in-home care or moving into an independent of assisted living facility. However, make sure to point out to them that by planning, they have a substantial say in their future. You have time to:
●     Examine family history to see what kind of care may be needed. For example, if your loved one has had more than one close family member — like a sibling or a parent— diagnosed with dementia, their risk increases significantly.
●     Start making healthy lifestyle choices that will postpone or prevent some of the common conditions that cause seniors to need long-term care. A healthy diet and daily exercise, along with quitting smoking and limiting alcohol, can add 5, 10 or even 15 healthy years onto a life.
●     Reduce the chance an in-home injury could occur by installing non-slip flooring in bathrooms and kitchens, moving bedrooms to first floors or installing a stair lift. More than 3 million seniors go to the ER each year due to accidents in the home. Not only could an injury due to a slip or a fall require physical therapy to recover, but it could also result in the long-term consequences of a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Planning for long-term care is part predicting the future and part preventing it. Help your loved one understand that planning is a type of prevention. If you take steps to prepare for the worst-case scenario, you’ll actually be focusing your energy on how to make their golden years the best years yet.
Paying for Long-Term Care

Deciding on ways to pay for long-term care is crucial if you want your planning to make a difference. If your loved on is adamant they have in-home care, but the two of you don’t work out how to cover the costs, they could be facing a great deal of disappointment when the time comes. Figuring out how to pay for long-term care means looking closely at insurance and assets.  
Once they understand their insurance options, the next step in planning for costs involves helping them analyze their assets and cash flow. This can be an uncomfortable conversation, especially for seniors who come from a generation where finances are an extremely private matter. Emphasize this is a judgment-free conversation, focusing on helping them free up funds for long-term care by:
●     Including long-term care in their retirement planning, from deciding when to retire to how much they will need to put into a 401(k).
●     Considering a reverse mortgage, which involves understanding the pros and cons. On the one hand, a reverse mortgage will give your loved one cash in-hand without needing an excellent credit score rating. This can help with making home modifications for accessibility or hiring an in-home caregiver. On the other hand, there could be negative implications to their estate or a spouse or partner who will remain in the home after they leave.
●     Selling a life insurance policy is another way to pay for long-term care’s costly daily expenses and medical support. If care isn’t needed, then the policy stands as-is. Many seniors consider this option to be a win-win.

As our life expectancies increase, so does the potential for long-term care. It’s scary and even overwhelming for seniors to think about, so knowing they have the support and guidance of a caring friend or family member means a lot. Your loved one deserves to feel loved in their golden years. Planning for long-term care— even if it is never needed— provides invaluable peace of mind. 

Article by June Duncan, the co-creator of the website Rise Up for Caregivers, which offers support for family members and friends who have taken on the responsibility of caring for their loved ones. She is author of the upcoming book, The Complete Guide to Caregiving: A Daily Companion for New Senior Caregivers.

Benefits of Hiring an Accessibility Specialist

If you or a loved one are reaching the point in life where either a move or upgrades to a current home is necessary, working with an accessibility specialist can be like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  

Maybe you or someone you know would like to be more independent but are having difficulty maneuvering the barriers found in most homes. Narrow doorways, stairs and steps, standard bathtubs, slippery floors are all common barriers to safety that most people struggle with as they get older.  An accessibility specialist can help with these issue. These professionals deal with all of the aspects of home remodels in order to allow those who are aging but don’t want to move away from their home, or those with disabilities but who want to maintain their independent living conditions succeed in their desires.  Although there are a large number of independent and assisted living facilities available in most areas, an overwhelming number of people would prefer to spend the golden years of their lives in the home where their children may have grown up, or where they’ve created decades of good memories and connections.  
If you do need some help, who should you call?  What type of training should an accessibility specialist have?   There are only a few programs that offer specialty training in designing and remodeling home environments so as to help those who choose, remain in their homes safely and comfortably. There is more to this than meets the eye and these specialists have learned to look not just at a specific environment but also the people who will be living there. This is precisely what differentiates an accessibility specialist from a contractor - their ability to link specific ailments with specific solutions and to project long term changes as one ages that might affect ones safety and independence within a home environment.  Keep in mind that even simple things like grab bars should be installed based on an individual's physical condition.  

The National Association of Home Builders offers a short course known as the Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS), designed to train contractors in the technical and business management side of renovations as well as the customer service skills which are needed for these types of transaction. 

The University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology offers an online course in Home Modifications, dedicated to promoting aging in place and independent living for persons of all ages and abilities. This five week program covers home assessments and safety checklists, construction techniques, funding resources, and also includes required coursework in the ethics of dealing with a vulnerable population.  After successful completion, the Program grants an Executive Certificate in Home Modification (ECHM).

What can you expect once you’ve located a trained accessibility specialist?  The Specialist will meet with you in your home to help define your needs, and then complete a full written assessment that includes suggestions for improving safety and comfort.  Recommended changes will vary widely from home to home, based not only on home layout but also on each individuals physical requirements as well as budget realities. Afterwards, you will be shown some plans and/or be given written suggestions to suit both your short term and long term needs. Depending on the size and complexity of your project, you may be offered a floor plan which will help you to visualize the concept in the way that it will appear once complete.  The suggestions can include every aspect of your home living, both inside and out.  For example, a ramp leading up to your home will help with stairs if they become hard to navigate or if you have to use a wheelchair.  Seats in your shower along with an accessible and removable shower head, lowered shelves to hold grooming supplies and a handle to help you in and out of the tub or shower unit can all be changes that will help accommodate your right to privacy and good hygiene. You might also need to think about expanding doorways, adjusting the height of your countertops, or making storage more accessible.  Arrangements can be made to reconfigure or bring in specialty equipment for ease of use.  It’s possible that your floors may need to be changed (from a deep pile carpet which can catch wheelchairs or even cause a tripping hazard) to low pile carpets or laminate for better traffic movement.  Better lighting can help you see in the dark, and motion sensor lights can alleviate the need for reaching for light switches.  There are so many different things to think about that someone trained in the process will help to ensure nothing is overlooked and can make suggestions that haven’t even entered your mind.  Renovations can be a large expense and quite the production; you want to get it done right the first time.  Your accessibility specialist will also give you an estimated budget for the renovations you’d like done so that you can determine which are affordable and which ones might need tweaking.

Since most accessibility specialists have dealt with numerous renovations, they can often lead you to competent and efficient businesses and contractors able to handle the suggested modifications.  From electricians to carpenters to plumbing suppliers, an experienced accessibility specialist has set up a good relationship with a variety of tradespeople and can let you know which ones will be right for your particular job and one that will do the work based on your budget.

Article by Jon Reyes, a guest writer from Vidalux. Jon is a specialist writer and has extensive knowledge in everything related to steam showers, saunas and hydrotherapy benefits.

Current Trends in Senior Housing

     Times are changing at an ever increasing pace, and with it, offerings in senior housing are attempting 
to keep pace.  These days, seniors are delaying their move from independent to dependent living 
by as many years as possible using a variety of means, and gaining more control over decisions regarding where they live and what facilities are at their disposal.  

     With 2016 came an influx of new assisted living complexes, meaning that the competition can be fierce and providers must cater to a growing set of needs.  Most of the time people move into an assisted living community due to needing some help with medial care that they can no longer maintain alone, even with the help of nearby family and friends.  Over the next 20 years, our population aged 85 and above will increase by 74%.  Knowing what types of medical conditions are most prevalent in their nearby communities in order to accommodate them in the best way possible will give providers a decided edge against the competition.

     One way in which an assisted living provider can take advantage of both an increasing use of technology by seniors (52% of seniors are online) and cater to their desire to remain in their own homes is to offer assistance outside the walls of the assisted living residence.  This may mean offering home visits to help support medical needs or even reminding someone remotely via a tablet to take their medications or eat at mealtimes.A surprisingly high percentage of seniors (over 70%) regularly use some type of online social media, so communication via these tablets or phones is also a great way for staff to keep in touch with their charges. A rise in the use of electronic health records could help support a growing number of seniors, both living in and outside of the residence, without overwhelming staff.  This an easy way to track the health care and condition of a patient and provides a reliable database for those who can relay this information to concerned family members in order to help make the best medial decisions possible.  It also provides a benchmark for those patients living outside the residence for use in considering how many years they will be able to continue to enjoy independent life in their own home.  By providing elder care within their own homes, a company starts a relationship with potential future tenants sometimes years before they need any space within the residence walls.

     It says a lot when a healthy 78 year old today has a life expectancy of 15 years or more with a reasonable level of activity and nutrition, compared to that of someone living in a traditional assisted living residence, who can expect half of that number in years ahead of them.  As our health is better maintained later into life, candidates for residency will demand more and more facilities to support better fitness and diet.  As expectations increase, so too do the number of ways in which a facility can deliver to their residents.  “One stop shopping” businesses are cropping up to help provide a variety of elements that our ageing communities are looking for, including healthy catered meals, hair dressing, social activities, and fitness equipment and classes.  When a provider can outsource all of these things, it has the ability to focus on the health and needs of the residents and become far more streamlined in its care.

     Environments within a facility are changing too, as providers move to make the homes less institutionalized and more community-centric.  Some even offer independent condo living style situations with small team of care givers to manage any concerns for their designated group of 6-10 residents.  Others offer single unit homes or a townhome set up.  The variety of living accommodations has certainly changed drastically over the sterile and hospital-like state of residences from days gone by.

     With each generation adding years on to life expectancy, we will certainly see an increase in versatility and options for elder care in the decades to come.  Our seniors are raising their voices and the demand to be heard is creating an ever increasing shift in a sense of control even late into their golden years.

Article by Jon Reyes, a guest writer from Steam Shower Store. Jon is a specialist writer and has extensive knowledge in everything related to steam showers, saunas and hydrotherapy benefits.

Universal Design & Aging in Place

The concept of accessibility is closely linked with the concept of equality.  In many countries, it is enshrined in law, for example the American with Disabilities Act,  The ADA, however, only applies in certain, specific environments, essentially government-run facilities, public infrastructure and employment.  It only covers a limited number of private companies, such as those involved in providing accommodation and transportation.  The development of private homes is entirely outside the scope of this legislation and yet arguably the provision of high-quality, accessible homes is of fundamental importance in a society where lifespans have been growing longer for many years now, with the result that there is a growing segment of people who strongly wish to age in place and enjoy their independence in to great old age.
Universal Design
It’s therefore hardly surprising that the principle of universal design has come to the fore over recent years.  In simple terms, universal design is based on the philosophy that all buildings should be completely accessible to everyone, as far as is reasonably and safely possible.  In other words, the idea of homes being created to fulfill the needs of a certain group of potential customers (couples without children, families, empty nesters…) is replaced by the aim of creating homes which are suitable for anyone at any stage of life and regardless of any disability.  As well as incorporating the principles of universal design into new-build homes, or homes which are in need of extensive renovation, it’s often possible to update existing homes to make them more accessible.
Accessibility in Practice
The first principle of universal design is that it should accommodate all users and avoid singling out any particular group of people.  Features such as ramps, widened doorways and laminate flooring all enhance accessibility in a way which is appropriate to all users.  The second principle is flexibility in use, which has become very much a feature of modern home design, particularly in cities.  Although this concept is often viewed in the context of maximizing space in smaller homes, it also maximizes usability in larger spaces and includes features such as pull-out work areas in the kitchen, appropriate lighting and accessible storage.  The third principle is simple and intuitive use.  Functionality and usability takes place over advanced features.  This would include features such as walk in tubs, floor-level showers and easy-access appliances.  Again, while these features all enhance accessibility and help to make aging in place a feasible reality, they are all of benefit to all occupants of a home.  It’s also worth noting here, that accessibility can become a major issue at any time, for example during the later stages of pregnancy or if a person has an accident and needs time to recover.  Hence, creating (or adapting) homes with accessibility in mind, takes care of these situations before they arise.
Managing the aging process
As the old saying goes, growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.  The aging process is a part of life, but it’s also fair to say that older age has a very different meaning now than it did even twenty years ago.  At age 82 Cloris Leachman competed in season 7 of Dancing with the Stars (in 2008) and lasted a full 7 weeks.  There are many reasons for this change and one of these reasons is that many people have become more actively aware of the need to manage their health throughout their lives and, in particular, as they transition into their later years of adulthood and into their senior years.  For all the advances in modern medicine, the human body itself still works in much the same way it always has, which means that as we age the body becomes more susceptible to injury and takes longer to recover from exercise or accidents.  This makes it all the more important to find gentle way of stimulating the body, with minimal risk of injury.  Water can play an important role in this.  Swimming is a safe and fun way of keeping fit into later years and can be supplemented by wellness treatments which combine the benefits of both water and heat, such as whirlpool baths and steam rooms.

Article by Jon Reyes, a guest writer from Clearwells. Jon is a specialist writer and has extensive knowledge in everything related to steam showers, saunas and hydrotherapy benefits.

Product Spotlight: Flip A Grip

We love this product for our clients.  It's called Flip A Grip and is a handle that can mount on a door frame, or anywhere someone might have a problem maintaining balance. While we install grab bars of all sizes and shapes in bathrooms to increase safety for our clients, these little handles work beautifully in a places where a grab bar is just to big or bulky -- particularly in doorways.    

The Flip A Grip is a sturdy handle with a non-slip, latex free handle that glows in the dark and folds out of the way when not using it. If you or a loved one has trouble with transfers, stairs or walking, the Flip A Grip is a great safety product. Designed by a physical therapist to prevent falls and make it easier and safer to get his patients in and around the house, the Flip A Grip can help you maintain your independence.

Flip A Grip Features:
• Allows for greater mobility and independence within the home
• Attaches easily, securely and fits in spots that ordinary grab bars can't fit
• Folds up to be hidden and out of the way when not in use
• ADA compliant and meets ASTM specification 446-85
• Has capacity to handle both push and pull forces
• Non slip grip glows in the dark

You can find this product online at various retailers.  It costs approximately $40/handle.


Here's a link to a video showing how it is to be installed:

  Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC

S Florida Event: Annual Friendship Walk


The Friendship Walk
Sunday, May 3rd, 2015
9:15 am - 1:00 pm
Pines Trails Park
10555 Trails End
Parkland, FL  33076

The Friendship Walk is an annual vehicle for volunteers, families and friends of The Friendship Circle of North Broward & South Palm Beach Florida to raise community awareness and much needed funds for programs benefiting individuals with special needs and their families. The Friendship Circle, a non-profit organization founded in 2003, has a refreshing approach to helping families of children with special needs. More than 400 volunteers bring the spirit of true friendship and unconditional acceptance to the hundreds of children who participate in over a dozen weekly recreational, social and education programs, as well as summer and winter camps. 

The May 3rd 3k walk kicks off with an inspirational Opening Ceremony, followed by the walk through the park. Following there is a family friendly,action packed Carnival & Fair with rides, activities, food, games, live entertainment until 1 PM. This fun filled event is attended by a broad cross-section of people who come together to demonstrate their solidarity and support for the work done by the Friendship Circle. 

For more information, to donate, or to register for the event,  please go to

We hope to see you there!

Susan Luxenberg, Owner
HomeSmart LLC

10 Common Home Barriers that Challenge Aging in Place, Part 1

The longer I am involved in helping people remain in their homes as they age, the clearer the repeating issues become.  I have found that there are 10 barriers within a home that consistently challenge everyone as they get older.  These barriers wind up causing safety issues because as we age our ability to maneuver safely around them diminishes.  

In the next few blogs I am going to address all 10 issues.  This, Part 1, will tackle the top three:

1.  STEPS AND STAIRS - This refers to both exterior and interior steps. In a perfectly designed home for aging- in-place there would be no stairs or steps anywhere. In Florida many single story homes, while designed for retirees, were designed with changes in floor level. Consequently,there might be a step or two from dining to living room or steps down leading from an entrance hall to the rest of the house.  With aging comes deterioration of our vision and depth perception making these areas particularly unsafe.

The solution for both singular steps and flights of stairs are railings, stair treads that delineate stair edges, and upgraded lighting.  You'll see in the pictures below some examples of these solutions that include battery operated lighting particularly useful for stairs, and colored stair treads which work well on exterior stairs - both inexpensive solutions to major issues.  




                                         STAIR TREADS


For those who can no longer manage stairs at all, in addition to standard portable sutcase ramps there are numerous threshold ramps that are lightweight, some of which adjustable so they can adapt to 1 - 4 steps, and can be easily moved from front to side or back doorways.





2. NARROW DOORWAYS - For a doorway to be accessible and comfortable to get through while in a wheelchair or using a walker or when helped by a companion, it needs to be at least 32" wide.  Many interior doorways would fail that test!  In Florida we face a common issue of 24" bathroom doors.  Once one can no longer walk through a doorway unaided, a 24" doorway is extremely uncomfortable if not impossible to maneuver.  
The obvious fix is to enlarge the doorway by cutting the wall so as to widen the door opening then install a new door, preferably a pocket door which allows for complete access.   Keep in mind that to do so may also require shifting the vanity location which is often located adjacent to the bathroom door, so while this may be the only option available it is also a costly one.  An inexpensive option which may prove helpful is to swap the existing door hinges with swing away ones. These will allow for an additional 4" of clearance when getting through a doorway since these hinges allow the door to swing clear of the jamb and set it tight to the wall.  The pictures below show both options.








3. TOILETING- Why oh why were standard toilets designed at the height they are?  One does not have to be old to have difficulty standing up or sitting down on them.  Just ask anyone with a bad back or a knee injury how comfortable those efforts are. The CDC has released a study showing that 75% of falls in adults over the age of 85 occur in the home and of those falls 52% occur in the bathroom around toileting.  

The solution is to replace your older standard or lowboy height toilet with a comfort height one.  Comfort height toilets are 17" high compared to 14-15" height of a standard one and those 2-3" really make a difference.   Are these toilets expensive?  Not really.  Both Kohler and American Standard offer comfort height toilets starting at about $200.  Just make sure when shopping you use the term "comfort height" and not ADA.  As soon as the salespeople hear ADA they search for an unnecessarily expensive and specifically designated toilet.

If a 17" height is still not enough, a toilet riser (basically a little platform) can be built under the toilet to bring it to a more comfortable height.  You will see pictures below of varied toilet configurations.





Another options to install a wall hung toilet, a more popular choice in Europe than in the U.S. The benefits of a wall hung toilet are that one can set the height to individual preference and cleaning under it is easy.  These toilets also take up little room in a bathroom as opposed to a floor mounted toilet which usually has a much larger footprint than the toilet bowl warrants.

Note: for those who require additional help when maneuvering on and off a toilet, wall mounted grab bars can be set on either side of the toilet on the wall behind it.  These bars function like the arms of a chair and offer great security for those with either balance issues or when transferring from wheelchair or walker to toilet seat. There are a couple different styles differing widely in price.  


                                                      TOILET ON CUSTOM BUILT FLOOR RISER

Next:  Part 2, Commonly found barriers within a home #4-6  

  Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC

Home For the Holidays 2014

Note:  I originally published this post a couple of years ago, but believe the information is important enough to re-post each year at holiday season.  Statistics remind us that fall prevention is key to independence as we get older, and features in a home that pose no problem when we're at our physical best often become more difficult to negotiate with aging frailties.   

It’s holiday time which means that you may be either visiting or being visited by your parents.  This is a perfect time to assess your parents’ safety and comfort whether in your home or theirs. 

I recently gave a presentation at a senior complex and spoke about safety concerns that could be found in almost every home.  That triggered a lively conversation about the problems these seniors encountered when visiting their kids:  no grab bars in the bathroom, slippery shower and tub floors, no place to sit down when showering, steps that were not clearly delineate, stairs without handrails, or poorly lit hallways or staircases.  Most of those I spoke with said that they were reluctant to ask their adult kids to make any permanent changes to their own homes or install any special equipment, etc.  I have no doubt that if their kids thought about it, they would be happy to provide their aging parents with safer, more comfortable surroundings.  And truthfully these modifications would benefit everyone in the home. 

So here’s a simple list.  None of these items are costly and all can be done quickly:
 1.    Reduce tripping hazards by removing books, shoes, laundry, and toys from stairs; 
       ensure there are clear pathways through all rooms  
2.    Install handrails on stairs and steps; bright colored tape can be applied at the edge 
       of steps and stairs to delineate floor level changes. 
3.    Increase the lighting at the top and bottom of the stairs; put bright lights over all 
       porches and walkways 
4.   Store frequently used items in easy-to-reach places so that using a step stool or 
      chair is not necessary. 
5.   Small throw rugs are a hazard.  Either remove them completely or tape them to 
      the floor with double stick tape. 
6.   Have night lights or battery operated lights in the bedroom, hallways and
7.   Apply non-slip strips or non-slip coatings in bathtubs and showers  
8.   Install grab bars in showers and tubs, appropriately anchored (no suction ones, 
9.    Purchase an inexpensive shower bench or chair which can be taken in and out of the 
      tub or shower as required.   

 After all, an injury from a fall is one the biggest dangers the over-65 population faces and one that often results in a loss of independence.  Implementing the safety measures mentioned above can substantially reduce the chance of injury to your parents and allow for a safer, happier holiday season for all.

Happy Holidays!

Susan Luxenberg, Pres.
HomeSmart LLC

Recent Questions: The value of accessibility improvements

Question:  Will modifying my bathroom negatively affect my home’s value?

Answer: Actually, modifying your bathroom to make it safer and more accessible will improve the value of your home.  Many of the past solutions for accessibility were pretty institutional in design but today there are numerous alternatives that not only function to improve safety and comfort but also enhance the look of the space. The manufacturers are all aware that there are 77 million Baby Boomers who are looking to the future and demanding high end products to make their homes safe as well as beautiful.  Furthermore, this generation of Boomers is becoming educated in the concept of universal design – looking to create spaces that are comfortable for all users regardless of their physical abilities.  Think about it, if your bathroom – or for that matter any room in your home -  functions well for a wide range of users, young/old, short/tall, wheelchair bound or not, it becomes more desirable to a wider range of purchasers when it comes time for you to sell.
Question: My husband and I (both of us in our early 80’s) live in a two story home and it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to climb the stairs to our bedroom. We do not want to leave this house but want to remain here for as long as possible. Can you explain both stair lifts and home elevators and whether either one is a practical solution for us? 

Answer: When deciding how best to adapt your current home both physical and financial considerations are key.  And since I do not know your particular situation or what your preferred type of housing would be if moving, I can only review the features, some pros and cons, and costs of both options and leave it to you to determine what might work best for your situation.

A stair lift is a motorized chair on a track that carries a person up and down the stairs. Stair lifts are typically attached directly to the stair treads, not the walls, so installation can be accomplished in under a day with minimal disruption to the house. In addition to quick installation, stair lifts can easily be removed when they are no longer needed.  Many companies purchase used lifts, then refurbish and re-sell them, so it is possible to recuperate some of the equipment costs when you are no longer in need of the lift.
Stair lift solutions are available for types of stair configurations - inside and outside - and can be battery operated, A/C operated, or A/C operated with battery backup. Each requires a grounded electrical outlet positioned near the unit to power it or to recharge the battery.

The cost of a stair lift is substantially less than a home elevator. Cost depends on simplicity – the simpler the unit, the straighter the stairway, the lower the cost.  A new stair lift installed on a simple, straight stair should cost under $4,000. Used ones will cost less. Pricing depends largely on the drive mechanism selected, the options you choose, for example battery-backup, remote controls, upholstered seat, etc., the length of the track (number of stairs it will travel), and the type of stairway on which it will be used. There are companies that will rent them which might make sense if needing for a vacation or seasonal home.

Stair lifts do have ongoing costs and regularly scheduled maintenance is recommended along with annual replacement of the battery (battery-operated units).
A home elevator is the better option for someone who is unable, or would have great difficulty transferring into a stair lift chair. A home elevator is a significantly more expensive option than a stair lift and one that can be difficult to incorporate into an existing home.

In order to install a home elevator, you need to find space for the elevator shaft. The first way to locate usable space is to look for downstairs closets,pantries, or powder rooms with clear floor space above on the second floor that can be incorporated into the shaft.  If none of that is available, a shaft could be built by taking space from an existing downstairs room and space from the corresponding room above to use for the elevator shaft.  This is a definitely a major (read expensive) remodeling project all one its own and very disruptive.  If there is no interior space available, an exterior shaft could be built with doorways to the interior cut into the exterior wall. 

Costs of home elevators vary significantly based on the number of floors spanned, the structural requirements for the shaft, electrical requirements, and the size and features of the elevator itself. Lower-end residential elevators begin around $15,000 and can cost upwards of $100,000 for more sophisticated or decorative models.

Home elevators require regular inspection and repairs and their maintenance costs are higher than those of a stair lift.

When it comes to deciding what makes the most sense for you, as with any modification for aging in place, you will need to weigh the emotional, physical and financial costs of moving as compared to the cost of the renovation and the value it brings as regards your comfort, safety and independence. 

  Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC


Project Files: Designed for Aging-in-Place

Here’s a look at another bathroom project recently completed.  We were asked by adult children of an elderly couple to modify this bathroom to suit their parents. One of the parents used a walker at all times, the other a cane.  This existing bath off the master bedroom had a small step down shower adjacent to a garden style bathtub.  Neither bath nor shower was functional or safe for these clients and the couple never used the garden tub.    



The clients’ wish list for their redone bath included more storage and a second sink.  The existing 9 1/2’ x 12’ bathroom while fairly large, did not have a linen closet and while there was a 60" vanity, part of it was wasted with an extended counter without either a sink or storage cabinets underneath. In addition,the toilet was standard height which was becoming increasingly difficult for both parents to use and there were no grab bars anywhere in the bathroom. 

Our plan then was to remove the shower stall and bathtub in order to reconfigure that area and build a walk-in shower with adjacent linen closet.  We also pulled out the old single sink vanity in order to install a double vanity with a sink for each user.


Our Work Plan

remove existing tub, toilet and 5’ vanity 
remove existing step down shower to include glass shower enclosure & wall tile     
cap and reroute plumbing lines and close floor drain
remove all bathroom floor tile

fill in shower floor (4”) and bring to same height as bathroom floor 
frame linen closet:  3’ wide x 2’8” deep
frame shower:  60” wide by 42” deep with entrance opening at 32”
build shower bench 3’6” wide x 18” deep x 18” hi    
build 9” x 12” shower niche; bottom of niche at 46” A.F.F. 
install blocking at (2) grab bar locations in shower

reroute plumbing as per plan
install shower valve and two-way diverter, rain head and handheld shower rheads      
install 2 trench drains: 1 in opening to shower and 1 along rear wall as shown on plan v
vanity:  install plumbing for additional sink 
install new sinks (2) and lav faucets (2)
toilet: replace existing toilet with new Kohler comfort height toilet

tile bath floor and shower floor, walls and shower seat; top of seat to be granite
Install 1 row of 4” tile as baseboard as required
install (1) 24” horizontal grab bar in shower at 34” A.F.F. and (1) 18” vertical grab bar with bottom of bar at    
   48” A.F.F 
install (1) 24” diagonal grab bar adjacent to toilet; bottom of bar at 30” A.F.F.
install 3 new vanity cabinets:  2 sink bases, 1 drawer base
install granite vanity top
replace existing exhaust fan with new fan in same location
paint bathroom walls and closet door & trim

  Framing for linen closet on the left and walk-in shower 
  on the right

  You can see the new plumbing in place in the shower and the
  old shower plumbing still needing to be removed in the back
  wall of the linen closet

The locations for the two linear shower drains. The shower
floor is sloped to the rear drain and catches all the floor water 
while the front drain is an extra measure to catch water that
might spray off a body while showering.


A view from the doorway through the newly tiled bathroom. 
Shower to the right, vanity and toilet to be placed to the left.


New double vanity in place waiting for granite top and plumbing

The completed bath - a more functional, updated bathroom for aging-in-place!

 Double sink vanity with drawer space



  Ceiling mounted rainhead shower head plus handheld shower head
  situated near built-in seat.  Non slip floor tile, levered
  handled faucets, and grab bars complete this safe
  and functional yet stylish shower


Susan Luxenberg, Pres.
HomeSmart LLC

Product Spotlight: Pocket Door Closers

We have recently completed some accessibility projects for people in wheelchairs and replaced their hinged bedroom and bathroom doors with pocket doors.  In doing so, we looked for an easier way to close and open the door than the standard little door pull usually inserted in a pocket door's edge.  We found a product called Pocket Door EZ-Closer which allows someone to quickly release the pocket door from its cavity with one bump or push. and prevents the pocket door from slamming into the pocket frame when the door is being opened. Its' spring loaded action works as a shock absorber, helping to prevent damage to the pocket door hardware.

We have found the EZ-Closer to be very easy to use and simple to install.  It works with new or existing doors and door styles, is flush fitting and has been durability tested on doors weighting up to 170 lbs.  It requires no maintenance and has a 5 year manufacturer’s warranty. 

There are two models available, both seem to function identically.
 Steel  - steel casing and plunger  Molded - glass filled nylon casing and plunger  

For more product information, installation requirements and pricing,go to

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

Aiding the Caregiver

We talk about adapting or building homes for aging in place as being critical for safe and independent aging,   most often with the focus on the aging client themselves. Adaptations include replacing tubs (when climbing over a tub wall gets too difficult ) with walk in showers, or installing comfort height toilets to counteract the difficulties many people  encounter when getting up from a seated position, or adding bars that help with balance issues.  Without question, all of these measures contribute greatly to safety and independence as we age. It's important to acknowledge that creating a barrier free environment will also positively impact the types of caregivers we attract and the quality of care we may receive in the future.
We recently adapted a home for a client who required a wheelchair for mobility.  Her biggest problems centered around her bathroom.  Between the narrow doorway and overall configuration of the space, she was unable to get her wheelchair inside the bathroom, relying  instead on her caregivers carrying her (or more accurately dragging her) through the bath in order to use the toilet. She admitted that she had considered renovating her bath to accommodate her failing health, but as she explained, her caregivers were "wonderful and willing to compensate and carry her throughout the home when necessary." It came as an unpleasant surprise and rude awakening when one of her aides dropped her en route from doorway to toilet, prompting our client to call us for help.  Our initial conversations included her main caregiver who admitted she did not like having to carry our client at all and was worried not only about the client's safety but her own. She expressed that if we could not provide solutions to the restrictive bathroom configuration, she would need to resign for fear she would ultimately injure her client. 
So let's acknowledge that if we want to retain quality caregivers, we need to set up safe, easy to negotiate spaces not only for ourselves but for them as well. Caregiving is often a difficult, stressful job and the last thing any responsible caregiver wants is to cause harm to their loved one, or get injured themselves and unable to do their job.
And while we're on the topic of caregiving, I recently received an email from a reader who found himself thrust into the role of family caregiver when his wife was diagnosed with a rare and deadly cancer three months after giving birth to their baby daughter.   Happily, his wife ultimately won her battle and survived the ordeal.  What they went through however proved to be such an extreme learning experience for them both, that he wanted to share his thoughts about effective caregiving in the hopes it would benefit others.   
“In the beginning it was an intense whirlwind of emotion and confusion as I did not fully understand what exactly needed to be done.  I had to quickly learn what was required of me and go above and go beyond these requirements for my wife.  I had to remain strong for my wife, my daughter, and myself. 
During my trials, and the trials of the many other caregivers I met along my journey, many lessons were learned.  Here are some of the best tips for being a caregiver that I have learned from my experiences.
Knowing all the options you have regarding treatment and all possible outcomes will help you feel more prepared for any decisions you might have to make.  Write any questions you may have down so that you don’t forget them when you are with the doctor.  Remain organized with your information and your questions, and don’t be afraid to ask about even the most minor things. 
Prioritize everything that needs to be done. You may find yourself overwhelmed with everything, but prioritizing will help you organize and can make the entire experience easier.   
Consider hiring and/or enlisting the help of others for those things you don’t absolutely need to be responsible for.  Friends and family are often eager to help, but they really don’t know what would be most helpful.   A little direction can go a long way.  Asking for and accepting their help can make things considerably easier on you and your loved one. This alone will go a long way towards lowering your stress levels and helping you focus on things you need to get done. 
When a loved one is ill and everything falls onto you, taking some time for yourself can make you feel selfish.  This is not the case however and can actually be very beneficial.  Taking this time to unwind can lower your stress levels, and allow you to focus greater attention to your loved one as well as the many things that need to get done.  If you fail to take any time for yourself, your stress levels will remain high and your ability to do anything will be greatly reduced.
There are many things that can help you remain organized and focused.  Clutter and disorganization will lead to higher stress levels and an inability to fully understand what needs to be done and where priorities lie.  Keeping a notepad handy to jot down reminders will help immensely.  Keep all important paperwork and information sorted into folders in one place nearby.  This way you never find yourself frantically looking for that one piece of paper with the important information you need at the last minute. 

 Susan Luxenberg
 HomeSmart LLC



Project Files: Updating a Bathroom for Accessibility

We’ve recently worked on a number of bathrooms needing modifications, all for clients with vastly differing physical issues.  Regardless of the underlying issues, however, the remedies are the same –  building walk in showers, replacing low toilets with higher ones, and widening doorways seem to come along with most bathroom modifications. 

A recent project  involved widening a standard bathroom for scooter accessibility which resulted in opening one of the bath walls into an adjoining bedroom closet, removing an old tub so as to build a walk in shower, shifting the location of the toilet, and removing a standard vanity so as to build a roll under one.

Here’s the original layout of this 8’ x 11’ bathroom:



   View of the existing bath from the doorway  


crowded toilet with little access



Standard bathtub



Narrow doorway 

To accommodate our client who who wanted to bring her wheelchair or scooter into the bathroom, we needed to create a wide turnaround area that would allow her to move freely between toilet, shower and vanity.  We designed the following layout:

The general scope of work was as follows:
·         Remove the wall between the bathroom and guest room closet and close in the closet from the guest 
          bedroom side to gain an additional 3' of width in the bath (new bath size: 11' x 11')
·         Shift the location of the bathroom door and expand it to 36”
·         Build a curb-less shower , enclosed by two ½ walls topped with glass panels
·         Move tub drain location and replace with trench drains along shower walls
·         Install new tile walls in shower, floor to ceiling, and behind toilet
·         Install new tile floor throughout bathroom and into shower
·         Relocate existing electrical to work with new fixture location
·         Install can lights over vanity and toilet and fan/heat/light adjacent to shower
·         Remove the existing vanity and replace it with a 36” roll under counter, new sink and faucet
·         Build a 24” linen closet adjacent to the vanity
·         Paint bathroom
·         Install new 36” hinged door for guest room
·         Rebuild guest room closet on alternate wall 


Toilet plumbing was relocated to the adjoining wall for direct access from doorway and sufficient room to maneuver.


Shower walls in process; you can  see the wood framework in the corner for a floating corner granite shower seat. 


Non-skid flooring tiles were installed throughout bathroom and shower.

       Shower half-walls being measured for glass splash guards.              

             Vanity top, sink and faucet installed; open
             underneath for scooter access


Curb-less shower entry; shower floor sloped to trench drains installed along interior shower walls which keep all water within shower boundaries and off the bathroom floor


After months of frustration at being unable to take a shower or use her bathroom independently, the end result was a happy client whose updated bathroom now functioned to meet her needs. 

   Susan Luxenberg, Pres.
   HomeSmart LLC

The Ongoing Problem of Elder Abuse

The problem of elder abuse is not going away.  With millions of cases of elder abuse reported each year, this has become a very serious issue.   Maybe it’s a combination of more seniors sharing homes with their families and the stresses most people live under today.  Certainly the struggle to care for an elderly adult who is sick or impaired, either physically or mentally, along with the financial burden of caring for an elderly individual, can cause stress on a caregiver and increase the likelihood of abuse.  

The victim is often female, over the age of 75, dependent on the abuser, isolated and frequently impaired.  The abusers are frequently financially dependent, isolated, inexperienced, unrealistic and impatient caregivers.  And while abusers can be spouses, children, hired caregivers, or any other adults with whom elderly individuals have contact, the greatest risk for the victim comes from those with whom they live.   Family dynamics are a major contributing factor to adult abuse; it is known that in 90% of all reported elder abuse cases, the abuser is a family member. Researchers have estimated that anywhere from five to twenty-three percent of all caregivers are physically abusive.  

What are the indications that someone is not being treated with proper care?  Each state might differ slightly in its definition, but the following comes from Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs:

Physical Abuse is the infliction or the threat to inflict physical pain or injury on an elderly person. This includes pushing, striking, slapping, kicking, pinching, restraining, shaking, beating burning, hitting, shoving or other acts that can cause harm to an individual.

Emotional or Psychological Abuse is the infliction of mental stress, pain, or anguish through non-verbal or verbal actions including  verbal berating, harassment, intimidation, threats of punishment of deprivation, criticism, demeaning comments, coercive behavior, isolation from family and friends.

Financial Exploitation involves improper use of the victim’s funds, property or assets, cashing checks without permission, forging signatures, coercing or deceiving an older person into signing a document, using an ATM card without permission.

Sexual Abuse is non-consensual sexual contact of any kind including assault or battery, rape, sodomy, coerced nudity or sexually explicit photographing

Neglect is indicated with unexpected or unexplained deterioration of health, personal care,  or living situation, inadequate food, clothing and/or shelter.

We all need to become educated about what elder abuse is and how it can be prevented.  In the event that you know an elderly individual who is the victim of abuse, there are many resources from public authorities to legal professionals, you can contact.  Bottom line --  if  you believe someone you know is the victim of elder abuse, seek help.   You can call the toll free hotline: 1-800-96-abuse.  All calls are confidential.

    Susan Luxenberg
    HomeSmart LLC

Product Spotlight: Key-less Entry

It's hard keeping up with all the new gadgets emerging in the home automation market and disappointingly, many turn out to be nothing more than toys. 

Lockitron, a key-less entry system that fits over an existing deadbolt lock and allows a door to be locked or unlocked using a smartphone, looks like a product that’s actually suitable for the aging in place market. Any smartphone can use Lockitron through a simple two-button application. You can use your phone to lock or unlock the door from anywhere in the world and share the ability to operate the door lock with caregivers, friends or family. Any time a door outfitted with Lockitron is unlocked via phone (or key), the system will send a message to your phone.  

I particularly like the fact that Lockitron slips over an existing lock, making it easy to install and remove. Placing it on the interior of a door, as opposed to the exterior, keeps it immune from vandalism. Lockitron's batteries last for up to one year and the system  sends a notification when batteries are running low.   Right now the company is taking orders for May delivery. You can read more about this product on the Lockitron website:  www.lockitron.comor watch a video interview with one of the founders at

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

A Very Special Event


Boca Raton Boating & Beach Bash
The nation’s Largest Free Event for Kids & Adults with Special Needs Invites America to Attend 5th Annual Day-Long Party in BOCA RATON, FL

The nation’s largest, annual, free-event for people with physical and/or intellectual challenges, the Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities, will take place Saturday, March 16, 2013, from 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM, in Spanish River Park, State Road A1A, Boca Raton, FL.

The event encourages families with a child or adult member with disabilities, to spend a long weekend in Florida during the nicest time of year, early spring. “We annually roll out the red carpet to welcome people from all across the United States,” says Bash director Jay Van Vechten. “Florida residents and visitors alike have discovered the Bash is the one national event that celebrates diversity by offering a safe, accessible, atmosphere for all ages, with any type of physical and/or intellectual disability, their caregivers and families. 

Last year, 4496 guests registered at the gates, while 501 volunteers lined up to assist with hospitality and helping attendees have the best possible time. Five thousand guests are expected this year. Everything for the day is free to all participants.

See you there!

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

Design Trends for the Boomer Generation

Baby Boomers are definitely having an impact on housing trends as they demand more sophisticated options and choices for their housing.  Some are selling off the homes in which they raised their families and moving to smaller houses near their children, or to locations with milder climates. Others are planning to stay put and redesign their homes to meet their changing lifestyles.    

Whatever the choice, stay or move, there are certain design features coming into greater demand that reflect the preferences of the Boomer population -- and builders are paying attention.    

First floor bedrooms and bathrooms.  According to the National Association of Home Builders, more than 40% of new homes have master suites downstairs, a 15% increase over the past decade.  It's the Boomers’ desire to not have to climb up and down stairs that's driving this trend.    

Larger bathrooms that include dual vanities and curb- less showers.  Even this "stay young forever" generation can't avoid the aches and pains that make a walk in shower such a joy.  These showers have now become showpieces on their own, outfitted to the hilt with beautiful tiles and stone, multiple shower heads, jet sprays, even steam.    

Flex space.  This is an extra room that can easily adjust to a person's changing lifestyle.  So the space might start out as an exercise room, turn into a home office, then later serve as a guest room or caregiver's room.

Central control centers.  Baby boomers are tech savvy and they want all the best and newest tech amenities.  Control centers for Wi-Fi, security, lighting, heating along with systems that manage all media sources are often requested.  Media rooms with surround sound are becoming more common for this group, who now have the time to enjoy it.   

Wider doorways and hallways tend to make a house look more gracious, are easier to navigate when moving large pieces of furniture, and have the added benefit of increased functionality and accessibility should anyone wind up wheelchair bound in the future.   

Bigger windows and increased lighting.  To accommodate a person's need for increased lighting as they age, builders are adding larger windows to let on more natural light.  At the same time under cabinet lights and stairway lights have also gained in popularity. 


   Susan Luxenberg 
   HomeSmart LLC

Home for the Holidays 2012

Note:  I published this blog post last year around Thanksgiving but believe the information is important enough to post again.  Statistics remind us that fall prevention is key to independence as we get older, and features in a home that pose no problem when we're at our physical best often become more difficult to negotiate with aging frailties.    

It’s holiday time which means that you may be either visiting or being visited by your parents.  This is a perfect time to assess your parents’ safety and comfort whether in your home or theirs. 

I recently gave a presentation at a senior complex and spoke about safety concerns that could be found in almost every home.  That triggered a lively conversation about the problems these seniors encountered when visiting their kids:  no grab bars in the bathroom, slippery shower and tub floors, no place to sit down when showering, steps that were not clearly delineate, stairs without handrails, or poorly lit hallways or staircases.  Most of those I spoke with said that they were reluctant to ask their adult kids to make any permanent changes to their own homes or install any special equipment, etc.  I have no doubt that if their kids thought about it, they would be happy to provide their aging parents with safer, more comfortable surroundings.  And truthfully these modifications would benefit everyone in the home. 

So here’s a simple list.  None of these items are costly and all can be done quickly:
 1.    Reduce tripping hazards by removing books, shoes, laundry, and toys from stairs; 
       ensure there are clear pathways through all rooms  
2.    Install handrails on stairs and steps; bright colored tape can be applied at the edge 
       of steps and stairs to delineate floor level changes. 
3.    Increase the lighting at the top and bottom of the stairs; put bright lights over all 
       porches and walkways 
4.   Store frequently used items in easy-to-reach places so that using a step stool or 
      chair is not necessary. 
5.   Small throw rugs are a hazard.  Either remove them completely or tape them to 
      the floor with double stick tape. 
6.   Have night lights or battery operated lights in the bedroom, hallways and bathrooms. 
7.   Apply non-slip strips or non-slip coatings in bathtubs and showers  
8.   Install grab bars in showers and tubs, appropriately anchored (no suction ones, 
9.    Purchase an inexpensive shower bench or chair which can be taken in and out of the 
      tub or shower as required.   

 After all, an injury from a fall is one the biggest dangers the over-65 population faces and one that often results in a loss of independence.  Implementing the safety measures mentioned above can substantially reduce the chance of injury to your parents and allow for a safer, happier holiday season for all.

Happy Holidays!

  Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC

Recent Questions: Bathroom Design for Boomers

QuestionMy husband and I are planning to completely remodel our master bathroom.  We recognize that at this point in our lives it might be smart if we incorporated features that would allow us to comfortably use our bathroom as we age.  What do you recommend for those of us baby boomers looking to upgrade our bathrooms?

Answer:  You might be surprised to learn that I’d recommend the same bathroom renovations to a baby boomer as I’d suggest to a younger family or an older couple. Today’s trend is towards universal design – that design which allows everyone, regardless of age or physical ability, ease of use.  One benefit of universal design is that as we get older and our lifestyle changes, we can still comfortably use our home without need for additional adaptations or equipment. As an added bonus, planning renovations from a universal design perspective ensures an increase in the resale value of your home and opens to door to many more potential buyers.   

So here are universal design elements to consider: 

   Try to create a bathroom large enough to allow for a 5’ circle in front of the plumbing fixtures.  When space is at a premium, do not create a separate room for the toilet or shower but instead keep the space open. 

   Make sure the bathroom doorway is minimally 32” wide, preferably 36”.  Doors should swing out rather than in or you could install a pocket door. The doorway threshold should be flush with the adjacent flooring.

   All flooring materials must be non-slip. Look for matte finished tiles and natural stone, instead of glazed tiles or polished stones. 

   Select a comfort height (16 – 18” height vs. 14-15”) toilet or wall hung toilet which are space saving and can be mounted at an individualized height. These toilets are becoming more and more popular for people of all ages.
   Install a curb-less shower which has no lip or threshold at the entry. The floor slopes towards the drain and away from the rest of the bathroom floor.  A swing out, frame-less door or shower rod and curtain also help keep water within the shower area. 

   Build in a shower bench which can be sized as large as you’d like or purchase a folding shower seat that can be mounted to the shower wall.  

   Use a handheld shower head mounted on a slide bar. These versatile shower heads are easy to use when standing or sitting and are an aid when younger children are using the shower. All come with multiple settings that allow you to control the flow of water. 

   Install grab bars in the shower and tub.  A typical placement is one vertical bar to be used as a hand hold when entering a shower/tub and one horizontal bar placed along the long wall. With the advent of special mounting brackets that allow grab bars to be installed securely into drywall faced studs, installation is no longer dependent on having special backing behind the walls.  If you find in the future that for example, you require grab bars in the toilet area, you’ll be able to have them installed them as needed. Grab bars now come in so many different styles and colors that they no longer have to look institutional.  If your local hardware stores carry nothing other than the chunky standard stainless steel bar, check online. You'll be surprised at the range of choices you have. 

   Consider a wall mounted sink or floating vanity that would allow for a mobility device or wheelchair to easily roll up under. If you want to maintain a vanity cabinet, you can still use a wall mounted vanity –just set it at least 9” off the floor to allow for a wheelchair footrest underneath. 

   Choose accessible faucets that do not require a strong grip to operate.  Between single handled or double handled lever style faucets, sensor, and touch faucets there are many designs and styles to choose from.

Now with these elements in mind, take a look at these bathrooms to see how universal design was applied in each.  






In every one of these bathrooms you'll find features that not only will adapt to your physical needs as you age, but will also be appreciated by people of any age. We've come a long way in understanding how our traditional design approach to bathrooms has not really been suitable for people throughout their lives. Just remember as you make your selections to think through not just your present lifestyle but what might be in the future.  

 Susan Luxenberg
 HomeSmart LLC 

Technology Report

Periodically I like to check out the new and/or updated technologies for aging in place that are being brought to market. Here are a few I found interesting:
Microsoft, in an effort to improve its technology for people challenged by limited motor skills or for those visually or hearing disabled, has made changes to its new operating system, Windows 8, to significantly enhance accessibility.  Both Microsoft Magnifier and Microsoft Narrator have been improved with touch capabilities making them much simpler to use and maneuver.  To make these features easier to find, greater emphasis has been put on the Windows Ease of Access Center which will be clearly visible on the systems home page.  The Ease of Access Center poses questions that are designed to direct the user to the features they need to be using.  For example, “Do you have difficulty reading the screen?” will prompt someone to open the Magnifier function.  And while not there yet, Microsoft’s journey is towards broader accessibility.   Eventually users will be able to interact with their computer or tablet using the method they’re most comfortable with --   keyboard, voice recognition or even gestures – virtually eliminating any visual, auditory, or dexterity impediments they might have.  

Care Technology Systems and Qualcomm Life have partnered to create is a cloud based system that enables provider and users to capture data for any wireless medical device and deliver it in a secure and reliable system.  Information can be easily retrieved by physicians, caregivers, or other critical audiences, for use in healthcare decisions.  The company provides fall detection monitoring, activity monitoring, and biometric monitoring (pulse oximeter, glucometer, weight scale, and blood pressure cuff) which is FDA approved and HIPAA compliant.   Read more at

Telikin is committed to helping people who are computer novices connect with family, friends and the world.  Telikin makes the easy to use, all-in-one, touchscreen computer that integrates features such as video chat with integrated Skype, photo sharing with an integrated facebook application, email, contacts, weather, news, full web browser, word processing, built in video help and more in a virus free system. With the large monitor, intuitive interface, easy menu of popular features, and extensive customer support, Telikin helps people stay connected to their families, friends and the world. Find out more at
With an estimated 36 million American facing age-related hearing loss and the hearing aid market estimated at $6 billion dollars globally, the race is on to apply current technology -- such as that used in noise cancellation and miniaturization -- to an inexpensive, user friendly hearing device.  Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAP)  are being marketed as less expensive alternative to a traditional hearing aid.  PSAPs are classified as electronics and not as medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration, consequently they are not regulated and do not require a prescription.  While these personal sound amplifiers may help people hear things that are at low volume or at a distance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to ensure that consumers don't mistake them—or use them as substitutes—for approved hearing aids. "Hearing aids and personal sound amplification products (PSAPS) can both improve our ability to hear sound," says Eric Mann, M.D., Ph.D, clinical deputy director of FDA's Division of Ophthalmic, Neurological, And Ear, Nose, and Throat Devices. "They are both wearable, and some of their technology and function is similar."   There are a number of companies making PSAPs which range from well under $100 to around $1,000, unlike a typical pair of hearing aids which cost $3000-$4000.  Able Planet, a $140 million consumer electronics company, offers a tiny, in-ear device, called Personal Sound, which has won numerous product awards.  To read more see

 Susan Luxenberg, President
 HomeSmart LLC


Product Spotlight: Portable Ramp

Roll-A-Ramp® is an ADA compliant, portable, versatile ramp system great for use as a wheelchair or scooter ramp and for users looking for an option to chair lifts, permanent ramps or conversion vans.  Roll-A-Ramp®  is made of an aircraft anodized aluminum, is very sturdy yet light enough to carry by hand, and easily adapted to meet a variety of accessibility needs. The ramps come in 12", 26", 30", & 36" widths and can be built to any length desired. Add additional links to change the length with simple tools provided with each ramp.  Ramps roll up like a sleeping bag for convenient storage and easy portability.  

Homes – public buildings – visiting – appointments – restaurants – RV’s – Roll-A-Ramp® can go whereever  you need it.       
  • Lightweight:  8’ x 30” portable wheelchair ramp weighs only 31 lbs
  • Strong:  Supports 1,000 lbs
  • 10 Year Warranty 
  • Versatile: Add length or separate into shorter sections for easier handling
  • Flexible: Take a section off a longer ramp, add an Approach Plate and use as a second shorter ramp to take with you.  When you get home, simply hook it back on.

 Removable Aluminum Ramp Handrails are also available for added security.

Note:   Veterans may be eligible for a ramp at little or no cost through HISA and other funding sources. This can be used for service and non-service connected disabled veterans.   In addition, Roll-A-Ramp®  offers a lifetime warranty on ramps to all Veterans.  For more information contact Roll-A-Ramp® or view their dealer network.

Susan Luxenberg, Pres.
HomeSmart LLC

Project File: Minor Bathroom Modifications

We're back after a very busy summer filled with interesting projects. In the coming weeks I'll share some of the design challenges we faced in the hope they will motivate readers to share their own projects, questions and solutions.
My favorite project of the summer was done for Baby Boomers who live in an upscale oceanfront condo in  S. Florida.  Although they had recently redone their master bath, one of the spouses had since suffered a disability and bathroom modifications were needed so the bathroom would remain functional and attractive for both.  Given that they had already spent quite a bit of money on the first renovation, they hoped to keep the accessibility modifications to a minimum.


1. The biggest obstacle to functionality was the curb at the shower entrance.  The disabled spouse accessed the shower via a wheelchair, and while able to stand and pivot onto a shower seat, walking was difficult and the 5" shower curb made it extremely difficult to navigate. 

Our preference when adapting a shower for accessibility is to remove the curb and level the shower and bathroom floors so there is a smooth transition between both.  We pitch the floor and adjust the shower drainage to include trench drains at either the shower entrance or back wall to catch any water from "leaking" onto the bathroom floor.  In this case however, while the pitch was good, the shower floor was actually 1/4" higher than the bathroom floor.  Our client wanted a simple, inexpensive solution so that that the shower floor would not need to be dug out, re-plumbed and re-poured to match the level of the bathroom floor.

2. The disabled spouse was using a free standing shower chair which was in the way when their partner used the shower
3.There were inadequate grab bars in the shower to aid the disabled spouse in standing once seated in the shower
4.The lowboy toilet necessitated the need for a toilet commode which both spouses disliked.

5.The entrance door to the master bedroom/bath suite was 30 " wide and was a tight turn for the wheelchair when coming into the master suite hallway.  As a consequence, the walls and door trim were getting pretty beat up.

5” shower curb, narrow glass door entry, free standing shower chair


Lowboy toilet with commode; grab bars placement ineffective for client

Narrow doorway created tight access for wheelchair

1. Shower entrance – the 5” curb and glass doors and panels were removed so that non-slip stone tile matching the existing marble was installed as a sloped threshold.

2. A built in shower seat extending across the back of the shower was built to eliminate need for a free standing shower chair.

3. All the glass, doors and panels were removed.  The ½ wall between the vanity and shower was built up so that we could install a grab bar at an appropriate height for the client’s use on the interior shower wall.



Curb-less entry shower, 36” frameless shower door,
built in granite shower seat, additional grab bars

The old toilet, commode and grab bars were removed and replaced with a Kohler Cimarron series, comfort height toilet and new grab bars on either side of the toilet better located for the client.

There was no room to open up the doorway given the configuration of the rest of the condo.  We were able however, to gain an  additional 2” in  the doorway by installing swing away hinges and cutting a pocket in the wall for the door handle so that the door would lie flat against the hallway wall.

Susan Luxenberg, Pres.
HomeSmart LLC

Stylish Accessible Vanities

Roll-under sinks and vanities are a necessary feature of accessible bathrooms, and making a vanity roll-under can be done in many different ways.  Most often the approach is practical where function trumps design, but a few companies are starting to offer vanities that go beyond a functional solution.  Duravit, a German company, has created a bathroom collection that is really quite stylish. Its Delos Collection was intended to be light and minimalistic, working well for both master and guest bathrooms.  


The apparently floating console has no visible supports, made possible by an invisible wall fitting that enables this straight-lined design to be showcased to full effect.  Tall cabinets, semi-high cabinets, and drawer units complete the collection. The cabinet doors do not have handles. They protrude a little over the edge to facilitate opening. Delos drawers can be opened and closed with a little gentle pressure. A new, interior organizer system offers a particularly tidy solution for the interior.

The Delos countertops are simple and leave plenty of space below. The sink can be mounted under the counter for accessibility or set on top of the counter for a modern look.   Towel bars can be attached to any side of the console, making them very easy to reach. 

Delos is available in two wood finishes and in a high-gloss white. The real-wood veneers in particular highlight the comfortable character of the bathroom furniture. Choose from dark walnut or light oak.

 Susan Luxenberg
 HomeSmart LLC

Recent Questions: Kitchen Lighting Levels

Question:  We are about to remodel our kitchen and want to incorporate universal design ideas for aging in place. We’ve read that we will need increased room lighting, but we don’t know how standard lighting is calculated let alone increased lighting.  Can you give us an idea of how to determine correct lighting for our new kitchen?

AnswerA well-lit kitchen layers and blends four different types of light: general or ambient lighting in the ceiling, task lighting over sink, cooking and work areas, display lighting in cabinets, and possibly some decorative lighting, like lamps, chandeliers, or wall sconces. The most important lighting to consider for the purposes of aging in place is both general and task lighting.

I recently worked with clients who also were remodeling their kitchen. They had already gone to a kitchen designer/contractor for a new layout but wanted me to review their plans with an eye towards aging in place, and one of the questions that came up was that of adequate lighting.  

My clients' windowless, 10’ x 12’, galley kitchen had a single ceiling fixture and there was no task lighting at all.  And while the new plan called for under cabinet lighting, there was no plan to change, or add to, the ceiling lighting

After researching the question of illumination levels, I found the simplest calculation to be 8.5 lumens per square foot – walls, ceiling, and floor included.  This calculation pertains to general lighting levels only and excludes any under cabinet lighting, which is considered to be task lighting.   

So here’s an example:

A 10’ x 15’ by 8’ kitchen has a walls/floor/ceiling surface area of around 700 square feet.  An 8.5 in/sf target suggests you might want to build in the capacity to generate at least 5950 total lumens.  A basic 50 watt PAR 30 bulb produces about 660 lumens, so I’d use about 9 of them to light up that kitchen.

As for task lighting, islands, areas over the sink and stove, and counter tops require more concentrated, direct lighting since they are work areas.  Every section of kitchen counter top needs task lighting. Such lighting can be provided by under cabinet lighting attached to the wall cabinets or by small pendant  

fixtures.  When planning for task lighting, remember to allow for separate switches rather than a single switch which will allow you to turn on only that counter top lighting that you need rather than all the fixtures at once.   
   Susan Luxenberg 
  HomeSmart LLC

Home Safety Checklist

 June is Home Safety month highlighting the need for fall prevention within the home.  Just to set the stage,

  • 1/3 of the population over the age of 65 falls each year and the risk of falls increases proportionately with age.  Half of seniors over the age of 80 fall annually.
  • Those who fall are two to three times more likely to fall again.
  • About half (53%) of the older adults who are discharged for fall-related hip fractures will experience another fall within six months.
  • Falls are the leading cause of death due to injury among the elderly 87% of all fractures in the elderly are due to falls.    
  • 55% of all falls take place inside the home.

Outside of our homes we often have to deal with uneven pavements, crossing lights that change too quickly and force us to hurry, sidewalk and step materials that get slippery when wet, stairs without railings, and poorly lit entrances to name just a few commonly found 
hazards.   Our homes, however, are under our control which gives us the opportunity to remove risks to our safety.   So what can we do within our homes to reduce unnecessary hazards that contribute to our risk of injury and falls?  

Home Safety Checklist


 Check driveways, sidewalks, and walkways to make sure they're free from cracks and 
  uneven surfaces
 Steps should have a non-slip surface
 Handrails are installed on both sides of stairs 
 Install outdoor lights at all entrances
 Outside walkways and sidewalks should be well lit
 Make sure the entrance threshold is not a tripping hazard
 Door knob, lock, key, peephole & package shelf all work and are easy to use
 Place stickers on glass patio doors to prevent walking into them


 Sinks & tub faucets, shower controls and drain plugs are accessible & manageable
 Under sink hot water pipes are covered
 Task lighting is sufficient
 Grab bars installed in shower/tub area
 Non-slip treads or coating installed in shower/tub
 Mirror height is appropriate to sit & stand
 Kitchen shelves are reachable without step stool
 There is a surface adjacent to stove for hot food placement
 Scatter rugs are secured with non-slip, double sided rug tape
 Adjustable height shower head is installed
 There is a fire extinguisher in the kitchen


 Doorways are wide enough for entry
 All windows and patio doors open easily, are easy to lock & operate
 Stair railings run full length of stairs on both sides and extend slightly beyond them
 Stairs have adequate lighting
 Light switches are installed at the top and bottom of stairs
 There is contrast/texture for floor level changes
 Doorway thresholds are not a tripping hazard
 Runners and scatter rugs have non-slip pads or rug tape
 There are clear pathways in all rooms
 Carpeting should lie flat and be securely fastened
 All stairs to be in good repair, not loose, broken, missing or worn
 Pathways, exits, and halls are clear of miscellaneous items, toys, and cords


 Thermostat is easy to read
 Extension cords are tied and out of the way
 Add nightlights to increase visibility especially in hallways, bathrooms and bedrooms
 Maintain a light or light switch within easy reach of the bed
 Always turn on a light before entering a room
 There are no scald valves on all faucets
 Smoke detectors/CO detectors are in place
 Phones are located near bed, sofa, chair
 Doorbell & phone are loud enough to be heard

  Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC


Backyard Living for Seniors

  About a year and a half ago I posted a blog about housing trends for Seniors which included accessory dwelling units (ADU’s) like the FabCab and MEDCottage (aka Granny Pods).  These self-contained units range in size from 300 to 1800 square feet, include features that support aging in place, and incorporate universal design along with electronic monitoring and medical care equipment options.  All are pretty much built in a factory, prepared for on-site assembly, trucked to your location and set on a foundation.  The advantages are obvious - these pre-built units take up no more space than an apartment, are easily assembled and disassembled, and allow for independence and privacy with family caregivers close at hand. 

   Earlier this month, the New York Times published an article, “In-the-Backyard, Grandma’s New Apartment”  by SusanSeliger about the same topic with some interesting updates.  

   The article is about a doctor in Virginia whose parents could no longer live independently and decided to move in with her rather than an assisted living facility. The layout of her home however, proved to be physically unsuitable for her aging parents and so the family ordered  a MEDCottage to be installed in the backyard. This month they will become the first U.S. customers to install this 288 sq ft pre-built, free standing unit equipped with assorted high tech devices (a hallway mat that lights up automatically as you walk on it), durable medical equipment (an integrated ceiling lift), and medical monitoring devices (technology that tracks blood pressure, glucose and heart rate and automatically shares this information with both the caregiver and the client’s physicians). 

   There are other prefab units on the market similar to the MEDCottage.  Practical Assisted Living Structures (P.A.L.S.) are 280 sq ft, portable units that can be customized to an individual client’s needs.  Some features include closet rods that can be lowered to wheelchair level, a night light system on automatic sensors, and  bathrooms equipped with no-step showers and grab bars.   

   As for pricing, the MEDCottage costs $85,000/year new but the distributors will buy it back for $38,000 after 2 years of use.  A P.A.L.S. starts at approximately $67,000 or can be leased at $1,700 per month.  

   Interested?  You’ll first need to check  your local zoning laws.  At present only about half the states allow these units for family members, although there are additional states currently considering legislation that would permit backyard ADU’s.  

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

Safe at Home

   While there are many people who would benefit from home modifications, finding the money to pay for them can be difficult.  Unless one has private funds, is entitled to VA benefits, has a long term care policy that pays for accessibility modifications, or can draw equity out of their home, there is little else that pays for adapting a home for safety and accessibility.   Local governments used to be a source of funding for these projects through Community Development Block Grants (CDBG funds) but today most of that money has dried up.  

   The challenge then is finding resources to help families that need these type of modifications but cannot afford to pay for this work themselves. 

   Rebuilding Together is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization providing critical home repairs, modifications and improvements for America’s low-income homeowners.  Their “Safe at Home” program addresses home repair and maintenance issues that may otherwise present a safety risk or that limit access to or within the home.   

Safe at Home covers a variety of strategies, including:
  • Broaden public awareness and build coalitions around the need for home safety and accessibility modifications
  • Provide training and technical assistance on fall prevention methods and home safety strategies
  • Expand our affiliate network’s core competency in the delivery of home safety interventions
  • Act as an information and referral resource on fall prevention and home safety subjects
  • Advocate for the needs and  of low-income homeowners particularly older adults, people living with disabilities and multi-generational families

   Safe at Home modifications cover fall prevention, fire safety and general safety issues. 
  • Fall prevention:installing grab bars throughout the home, widening doorways for greater access, repairing stairways, handrails, and wheelchair ramps inside and outside the home
  • Fire safety:  installing fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, eliminating electrical hazards, and repairing structural defects
  • General safety:  general safety upgrades and rehabilitative practices to ensure the absolute safety and health of the homeowner

   Rebuilding Together and their affiliates can’t do it all on their own so collaborating with national and local organizations is a critical factor in a holistic approach to service delivery. Community partners include but are not limited to:
  • American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)
  • Area Agencies on Aging and National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a)
  • National Council on Aging (NCOA)
  • National Home Builders – Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist program (NAHB)
  • Home Safety Council (HSC)
  • AARP
  • American Society on Aging (ASOA)
  • Local city and county Health and Elderly Service Agencies and Centers
   Look for your local chapter of Rebuilding Together and find out more on their website:

 Susan Luxenberg
 HomeSmart LLC

Aging in Place: Attitudes about Homeownership

Along with the desire to age in place comes the question of exactly where to age.  Should you stay in your existing home or move to another?  If you stay, should you renovate to improve comfort and safety and will those renovations add value to your home?  If you move to a different location, should you purchase another home or is it more practical to rent?

No matter which option you’re leaning towards, you’ll need to factor in an evaluation of the current housing market along with emerging trends.

The Colton Housing Group recently conducted a national study among 3,005 homeowners and renters to better understand how Americans feel about today’s housing market and their aspirations for owning or renting a home in the future. The survey and six focus groups were commissioned by Hanley Wood, LLC, and its two main publications, BUILDER and REMODELING magazines.

The 70-question survey focused on attitudes towards the current housing market and problems encountered in the home buying process. Do Americans still view housing as a good investment? Is now a good or bad time to buy or remodel? How do consumers feel about obtaining a mortgage in today’s environment? Is homeownership still important?  How do consumers compare owning with renting? Do consumer expectations vary among different age groups and socio-economic segments of the population?

The result of the survey paints an uncomfortable future for the nation’s housing market in the short term — a market where credit is tight and one where there is little urgency to buy now. It clearly identifies major bottlenecks in the mortgage market that are keeping many buyers on the sidelines and preventing any significant rebound in housing activity.

Over the long term, however, the survey tells a more positive story.  Specifically, the survey findings show that the desire to own a home has not been derailed by the difficult  economic times we're experiencing and that Americans generally understand the important role housing plays in creating new jobs, generating household wealth, and sustaining a long term economic recovery.    

First, the question of rent or buy.  While the dream of owning a home is certainly alive and well, renting is on the rise because for many it’s become the only option due to tough lending requirements.  When asked what sort of housing they would look for if moving to a new location,  62% of the renters said they would have no choice but to rent again.  In sharp contrast, only 10% of home-owning households said they would rent rather than buy another home.  According to real estate website Trulia, buying was cheaper than renting in 74% of the country's 50 largest cities.  In addition to a continuing decline in home prices, low interest rates have added a lot of weight to the buy side of the scale. Add in the tax perks of home ownership and for those who can afford it, it’s still a buyer's market.

So, what are the expectations for home prices during the next year?  More than one-fourth (28%) of the homeowners expect to see some decline in prices in the year ahead, and one-third (33%) expect some increase in prices in their market area.   Expectations vary from region to region.  In the Northeast, 24% of the owners expect home prices to decline some in the year ahead, and 35% expect prices to increase. In the West and Midwest, about 30% of the owners expect prices to decline some, and another 30% expect home prices to rise.  In the South, 27% of the owners are expecting prices to decline a bit more, and 34% expect prices to rise in the year ahead.

In response to the question, “Have changes in home prices influenced your home-buying decision?” 35% of owners and 38% of renters said yes.  And while 50% of homeowners under the age of 35 reported that changes in home prices influenced their home buying decision, that percentage fell with age:  37% for owners in the 35-44 age group, 28% for 45- to 64-year olds, and 17% for owner aged 65 or older.

What seems to be sorely lacking in today’s market is not desire but a real sense of urgency to buy a home now. Two out of three homeowners and 23% of renters are comfortable with their current living arrangements. And both owners (40%) and renters (45%) cited “no urgency to buy now” as one of the principal reasons for staying out of the market.

Another trend reflected in the survey findings is the increasing number of people who are doubling-up with friends and family.  More than one-third of the owner households and about one fourth of the renter households are doubling-up – young adults with parents, elderly parents with their adult children or grandchildren, unrelated adults living together.  In order to project future housing demand, it is important to recognize the trend and understand why it’s occurring, whether it’s to cut expenses and ride out the recession, care for an aging parent, or for some other reason.

For those who question whether or not to renovate in order to remain in their current home, remodeling is becoming a more attractive option in today’s housing market.  One out of five homeowners (22%) has recently completed a remodeling job or plans to remodel in the next two years instead of buying another home.  Baby-boom generation homeowners are the most optimistic about the remodeling market,  not a surprise given that homeowners over age 50 had a strong preference for staying in their current home throughout their retirement years. Among all respondents 50 or older, more than half (54%) said that they would stay in their current home for their entire retirement.  Another 18% said they would stay in their current home first then buy another home later, and 10% said they would  move to a different home (brand new or existing) before retiring or had already bought another home after retiring. 

So all that said, what’s the bottom line?  Home ownership remains an important part of the American experience and receives broad-based support from all age, ethnic, and income groups. And even though more than half of the homeowners surveyed experienced some decline in their home’s value over the past year, they still regard homeownership as a good, long term investment.   

 Susan Luxenberg
 HomeSmart LLC 


Recent Questions: Designing Small Spaces

Question:  My husband and I recently retired and decided to move to another area of the country. We sold our larger, family home and purchased a two bedroom condo in our new location.  I'm struggling with how to turn this much smaller space into something that feels comfortable.  What can you suggest?

Answer:  Decorating a small space can be a big challenge, so here are some tips for creating a spacious feeling in your new home.

Stick to a single color palette. A monochromatic room can feel clean and calming.  Vary the tones and textures of a single color and keep all of your furniture in a light, muted palette.  Break your color scheme with a few saturated  accents.  

Make your furniture multi-task.  Look for furniture that does double duty - a cabinet that folds out into a guest bed, or a desk that expands into a table.  These units are completely functional when opened but can easily be minimized when not required to save on space.  

fold away murphy bed

this desk expands to a table    

Create Illusions.  Define different living areas with half walls or open room dividers which help to open up the space visually.  Area rugs will do the same thing.  Color and contrast also work to make a room appear larger or smaller.  The more saturated the wall color is, the more the walls seem to advance towards you creating the feeling of a smaller room. The paler the color, the more the walls seem to recede, making the room appear larger. 

Use vertical space as well as horizontal space. Do not ignore the value of wall space.  Build shelves under staircases, install floor to ceiling kitchen cabinets, hang pots over your stove and utensils from a wall over a work counter. You can also install open or closed cabinetry over a desk and a built-in medicine cabinet in the bathroom.

space saving desk design  
        under stair storage
Bigger is better. A lot of small furniture can make a room feel cluttered. Instead, arrange the room around a few prominent pieces to make the room feel sleeker. Lightweight pieces in simple designs work best. Furniture with legs make your rooms appear larger as do glass tables.

Work from the top down.  An overhead focal point draws the eye upward and increases the visual height of a room.  Choose a ceiling color a few shades lighter than your walls for an uninterrupted floor-to-ceiling flow.

Make every closet count. Custom designing your closets will give you maximum use of that very valuable space.  Don't settle for a simple rod and shelf -- you'll be amazed at how much storage you can get in a well designed closet.

Select accessories you love.  Keeping things simple helps a small space seem uncluttered, but a house becomes a home when it’s filled with things you love.  Hang the chandelier you found at the flea market, display the carving from one of your travels, and hang that well loved quilt.  Not only will your favorite accessories make your home more interesting to others but they will give you a sense that you are indeed still home. 

 Susan Luxenberg
 HomeSmart LLC

Fair Housing & Disabilities

   The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that prohibits all housing providers from discriminating against persons with a disability.  The Fair Housing Act covers most housing – single family houses, apartment complexes, mobile home parts, condominiums, retirement communities, cooperatives, time shares, senior housing, boarding houses, residential hotels, group homes, and assisted living facilities.  In some circumstances, the Act exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.

   According to this Act, a disability is defined as “a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities.”  Examples of impairments include mobility and cognitive impairments, vision, hearing, AIDS or HIV infection, mental illness, learning disabilities, head injury, asthma, chronic fatigue, or history of alcoholism or drug addiction.  Disability does not include current use of or addiction to illegal drugs. 

   The Fair Housing Act protects all housing applicants, buyers, and tenants with disabilities as well as anyone associated with them, such as family members.  It requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations and allow reasonable modifications so that people with disabilities can use and enjoy housing on an equal basis.  A housing provider does have the right to request proof of the disability (a doctor’s note should suffice) and how the requested accommodation or modification would increase that individual's safety and comfort.

   Reasonable accommodations are those changes to policies, rules, or practices that persons with disabilities may need in order to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their home.  For example, waiving a no pet rule for a guide dog, or creating a reserved parking space near the building entrance for someone who is mobility impaired.

  A reasonable modification is any physical change to a rental unit, condo, co-op, or common space that is needed for an individual’s full enjoyment of his/her homeGenerally speaking, a modification is considered reasonable when it is practical and realistic and linked to a particular disability.  Here are some examples of reasonable modifications:

 Installing grab bars in the bathroom 
 Widening doorways
 Installing a ramp at the  building’s entrance or front door
 Installing lever doorknobs and faucets 
 Converting a tub to a curb-less shower
 Lowering shelves or kitchen counter tops  

   It is each person’s responsibility to pay and arrange for whatever modifications they are requesting.  A housing provider can require a deposit to be used to restore the unit back to its original condition when it’s time to be rented or sold.  They can also require architectural drawings showing that the work complies with all state and local building codes.   

   If you think your rights have been violated, the Housing Discrimination Complaint Form  is available for you to download, complete and return, or complete online and submit, or you may write HUD a letter, or telephone the HUD Office  nearest you. You have one year after an alleged violation to file a complaint with HUD, but you should file as soon as possible. 

   What to Tell HUD:

  • Your name and address
  • The name and address of the person your complaint is against  
  • The address or other identification to the housing involved
  • A short description to the alleged violation (the event that caused you to believe your rights were violated)
  • The date(s) to the alleged violation

 Susan Luxenberg
 HomeSmart LLC


Multi-Generational Housing: Turning One Home into Two

    In September, the Census reported that almost a third of households were “doubled up,” meaning more than one generation of adults were living under one roof.  All in all, 61.7 million adults, or 27.7 percent, were doubled-up in 2007, rising to 69.2 million, or 30.0 percent, in 2011.

   The AARP Public Policy Institute also confirmed multi-generational homes are on the rise in the United States, reporting there were roughly one-half million more households that were multi-generational in 2010 than in 2009, and that in the past two years, the number of multi generational households grew faster than in any other two-year period since 2000, coinciding largely with the recession of the past few years.

    For a variety of reasons, both cultural and economic, families today are rethinking their housing needs. Adults are living together with their grandparents, in-laws, or grown children who are not economically ready to move out.  Particularly for those who want a comfortable way to look after elderly parents, multi-generational living is an appropriate solution. Parents can comfortably live near their caregivers, while still providing independence and privacy for everyone.  

   As a result, builders are receiving more requests to build in-law suites or, as the term is starting to emerge, to “turn one house into two.”   
   An in-law addition can be built just as any other home addition, can be purchased as a modular unit that’s then attached to your home or set on your property, or can be built in a garage (attached or detached).  These suites typically are on a single level and usually comprised of a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and a small living room area.  In-law additions need to include extra amenities so as to allow for aging in place, such as wider hallways and doorways, no step entrances, extra room in front of bathroom and kitchen cabinetry, grab bars, levered handled door knobs, comfort height toilets, and curb-less showers.   
   You can find in-law home addition plans in magazines and on the Internet that can often meet your requirements.  If building new, expect to pay around $110 to $130 per square foot for construction.  And while a remodel or addition can make the cost of an in-law prohibitive for some homeowners, it can be less expensive than the money required for long-term care for aging relatives in a facility - and a potential source of income down the road.   

   Before getting too involved in the idea however, check with your municipality to find out how your local zoning and building codes affect this type of addition.  There may be zoning issues to having two separate residences on the same building lot, or special features that the addition must include, like separate utility services, as mandated by code.

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC


Recent Questions: Tub Options for Aging in Place

Question:  I plan to renovate my guest room and bath for my elderly mother who frequently comes to visit.  I had intended to remove the bathtub in that bathroom and install a walk in shower for her but she prefers a bathtub over a shower so I’m now uncertain what to do.  I don’t want to spend money renovating the bathroom only to have to renovate again in the future.  Are there bathtubs that work with the idea of aging in place or should I try to convince her that a walk in shower is the better long term choice? 

Answer:  Walk in showers are great for everyone, young and old, but there are a few bathtub options that will also work for your mother and are designed for aging in place.   

   There are walk in tubs that you get into through a door in the tub wall.  Once inside the tub, the door latches shut and seals tightly so you can fill the tub with water. There are a number of manufacturers offering walk in tubs with varied features, such as hand sprays, grab bars, anti scald valves, locking mechanisms, hydro jets, etc.   Not all walk-in tubs are the equal so it’s important to research what each manufacturer has to offer.  There are tubs with inward swinging doors and those with outward swing.  There are larger tubs and smaller tubs to suit different areas of the home.  There are tubs with dual drainage systems, presumably to drain water faster, and those with single drains.  You can easily familiarize yourself with these products by researching online.  Walk in tubs are also not flush to the bathroom floor so while they only present a small step, there still is a need to step over a small threshold in order to enter the tub. The big negative to a walk in tub is that you can’t get out of the tub until all the water drains out.  So if this is the option you choose, I’d suggest also installing a heat lamp above the tub to take the chill off while waiting for the tub to drain.  


   A less costly option is a standard tub that has a ledge built into the side.  Rather than climbing over the tub wall (a task that gets increasingly difficult as we age), you sit on the ledge and swing your legs into the tub.  Some bathtub manufacturers are now including an option for grab bars to help with getting up and down in the tub.  Alternately, grab bars could be mounted on the wall within easy reach when sitting in the tub. 

   If your tub is in good shape or you do not want to replace it at this time, there are bath lifts that fit right into the tub and raise and lower into the bath via a remote control.  The only problem with this option is that you’re basically dedicating your tub to bathing and not showering because the lifts are too cumbersome to be taken in and out of a tub easily.  For that reason, you might consider adding a hand held shower head low enough on the wall so as to be reachable while sitting in the tub. 


Of course we cannot predict what's physically in store for any of us as we age.  If built properly, walk-in or curb-less showers are an optimal solution because one could easily get into the shower in a wheelchair, if necessary.  But then again, not all curb-less in showers are equal either. All too many "curb-less" showers are built with 4"-6" curbs, which doesn't really solve any problem for someone who can't step over a threshold or manage a step. The other issue has to do with size.  I recently was asked to redesign a curb-less shower that  replaced a 29" x 59" bathtub.  The space was so constrained that it was impossible for the owner, a large man in a large wheelchair, to comfortably maneuver the shower space and keep water in the shower rather than all over the bathroom.  

Recommended minimum dimensions for a residential walk in shower are 36" width x 60" length.  42" width is better and 48" width is ideal.  However, there are people who prefer larger showers and others who need assistance while bathing.  A shower 5 feet by 5 feet allows enough space for a person in a shower wheelchair and an aide.  So if you're working against space constraints and don't have sufficient room to build a shower that meets minimum requirements, a curb-less shower is not the answer and one of the tub options might, in fact, be best.

 Susan Luxenberg
 HomeSmart LLC

Design: Bathroom Floors

   When selecting material for a bathroom floor, it’s really important that the floor stands up to water and offers a safe, non-slippery surface for wet feet.  Falls can happen anytime and anyplace to people of any age, but most falls by people aged 65 and older occur in the home during everyday activities.  Slippery bathroom floors are one of the culprits when it comes to falling at home. 

   So what are good flooring options for the bathroom? 

   Ceramic tiles are a practical choice given that they are relatively inexpensive, durable and water resistant.  Look for those that are textured and not glossy which will prevent the tile from becoming slippery.  Ceramic tiles come in many different shapes and colors which makes it easy to be creative with patterns or borders.    

All a ceramic tile floor requires for cleaning is sweeping and light mopping.  A light water and vinegar solution is a safe and cost efficient cleaner that will not damage the tile.  Avoid steel wool or other rough materials that can scratch the surface of the tile.  Ceramic tile can chip or crack if something heavy is dropped on it so make sure to keep some extra tiles for repairs if needed.



   Traditional ceramic shower tiles are starting to be replaced with the rich earthy tones of natural stone tiles, a good fit for most bathroom renovations.  Natural stone has some benefit over ceramic tile, especially for more modern designs.  Natural stone is durable, resistant to wear and stains, and comes in a wide variety of colors and finishes.  There are many types of stone available each with its own characteristics. 


Slate is a very durable stone and highly recommended for bathroom applications. It is easy to clean and with a little maintenance is almost completely impervious to stains.   Slate also has a rough texture, making even honed slate non slippery – a very important consideration for the bath. 

Quartzite is one of the hardest and most resilient stones available, whose colors range from repeating sequential patterns to multicolored unique formations, depending on the type of quartzite which is used. This stone is good in a bathroom because of its durability, its resistance to stains and water, and the fact that its texture makes it non-slippery

Limestone and Travertine are softer and more permeable then slate or granite. The patterns that emerge in these stones, while unique, are more repetitive than in multi-colors and so the range of any given color of stone is more subdued. This material is appropriate for bathroom use but it is not as good at resisting stains, nor as durable as either slate of quartzite. 

Marble is a classic stone that, in the past, has been used frequently to add elegance to a bathroom.  And while it’s known for its color and high shine surface, it’s exactly that high polish that becomes very slippery when wet.   Marble is also a delicate stone, prone to chipping and staining making it an impractical choice for the modern bathroom.   

   Natural stone can be cut and finished in any number of ways, giving you more flexibility in your designs and with the wide variety of stone available, you should take time to consider all of the options. While natural stone tile may be more expensive than ceramic tile, the beauty and durability are often worth the money. 
   Glass tiles are another choice for your bath and shower floors.  They are water resistant and long lasting with reflective properties that make the most of the light in any given space.  These are the tiles to use if you’re looking to create an intricate mosaic pattern for your bath floor.   

Unless treated, a normal glass tile is no different from polished porcelain tile in terms of skid resistance. Like any high gloss ceramic tile, glass tiles are usually slippery when wet.   If small format (1 × 1" or smaller) tiles are used on floors, the relatively frequent grout lines create texture that inhibit slippage.   For this reason, tile setters sometimes introduce un-textured glass tile mosaic inserts into fields of large ceramic tiles.  


If you are using large glass field tiles on floors, you will need to choose a tile that is specifically floor-rated. Glass tile manufacturers all produce large format glass floor tiles. They are made with a textured surface that provides a high coefficient of friction, mitigating or eliminates slipping, while still delivering the luminous qualities of glass wall tiles. 


Vinyl tiles are an inexpensive, quick solution for those looking for easy do-it-yourself bathroom projects.  Vinyl tile is moisture resistant and available in a variety of patterns and colors.  Vinyl can be purchased as individual tiles or as a sheet cut to the dimensions of your bathroom floor.

Vinyl tiles are usually 12” or 18” square and are available in all sorts of prints and styles.  There is vinyl that simulates hardwood flooring as well as that which resembles ceramic tiles. When installed properly, the effect of these tiles is identical to the original materials.  
Vinyl tiles are usually coated with a form of urethane which gives them a shiny finish and protects the tiles from wear and tear.  Look for vinyl tiles with textures so that the floor does not get too slick when wet. 

Vinyl flooring can be wet mopped without fear of damaging the surface. Because the surface is impermeable, liquid will not seep into the floor, so mold and mildew is also not a problem. Consequently, vinyl flooring is a perfect choice for areas that are prone to spills and moisture such as bathrooms. 

 Susan Luxenberg
 HomeSmart LLC

Being a Long-Distance Caregiver

   If you live an hour or more away from a person who needs care, you can think of yourself as a long-distance caregiver. This kind of care can take many forms -- from helping with finances or money management to arranging for in-home care; from providing respite care for a primary caregiver to creating a plan in case of emergencies.  Many long-distance caregivers act as information coordinators, helping aging parents understand the confusing maze of new needs, including home health aides, insurance benefits and claims, housing requirements, medications, and durable medical equipment.

   The National Institute on Aging estimates that approximately 7 million Americans are long-distance caregivers.  And while economic factors are forcing people to move away from their families and hometowns, lifespans are lengthening leaving many of the elderly without family caregivers nearby.  Shifting demographics exacerbate the problem.  Over the next four decades, the number of people 65 and older is expected to grow, while the number of people aged 20 to 64, those most responsible for care giving duties, will hold steady.  

   I recently read an article by Matt Sedensky entitled Elderly Parents: Caring for Aging Parents Long Distance in which he interviews Lynn Feinberg, a care giving expert at AARP.  Though care giving is a major stress on anyone, distance can often magnify it, Feinberg said, and presents particular difficulty when it must be balanced with an inflexible job.  “It’s a huge stress,” she said.  “It can have enormous implications not only for someone’s quality of life, but also for someone’s job.”

   Without question long distance care giving is a difficult task.  It can certainly be a burden financially.  As last surveyed, annual expenses incurred by long-distance caregivers averaged about $9,000, far more than caregivers who lived close to their loved one.  Some caregivers had to cut back on work hours, take on debt of their own, and slash their personal spending in order to help another.  Emotionally, people are left feeling as if they are split in two trying to maintain their family and work routines as they dash across country to deal with real and imagined emergencies. To say the least, it’s exhausting.

   So what do people do when faced with the situation?    Most long-distance caregivers create a patchwork of resources they rely on to manage the situation.  They make sure to keep in touch on a daily basis via phones and video calls.  Relatives or close friends living nearby are enlisted to check on the elderly family member to make sure all is ok.  Local service providers and agencies are brought into the picture when any of the benefits they offer match the individual’s needs. And for those who can afford it, professionals are hired to handle many necessary tasks like grocery shopping, driving, cooking and bill paying.  
   There is no simple solution when trying to care for someone at a distance, but being proactive and investigating local resources to plan for those inevitable emergencies will certainly help reduce stress.  Successful long distance caregivers set in place a network and establish routines that minimize the need for those rushed trips across country.  

  Susan Luxenberg
 HomeSmart LLC

Recent Questions: Difficulty with stairs & Senior cell phones

Question:  My aunt is 78 years old and lives in a two story home.  She is starting to have difficulty managing the stairs up to her bedroom and bathroom due to a developing arthritic condition. She intends to stay in her home for as long as she can but does not have the funds for any major remodeling.  Would a stair chair make sense and how much do they cost?   

Answer: Installing a stair lift chair is certainly a practical solution that can be a cost-effective alternative to remodeling, depending on the configuration of the staircase.  For example, if the staircase is straight, has no turns, and is not particularly narrow, you can expect the cost to run between $3500 and $4500 including installation.   On the other hand,  if your aunt’s staircase is curved, or there are other factors that might make installing the stair chair lift more difficult, the cost can rise significantly.  Stair lifts do come in varying models with varying price tags, so researching the features offered in different models is important to controlling the cost.   

Stair lifts can be rented and can also be purchased pre-owned.  And while Medicare does not cover the cost of this equipment, there might be some federal funds available for this type of home modification.  Your local Area Agency on Aging might have additional information on fund availability. For more detailed information on stair lifts, read our blog on Managing Stairs   

Question: Are there cell phones that are easier for seniors to use?  My mother often doesn’t hear her phone ring and never seems to remember how to retrieve her voicemail.   

Answer:  Many older people have trouble with cell phones because they are too complex to navigate, are not intuitive, and have screens too small to read.  There are a few, however, that have been designed specifically for the senior market.  Here are just two that are available:   

Just5 was designed for seniors or people with hearing or eyesight problems. This phone is simple yet very attractive and well designed.  Features include big buttons for easy dialing, a “speaking” keypad, which confirms the buttons pressed, an emergency button, amplified sound, simple keyboard lock and a long lasting battery. There are no confusing menus, options or settings to frustrate the user.  The phone itself is approximately $120, monthly fees are low, and there are no contracts required.   

The Emporia Life Plus was designed for easy reading and the buttons and keypad are easy to use. The phone is meant to be used closed most of the time. The default screen is the contact list, so there is no menu navigation when you want to call someone; just arrow down to the number and hit the big green button. There is a large emergency button on the back of the phone. Once pressed, it will dial up to 5 numbers that can be programmed into it. As an added bonus, this phone will run off AAA batteries when the Li-Ion battery runs down. It offers speakerphone and text messaging as well.  

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

Updates on Technology

   There’s so much new technology in the marketplace aimed at the aging in place market that’s it’s difficult to keep up.  Every few months though,  I spend time researching some of the newest software and gadgets that have recently made their debut - specifically those designed to help seniors living on their own and their remote caregivers keep in touch.     

 Not surprisingly there has been a growing number of applications available for use with smartphones and tablets.  Here are a couple:

SwannView video monitoring systemSwannView is a video monitoring solution that works on virtually any Smartphone or Tablet without the need for a computer or webcam.  The Swann Security kit (cost: $449) includes four color cameras and a digital video recorder to record up to 30 days of video from all four cameras simultaneously.  SwannView works over wi-fi or cellular connectivity on an Android, iPhone, BlackBerry or any Windows device so you can remotely log in to see a live, real time view.  The cameras are easily mountable and have an infrared LED night vision feature that allows you to see up to 65 feet in the dark.  You can set this kit up to send you an email if the cameras detect motion. 

The iCam app for iPhone, iPad or iPod touch (cost: $4.99) allows you to monitor multiple live video and audio feeds over Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity.   With a computer and a webcam, you can visually check- in to make sure all is well.  You can also set up the app to notify you when motion is detected. 


   Many seniors who live independently often use a medical alert system to get help in an emergency such as falling. The problem is that in the past, the majority of these systems only worked within range of a home based receiving system. When a person was out of their home, they no longer had on-the-go access to emergency assistance.  

   Today’s fall detection devices include fall detection that works away from home and allows other family members to monitor the whereabouts of the wearer using GPS tracking. ActiveCare’s Personal Assistance Link (PAL) is a handset offering a range of features to assist people who want to continue living independently.  The device, which connects via a cellular network, includes a one-click help button to call for 24/7 assistance, a built in fall detector that’s monitored remotely, and GPS.  The PAL offers one touch communication to Care Specialists from anywhere at anytime.  It  looks like a cell phone but is easier to operate with large buttons and quick one-touch access to family and the 24/7 Care Center.   (Cost:$180 activation fee, $60/month service charge)   

Breadcrumb BC 300 tracking GPS DeviceThe Alzheimer’s Foundation of American  along with Breadcrumb LLC recently announced a state of the art locater device and caregiver-friendly monitoring system. This innovative new tracking device – BC 300 GPS Device – is designed specifically for the dementia population and aimed at immediately and precisely pinpointing a person’s whereabouts.  .The BC300 system works by setting up a virtual fence around a person’s residence and/or other locations, such as a relative’s home or an adult day care center, and sends an alert when the wearer leaves that zone.  As one of the smallest, most lightweight tracking devices on the market, the BC300 is strapped around a person’s ankle with a heavy duty band. Designed with the symptoms of dementia in mind, including memory loss, confusion and other cognitive loss, the device is not dependent on the user’s activation. Caregivers can access the wearer’s real time location 24/7 on a Google map via computer or smartphone. In the event the person wearing the locating device leaves a designated safety zone, an alert is sent to the Breadcrumb Customer Care Center--as well as up to five caregivers and if necessary, the proper authorities are contacted .  (Cost: $190, $38/mo service charge)

As more and more families are caring for older relatives, the need for better ways to share sensitive health information has become obvious.  There's many types of information to track, for eg. emergency contacts, details about care-related services or treatments, legal and financial documents,  all of which family members in multiple locations may need access to.  

This past week, CareZone, launched it's new site offering a way to share and manage information associated with caring for another individual. You set up a profile about the person receiving care, list their current medications, sketch out to do lists, add any relevant contacts, share notes and upload files. As the creator of a profile you can give others access which you can also revoke at any time. You might give access to family members who share caregiving responsibilities, professional caregivers or medical staff. The company plans to charge $5/month or $48/yr for each person for whom care is provided.  As an introductory offer you can sign up for free until March 15th. 

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC


Renovating a Condo for Aging in Place

   For those who live in condos and are looking to make aging-in-place renovations, there are special considerations to be taken into account when planning a project.

   For any renovation that would require a permit, the condo association must grant approval.  The documentation required for review varies according to each association, but usually includes a description of your project, associated drawings or plans, and information on your contractor, including certificates of insurance.

  Your first step then is to find out about the approval process either through the condo association directly or via the management company of the building.  They not only can supply you with a list of submittals required and rules for renovation, but also the dates when the association meets for plan review. 

   From my experience, the most stringent requirements imposed by condo associations have to do with restricted work hours.  Their biggest concern is that your neighbors are not inconvenienced by the work being done in your home.  Many condo associations also impose additional restrictions on the contractor, such as what entrance and elevators can be used, where parking is allowed, procedures for debris removal, areas for material storage, etc.  Make sure you give this information to any contractor pricing your job.  It’s important they understand the restrictions so as to be able to set up an orderly approach (and realistic costs) for your renovation. 

   It makes common sense that it may be difficult to obtain approval for any structural changes to your condo considering that your condo is only one unit tied to the structure of an entire building.  Often there are hidden utilities behind walls and over ceilings that feed other units.   Even if approved, structural changes may be prohibitive when compared to similar renovations to a single family home. 

   Keep in mind that each association is different in their requirements so do not rely on assumptions from a contractor or be intimated by stories from friends living in other locations.

   And while it may seem like an additional burden and a frustrating delay to have to go through your association’s approval process, if you understand an association’s requirements before committing to a remodeling project, you’ll save yourself both time and money in the long run.

  Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC


Talking to Your Aging Parents

   Many of us are facing the similar issue of getting our aging parent(s) to acknowledge that they need some help in their home.  More often than not it’s a frustrating “locking of horns” as we try to persuade our parent that it is no longer safe or feasible for them to live without assistance, whether it’s help with cleaning and cooking, bill paying, driving, or any of the normal activities of daily living.  
   The difficulty starts in even knowing how to approach the subject, let alone meeting all their ready objections.  Denial and control are the key elements here, so the objections are multiple and range from “I’m don’t need any help” to “I don’t want to spend the money.”  I’ve had seniors who have been hospitalized for falling, tell me that they know for certain they will not fall again and therefore do not need non-slip flooring or grab bars.  They simply will be more careful.  
   Recently I spoke with a daughter, who lives in California, about installing some additional safety aides for her father, a 99 yr old living in Florida.  Her dad had been hospitalized three or four times in the past year for falling and yet refused to use a walker or allow grab bars to be installed in his home. As she explained to me, “If there was nothing to help him, that’s one thing.  But I’m starting to resent having to drop everything to jump on a plane and fly cross country to the hospital when there are options that would help prevent his falls.”  
   My sister, brother, and I have had numerous conversations about the best way to broach the topic with our own parents.  We’ve debated whether, out of respect we should only gently press an issue or, out of concern we should push forward to do what needs to be done.  I’ve had similar discussions with the adult kids of my clients.  At some point or another, everyone struggles with how long to beat around the bush before taking control and forcing a solution.  
   I’ve spoken to case managers, clinical social workers, psychologists and gerontologists for some expert guidance in this matter.  Their compounded wisdom suggests we consider the following when trying to help our aging parents:

First, don’t barge in and dictate that which you think needs to be done.  Find a quiet time to talk with your parent and explain why you are concerned. Encourage their response, stay open minded, and listen carefully.  

Make the conversation positive and emphasize that if they are proactive and act before there is a crisis, they stand a better chance of retaining control and  independence.

Find out how you can help them by understanding what options they might be considering and what their objectives are.

Do not push them to accept your assessment but rather give them sufficient time to form their own  conclusions.  

Be prepared to prioritize and negotiate the changes you believe need to be made.

Use trusted advisers or other family members for support.  Sometimes it just takes the right person or personality to allow for a dialogue without emotionality or defensiveness. 

Don’t just state the problem – help them find solutions.  Do some research in advance so that you know what resources and agencies are available in their community.   Obtain contact information, brochures, financial costs, etc. so that your conversation with your parents can be realistic.

   Most often there’s more than one way to handle any given situation.  Your parents may be far more ready to listen if you can present a variety of choices to them, allowing them to make the decision for their own well being.

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC


Product Spotlight: Non Skid Stair Strips

   Handi-Treads ™non slip stair strips are an outdoor aluminum non slip surface designed to ensure safety and protection against stairway accidents and injuries.  They can be used on any material including wood, concrete, masonry or ramps.  They are inexpensive, easy to install, and are a good solution for areas where water, ice, snow and sand can make walking slippery and dangerous.  The anti slip strip not only improves traction but also provides a visual and tactile cue to be careful and slow down. 

aluminum stair treads

   Handi-Treads™ feature a lifetime residential warranty and start at $7.95 each, depending on size.  Standard sizes are as follows, although custom sizes are available: 
 1.    1.875” X 30”    strips          
 2.    3.75” x 30”     stair treads
 3.    3.75” x 48”     stair treads   
 4.    2.75” x 12”     stair nosings
 5.    6" x 30"        stair nosings
 6.    9" x 30"        stair nosings

aluminum stair nosings

   Treads come standard in a plain aluminum, anodized clear coat, powder coated black, powder coated safety yellow, and powder coated brown.  Custom colors are also available (additional charges will apply).   

aluminum treadcolored non slip stair treads       

   These non slip treads are 100% aluminum, manufactured from an OSHA approved material and have been used on ADA compliant ramp surfaces for many years.  The aluminum never rusts and requires little maintenance.  

   Susan Luxenberg
   HomeSmart LLC

Low Cost Modifications for Aging in Place

   We know that people are reluctant to face their own aging limitations.  We also know that very often seniors are not willing to spend money to improve their own comfort in their homes.  Taken together it’s quite a challenge to get an aging senior to make needed changes for safety and convenience.   

   Many who plan on aging in place are simply not interested in remodeling their homes no matter how much more comfortable they’d be.  They would rather live with a barrier, or put together some temporary “fix”, than pay to solve the problem.  I’ve lost count as to how many bathrooms I’ve walked into where a standard folding chair is balanced half in and half out of the bathtub, its purpose to aid someone no longer able to step into the tub to take a shower.  Needless to say, a precariously balanced metal folding chair is not an appropriate (or safe) solution.   

   So if we’re to convince these seniors to make some changes for their own good, we need to start small, with modifications that can be accomplished quickly, without major disruption, and relatively inexpensively.  

   Let’s start with the bathroom since it’s the place in the home where most falls occur.

 1.  Add a seat to the shower or tub
 2.  Replace a stationary shower head with a hand held one
 3.  Create non-slip tiles throughout bathroom and shower/tub by applying non-skid 
    coatings readily available in tile stores
 4.  Install higher watt bulbs in fixtures to improve vision
 5.  Add grab bars to shower, tub, and toilet areas; colored grab bars are available if 
    needed to increase visibility
 6.  Remove scatter rugs 
 7.  Remove glass shower doors and replace with screw mount shower rod and shower 
 8.  Replace door knob and faucet knobs with levered handles 
 9.  Replace door hinges with swing away hinges to increase doorway width
10.  Replace standard toilet with comfort height one making it easier to rise without loss of

    Next is the kitchen where the goal is to eliminate stretching and bending as much as possible.

 1. Lower upper cabinet shelves where possible. Place dishes and often used items on an 
    easily reachable shelf
 2. Replace cabinet doorknobs with latches that open to the touch
 3. Increase lighting above the sink, stove and work areas
 4. Make sure there is a heat resistant surface adjacent to stove, oven and microwave to 
     place hot pots and dishes 
 5. Adjust refrigerator shelves so the lighter foods are placed on top, heavier ones at 
     waist level
 6.  Install single lever faucet at kitchen sink
 7 . Coat ceramic floor tiles with non-skid coatings
 8.  Remove or tape down throw rugs 
 9.  Place microwave on counter for easy access 
 10. Install pull out drawers and pop up shelves in bottom cabinets for heavier appliances, 
      eg. mixer 
 11. Make sure all appliances are working properly and controls are easy to read and/or 
 12. Store food in closed plastic containers for ease of selecting and carrying

     Other areas of the house. 

 1.  Install low profile thresholds or “ramps” wherever threshold exceeds ½”
 2. Install railings at any step, on both sides of stairs,  and along hallways
 3. Increase stair lighting 
 4. Install non-skid stair treads, especially to exterior stairs 

   What I’ve found with my own clients is that getting someone to accept the need to modify their home is a process that moves from denial, to reluctant acceptance, to reliance on the improvement.  Once we’re able to convince a senior that the modification is necessary, they ultimately come to realize how it benefits their life.  It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it.    

  Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC

Getting Help with Assistive Technology

    I think most people would agree that making a home safe and comfortable can allow an individual to remain at home and retain independence as they age and their abilities change.  Even the smallest renovation can change the life of someone with a disability and mean the difference between comfort and discomfort in one’s own home.  Grab bars, stairway railings, lever door handles, non-slip coatings to flooring, and threshold ramps are low cost modifications that greatly improve safety.  More extensive modifications may include widening doorways, installing elevators, stair and porch lifts, replacing tubs with walk-in showers, lowering counters and cabinets, and increasing lighting.

   Keeping someone independent, however, often extends beyond making physical changes to a home.  It's not uncommon that additional resources are required both in services and equipment.  Assistive Technology devices are a group of products that improve a person’s ability to live and function independently.  These products can be as simple as a cane or a weekly pill organizer, or as sophisticated as a voice-activated computer system or sensor. 

   In fact, the area of assistive technology has grown so quickly and there are so many products and devices available to meet every need, that it can be very confusing to the uninitiated.   

Categories of Assistive Technology Devices:

Independent Living Aids.  These products help people perform activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and preparing meals.  They include everything from reaching tools and jar openers, to shower seats, bed rails, night lights and easy to read alarm clocks,  low vision aids and low hearing aids, neck pillows, back pillows, bluetooth devices -- the list is endless.

Medication Aids.  Pill organizers (from the simplest to the most high tech), timers and pill crushers.

Mobility Aids.  Canes, walkers, scooters and wheelchairs, both manual and electric.  Walkers improve stability and should be tested to ensure they are sturdy, lightweight, at the correct height for the individual, and can be moved easily. Manual wheelchairs require some arm strength or leg strength and skill to move the chair while electric wheelchairs are useful for those who can move around on their own but lack the strength to wheel themselves. Scooters are useful for those who can walk very short distances and get around by themselves.

Technology.  Advances in computer and phone technology have greatly helped seniors to live independently while maintaining connection to family, friends and support services.  There are modified phones with large buttons, headsets, speakerphone capabilities or visual displays.  Updated computer technology includes voice recognition software and modified keyboards.  There is also simplified equipment that allows for email, photos and other documents without having to use a computer.  

Crisis Monitoring.   Personal emergency response systems (PERS) call the appropriate contacts and emergency services when a monitor center is alerted via an emergency button worn as a pendant, bracelet or belt.  Occupancy monitors use pressure sensitive pads that activate when someone moves to get up.  Webcams and other sophisticated computerized systems allow for long distance monitoring for distant family members. 

   Most of these products are available at drug stores or medical supply stores and you also can easily browse online for products.  And while some assistive devices are paid for by Medicaire, ie walkers, wheelchairs and scooters if prescribed by a physician when determined to be medically necessary, most are not.  If you are looking for funding you’ll need to check Medicaid waiver programs, health insurance, the Department of Veteran Affairs and some public service organization like United Way and Easter Seals. 

    If you are uncertain exactly what products or equipment to choose, there are a few agencies which keep a complete list of assistive technology devices and can help you determine which is right for your particular circumstance.  In addition to the national programs, every state has a State technology assistance project that has information about assistive technology, financial assistance to purchase equipment, and loan programs.   ABLEDATA  can connect you with someone in your state.

For more information, you can contact:

ABLEDATA      800 - 227 - 0216 


    Susan Luxenberg
    HomeSmart LLC


Product Spotlight: Compact Kitchens

  With so many people downsizing as they age and their lifestyles change, I’m  interested in finding new products designed for smaller spaces, particularly kitchens.  The last time I built a really small kitchen was for a studio apartment and the configuration wound up being nothing more than a few cabinets lined up against a short wall with a stove on one end and refrigerator on the other - definitely pretty standard and boring. The updated version of a studio kitchen or kitchenette, the compact  kitchen, has opened the door to more interesting small space design. The compact kitchen is a space saving combination appliance/cooking center that is specifically designed for the home, but for a far more casual lifestyle. Take a look at some of the new compact kitchens being offered on the market today. 

  Kitchoo, a French company, has designed compact kitchens that provide all the functionality expected from a kitchen in the least space possible. Most models incorporate an integrated fridge-freezer, an induction hob with 2 rings, and a telescopic mixer tap, while optional extras include integrated dishwasher, microwave oven, washing machine, recycling bin and cutlery rack, depending on the model.   Kitchoo compact kitchens are sophisticated, well-equipped and extremely practical. The five designs, including the award-winning K1 kitchen, can be hidden away behind closed doors when not in use and look like any other cupboard or dresser that you might find at home.  Right now Kitchoo is only sold in the UK, Switzerland and throughout Europe with future plans to distribute in the United States.  Current pricing is about 5390 euros ($ 6,978) for the K1 kitchen to about 6800 euros ($8,805) for the larger K2 kitchen version.  Keep in mind installation is extra.
Kitchoo K1  Compact Kitchen

Kitchoo K1 compact kitchen  
Kitchoo K1 compact kitchen   

Kitchoo K2 Compact Kitchen

Kitchoo K2 compact kitchen

Kitchoo K2 features
Kitchoo K2 optional microwave

  If you’re looking for something that makes a strong style statement, how about the 
CircleKitchen ? Designed by Compact Concepts, this kitchen furniture manages to handle space problems in a highly functional and stylish manner, although the unit only measures about 6 sq ft.  It features all the characteristics of a usual kitchen.  Integrated with the ability to rotate as much as 180 degrees, the Circle Kitchen provides  everything from a regular sink, to dishes, a microwave and even a dishwasher. Pricing is between $6,500 and $15,000 plus installation costs.

Styles range from the sleek and modern basic circle

circle kitchen

To a more subdued look with additional cabinetry

  There are also more traditional (and less costly) compact kitchens being offered. Acme Kitchens specializes  in a full line of custom made all-in-one built ins designed around your specifications.  

custom designed kitchenette
Here is a 60” electric compact kitchen with built-in oven. This model provides additional base storage space and allows for use of a separate upright refrigerator.  It includes a 20 gauge stainless steel counter top, sink bowl, single lever faucet, sink strainer, four (4) electric burner elements and a 24" wide electric oven with black glass door and convection bake feature. Many options are possible; you may substitute a gas burner cooktop, include a dishwasher and alter the appearance by choosing a custom color, counter top and door finish.

And another Acme kitchenette design

Acme kitchenette design


   Compact Kitchens offers units ranging in 4 sizes: 30”, 39”, 48”, and 60” which are priced from $899 to $1,499 plus shipping and installation.  Their 
60" wide (c-60) model features the sink on the right, two 110 volt electric sealed burners, and two generous storage com-apartments. Refrigerator freezer is off center in middle. Dimensions are 59.5" Wide X 38" Tall X 24" Deep.   

Compact Kitchens in 30

  With the current trend towards downsizing, innovative space-saving designs for the home are more important than ever. And as added bonus, installation of these kitchen units is much easier and less costly than installing the components of a more traditional kitchen.   Are these units going to be suitable for everyone?  Certainly not, but when looking to conserve space while at the same time enhancing design, the new compact kitchens are worth a second look. 

  Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC

Home for the Holidays

 It’s holiday time which means that you may be either visiting or being visited by your parents.  This is a perfect time to assess your parents’ safety and comfort whether in your home or theirs. 

I recently gave a presentation at a senior complex and spoke about safety concerns that could be found in almost every home.  That triggered a lively conversation about the problems these seniors encountered when visiting their kids:  no grab bars in the bathroom, slippery shower and tub floors, no place to sit down when showering, steps that were not clearly delineate, stairs without handrails, or poorly lit hallways or staircases.  Most of those I spoke with said that they were reluctant to ask their adult kids to make any permanent changes to their own homes or install any special equipment, etc.  I’ve no doubt that if their kids thought about it, they would be happy to provide their aging parents with safer, more comfortable surroundings.  And truthfully these modifications would benefit everyone in the home. 

So here’s a simple list.  None of these items are costly and all can be done quickly:

 1.    Reduce tripping hazards by removing books, shoes, laundry, and toys from stairs; ensure there are clear pathways through all rooms 
 2.    Install handrails on stairs and steps; bright colored tape can be applied at the edge of steps and stairs to delineate floor level changes.
 3.    Increase the lighting at the top and bottom of the stairs; put bright lights over all porches and walkways
 4.   Store frequently used items in easy-to-reach places so that using a step stool or chair is not necessary.
 5.    Small throw rugs are a hazard.  Either remove them completely or tape them to the floor with double stick tape.
 6.    Have night lights in the bedroom, hallways and bathrooms.
 7.    Apply non-slip strips or non-slip coatings in bathtubs and showers 
 8.    Install grab bars in showers and tubs 
 9.    Purchase an inexpensive shower bench or chair which can be taken in and out of the tub or shower as required.   

 After all, an injury from a fall is one the biggest dangers the over-65 population faces and one that often results in a loss of independence.  Implementing the safety measures mentioned above can substantially reduce the chance of injury to your parents and allow for a safer holiday season for all.

Happy Holidays!

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

Meaningful Ways to Age in Place

While the goal for many of us is to age gracefully in our own homes, there is far more to staying in your home than physically adapting the home itself.  We know the importance of socialization to remaining emotionally healthy as we age. We know that continuing to challenge ourselves mentally helps to forestall senility and other forms of mental illness. And we all want to remain independent, vibrant, relevant individuals for as long as we can. 

 I recently read an article entitled, Elders a (Labor) Force for Social Change, written by Marc Freedman in which he explores meaningful ways to turn retirees into what he calls “a new workforce for social change.“  I think it’s quite appropriate to the topic of successfully aging in place.  

Elders a (Labor) Force for Social Change
By Marc Freedman  

We’re a nation that will soon have more older people than young ones, and much of the popular media portrays this as a disaster story that goes something like this: Tens of millions of people, the single biggest group in society and a mighty political force, are about to dominate the scene. Overnight at age 60, they will become the elderly, pass out of the “working-age population,” become incompetent and incontinent, bankrupt the health care system, and vote for hefty increases in public spending on their retirement at the expense of everyone else.

We’ve stretched the average life span from 47 years in 1900 to nearly 80 today. But our imagination about the shape of those longer lives has lagged behind. Until not long ago, the 50s and 60s meant retirement, grandparenthood, senior discounts, and early-bird specials. Today there is a growing group of what I call “neither-nors.” Neither young nor old, neither ready to be retired nor able to afford it.

With big thinking, there is a chance to tap the talents and experience of the “baby boom” generation to solve longstanding social problems, from health care to homelessness, education to the environment. There is a chance to turn an older population into a new workforce for social change. 

Some people, like Gary Maxworthy, are leading the way. As an idealistic young man, Maxworthy wanted to heed JFK’s call to service, but he already had a family to support. Instead of joining the Peace Corps, he launched a career in the food-distribution business, where he worked for more than 30 years. 

As Maxworthy approached 60, his wife’s passing sent him into a period of soul-searching. He thought a lot about his old Peace Corps dream and the prospect of returning to it. In the end, he chose a more manageable domestic option, VISTA, part of the AmeriCorps national service program. 

VISTA placed Maxworthy at the San Francisco Food Bank, where he discovered that—like food banks throughout the state of California—it was primarily giving out canned and processed food. It was all they could reliably deliver without food spoiling. 

Maxworthy knew that California farmers were discarding tons of blemished but wholesome fruits and vegetables that were not up to supermarket standards. He launched Farm to Family, a program that in 2010 distributed more than 100 million pounds of fresh food to needy families in California. 

Without question Maxworthy would have done a lot of good as a 22-year-old Peace Corps volunteer. But would he have been able to do something comparable to developing a system to distribute 100 million pounds of food to hungry people every year? 

Never before have so many people, like Maxworthy, had so much life experience and the time and the capacity to do something significant with it. That’s the gift of longevity, the great potential payoff from all the progress we’ve made in extending lives.

But we won’t collect this experience dividend if we don’t move to recognize a new stage of life and create the kind of support people need to transition from the end of midlife to the beginning of their encore years. We need innovation

How about inventing a gap year for grown-ups, a time when they could take a break, volunteer at home or abroad, or try a new career direction? A gap year—perhaps financed by a new tax-exempt savings vehicle we could call the Individual Purpose Account— could be a source of renewal for those embarking on a new career chapter. 

What about midlife fellowships for those seeking roles that combine purpose with a paycheck? And why stop there: Let’s rethink our entire education system. Why cram so much learning into our teens and early 20s when we may want to move in a whole new direction in our 50s, 60s, and 70s?

By capitalizing on the unique assets of this vast population, we can make something extraordinary out of what so many think of as the leftover years. The right public policies could even provide new chances for social mobility. Today’s boomers are the first wave passing into this new period, which will soon be occupied by their longer-living children and grandchildren. In crafting our society to respond, we’ll open up options for younger people, who could then make life decisions with the expectation of more than one bite of the apple. 

We all have a stake in this project. It’s our chance to turn the purported paradox of longevity—good for individuals, terrible for society —into a vast payoff for all generations, today and tomorrow.   

Marc Freedman is founder and CEO of Civic Ventures (  This article is adapted and excerpted forNew Livelihoods”, the Fall 2011 issue ofYES! Magazine, from his book The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife (PublicAffairs, 2011)

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

V.A. Housing Grants for Veterans

The question frequently comes up as to how to pay for accessibility modifications, especially more major ones like a fully adapted bathroom or kitchen.   Unfortunately, other than long term care insurance and personal savings there’s little out there today to help defray the cost of renovating a home in order to create a barrier free environment.

There is, however, money available for Veterans.  Veterans or service members who have specific service-connected disabilities may be entitled to a grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the purpose of constructing a barrier free home or modifying an existing home to meet their special needs. 

The Specially Adapted Housing Grant (SAH), or a 2010(a) grant, is intended for disabled veterans.  The goal of the SAH Program is to provide a living environment that affords the veterans or service members a level of independent living he or she may not normally enjoy.  
The grant is meant to offset the cost of specially adapted housing and offers up to half of the cost of the purchase, construction, or renovation of the house to a maximum amount of $50,000.  If the maximum grant is not used all at once, a second grant can be obtained for future adaptive modifications.  For example, if the total cost of adapting a home is $80,000, the maximum grant would be for 50% of the $80,000 or $40,000.  The veteran could, at a later date, claim another grant of $10,000 for the repair of the adaptations done originally, or for the installation of additional adaptations, or towards the purchase, construction, or adaptation of another home.

According to VA requirements, those eligible for the grant are those entitled to or currently receiving VA compensation for what the Department of Veteran Affairs defines as permanent and total service connected disability.  Eligibility must first be determined before an application for the Grant can be made.  Some of the requirements in determining eligibility include:
1.     It must be medically feasible for the veteran or service member to reside in the 
2.     The house must be adapted to be suitable to the veteran’s needs for living purposes.
3.     It must be financially feasible for the veteran to acquire the house with the 
        assistance provided by the Grant.

The types of adaptations covered include ramps, lifts, widened doorways and hallways, expanding garages and carports to allow for wheelchair maneuverability, accessible bathrooms, adjusting placement of wall switches and electrical outlets, windows that are operable from a wheelchair, automatically operated entry and garage doors, kitchen adaptations, modifying exterior walkways and entrances.

The following are pictures of projects completed under the SAH grant program.

         Modified Kitchen with new cabinets,
          counters, flooring and window


      Fully adapted bathroom

Carport addition

The Special Housing Adaptations (SHA) program, or 2101(b) grant, provides the actual cost to the veteran of certain adaptations and/or equipment, not to exceed a maximum grant of $10,000. The home to be adapted must be owned by the veteran or by a member of the veteran's family, and the veteran must intend to continue residing there.

Types of renovations covered depend on the specific disability and include special lighting, sliding doors, handrails, grab bars, smoke detectors, security systems, exterior doors and locks, concrete or asphalt walkways, fencing,  porches, awnings, additional electrical, lever faucets, lowered cabinets, rocker light switches and other adaptations with the approval of the VA.

Here are a couple of pictures of projects completed under the SHA program.


 Bermed walkway and front porch

                                                  Enlarged doorway and pocket door

The Temporary Residence Adaptations (TRA) program provides adaptation assistance to veterans who are residing, but do not intend to permanently reside, in the a residence owned by a family member. If a veteran is otherwise eligible for SAH, the assistance is limited to $14,000. If a veteran is otherwise eligible for SHA, the assistance is limited to $2,000.

SAH and SHA grants may be used up to three times, as long as the aggregate grant amount does not exceed the statutory dollar limitation. TRA grants may only be used once (and count as a grant usage for purposes of the limit of three), and the amount of assistance provided will be subtracted from the veteran's available statutory maximum.
For more information or to apply for a Specially Adapted Housing Grant:

  Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC

Universal Design & Home Modifications

Recent data gathered by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) indicates that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of aging-in-place options for their housing needs.  Whether remodeling or building new, consumers are planning ahead and opting to remodel or design their homes so as to make them more comfortable as they age and allow for continued independence.   There does seem to be, however, a bit of confusion over some of the terminology used in regards to designing changes for aging in place.  In recent articles I’ve seen the terms aging in place modifications and universal design used interchangeably.  There are important differences between the two. 

Aging in place modifications refer to altering an existing home so as to make it more comfortable, safe and accessible as we age.  It’s most often done reactively to accommodate some physical disability that has arisen.   Stairs, narrow doorways, low toilets, inadequate lighting, and deep sided bathtubs all become safety hazards when you are physically challenged.   Not surprisingly then, the types of modification most frequently requested include:  

Add grab bars          78% 
Install higher toilets      71% 
Change a tub or existing shower to a curb-less shower      60% 
Widen doorways         57% 
Build ramps or removing thresholds        45% 
Enhance lighting or adding task lighting       45%  

Universal Design, on the other hand, is not about adding grab bars and ramps so that we can continue to care for ourselves and remain at home once we’re disabled.  It’s much more proactive and forward thinking that that.  Many existing homes include features that at best are inconvenient:  thermostats placed at a height that can only be reached when standing, outlets set low on the walls making it necessary to bend to reach them, narrow bedroom and bath doors, microwaves that are unreachable when seated, entrances requiring steps for access, cupboard shelves that can’t be reached without step stools, toilets that become too low for aching joints.  These are features that that we never think about until we develop some physical disability – either temporary or permanent – at which point we are faced with a dilemma.   And because we are often forced to adapt our homes quickly as a result of an injury, we wind up relying on equipment as a quick fix rather than spending the time planning quality renovations that will maintain the beauty of our home environment and last a lifetime.   

Universal design refers to how you address your entire home while you’re still healthy, using products that are designed to be intuitive and functional as well as beautiful and adaptable to change, if and when the need arises.  When space is designed using the principles of universal designno one could ever guess your home was designed for aging because it’s not.  Universal design does not mean design for seniors.  It means design for everyone – young and old, physically challenged or not.  Space does not need to be adapted for anyone because it’s suited to everyone.  So for example, rather than having to install a ramp for someone needing to manage the steps to a front entrance, what if entrances were built without any steps at all?  What if walkways were sloped from the driveway to the front door so ramps were unnecessary?   Or, what if we did not install bathtubs as a standard feature in every bathroom?  What if the new standard was a well-equipped walk-in shower with built in seats? What about including touch free faucets, cabinets and lights with touch controls, refrigerators with shallow shelves, temperature read out controls for faucets so as to prevent scalding, varying height counters, wireless thermostat controls, microwaves that fit into drawers, and slip resistant flooring?   The beauty is that, while these features and products all fit into the principles of universal design and are of benefit to everyone, they also anticipate a time when climbing over a tub wall, reaching a shelf, or walking up stairs becomes too difficult.    

The difference between aging-in-place modifications and universal design is significant and can impact your home environment drastically.  Smart Boomers will grab on to the principles of universal design to create beautiful homes for their lifetimes.   

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

Product Spotlight: Wireless Stair Lights

According to the Home Safety Council, falls are the leading cause of injury among seniors, and safety experts all agree that badly lit hallways and staircases are potential accident areas within the home.  PathLights™, an inexpensive, automatic lighting system, is designed to help people avoid falls during low-light conditions in the home. 
The PathLights™ system includes three battery-operated individual units -- two "A" units and one "B" unit -- that are calibrated to work together.   When the “A” unit sense motion, the “B” light turns on, lighting the path before a person gets there.  
Installation is a very simple DIY project that requires just a ruler, and the entire system takes less than five minutes to install. You can install the 3 motion sensor stair lights, 8-10" off the floor, up to 20 feet apart on your stairs or in your hallway, using screws or mounting tape  which are both included. When you get within 6 feet of the first unit, the light comes on which then triggers the next unit to light as well. The PathLights™  Wireless LED Stair Lights stay on for about a minute, so you can safely make your way down dark staircases or halls. And since these motion sensor stair lights are battery operated, you can add them anywhere you need extra lights. Each wireless LED stair light requires 3 AA batteries (not included) that should last for approximately 16 months.
The cost of the complete system ranges from $35-$40.
 Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC

Recent Questions: Raising toilet seat height

Question: My Dad is now having difficulty bending to sit and stand up from his bathroom toilet.  He refuses to use the full toilet commode that goes over the toilet, claiming it’s uncomfortable.  We’ve looked at comfort height toilets but they are still not high enough for him to easily maneuver.  We’ve also looked at the high toilet seats that fit on top of the toilet but we’re afraid those will not be very steady.  How do we solve this problem?  
Answer: You can use a toilet riser to raise the height of the toilet. Typically by installing a riser, you can raise the height of the toilet up to 4”.  A toilet riser is bolted permanently to the floor to create a solid and sturdy base for the toilet.  

There are many benefits to choosing this approach over the toilet commode or a high toilet seat (aka toilet seat riser): 
A riser is aesthetically more pleasing than either a free standing toilet commode or booster toilet seat that attaches onto the toilet.  Because the riser is placed underneath the toilet, it doesn't draw attention to itself.  It blends in to the bathroom and doesn’t look like medical device.  

A riser is permanent, doesn’t need to be taken on and off the toilet, and is much easier to clean than either of the other choices.  

You do not sacrifice comfort when you lift your toilet from the bottom. You can re-use your existing toilet and toilet seat. 

For those who want a more customized look or height, you can also build a platform/riser under your toilet.  Just remember to keep the size of the riser minimal so that it does not extend beyond the toilet seat edge and cause a tripping hazard. 

 Susan Luxenberg
  HomeSmart LLC

What is a Geriatric Care Manager?

Aging Baby Boomers themselves may be a bit young for the services of a Geriatric Care Manager,  but there are many Boomers who are arranging care for an elderly parent or relative.  If you've ever been in the position of searching for information about resources in a community for the elderly, you already know that the task can be overwhelming and difficult - especially from out of town. 

Geriatric Care Managers are educated listeners who can provide an individualized road map for dealing with all the issues associated with aging. As per the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM), a professional Geriatric Care Manager (GCM) is a health and human services specialist who helps families who are caring for older relatives. The GCM is trained and experienced in any of several fields related to care management, including nursing, gerontology, social work, or psychology and has 
extensive knowledge about the cost, quality and availability of elder services in the community.

GCM's are experts in helping families determine what kind of help an older adult needs and can assist in planning and coordinating whatever help is required. The services they provide include:
1. Conducting  a thorough assessment of a client’s physical, medical, mental and financial status so as to identify problems and provide both short and long term plans for care.
2. Providing crisis intervention
3. Acting as a liaison to families at a distance, overseeing care, and quickly alerting families to problems – especially important when families are engaged in long distance care giving
4. Screening, arranging, and monitoring in-home help or other services, including assistance in hiring a qualified caregiver for in home care.
5. Reviewing financial, legal, or medical issues and offering qualified referrals to geriatric specialists.
6. Assisting with moving an older person to or from a retirement complex, assisted care home, or nursing home.
7. Providing consumer education and advocacy.

Geriatric care managers often bridge the gap between ongoing independent living and more full-time care such as home health aides or assisted living.  Their role is essential when there are numerous decisions to be made, the person is in the midst of a crisis or at a crossroads such as a hospitalization.  GCM’s also serve to buffer some of the emotional stress that occurs in a crisis and help a family work towards a unified solution.

This is yet another case where Medicare or Medicaid does not pay for the service, and long-term care coverage varies widely.  Most agencies charge an hourly rate of between $60 to $300 per hour depending on the part of the country.  And while these fees can be pricey, sometimes a single consultation, where the family can become educated about their options, is all that’s needed. 

You can find Geriatric Care Managers through the Area Agency on Aging in a community, hospitals, senior centers, geriatric assessment centers, or non-profit agencies serving families.  You can also call the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Mangers at 520-881-8008

Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC


The In-Law Suite

Our social and financial pundits have been telling us that it is become increasingly more frequent to find households comprised of parents and their adult children.  Whether it’s young adults moving back home to live with their parents post college , elderly parents moving in with their adult children, or adults moving in with their elderly parents,  we’re seeing more and more instances where families are combining households.   The reasons for this housing shift are many and range from financial necessity to care giving practicality.  Whatever the reason, home environments often require modification to accommodate the disparate needs of varying aged family members.  

One growing trend is to add a private in-law suite for aging parents.   Plans with full in-law apartments might have a separate entrance from the main entrance and be entirely self-sufficient having a small, but complete kitchen and utility/laundry room.  Other plans might just include a privately located first floor bedroom and bath designed to accommodate parents, family or help, or even a free standing accessory dwelling unit (ADU).   Depending on your lot size, zoning and building codes, and your budget, the space can be designed to whatever configuration and size works best for you.  

Alternately, a more cost effective solution to creating a safe and comfortable in law suite might be to remodel your garage.  The garage conversion is one of the most economical types of home improvement in a cost per square foot basis.  It creates a living space that keeps your loved one close to you, while creating two separate living spaces for privacy and the highest level of independence possible.

If the entry from the garage to your home includes steps it’s a good idea to raise the garage floor level to meet the house floor level. Aesthetically, raising the floor to match that of the house incorporates the finished garage space into the rest of the house.  Practically, it removes any steps that a senior might have to negotiate when joining the family in the main house.  It is also a benefit to construction.  The resulting crawl space can be utilized for plumbing such as drain lines from the toilet, shower, sinks, along with electric runs, etc.  

If your access to the house is on the same level as the garage floor, you might have to break the garage concrete floor to install the plumbing for the new in-law suite. The good thing about this elevation is that you will wind up with a fully accessible entrance without the need for any ramps – present or future.

The standard dimensions for a single car garage are 12’ x 24’ or 288 sq ft.  The standard dimensions for a two car garage are 24’ x 24”, 576 sq ft.  Obviously the more square footage you have to work with, the more you’ll be able to include in your floor plan. 

So what can you include in 288-576 sq ft?  The minimum size for a bedroom that could accommodate a twin size bed  is 10’ x 10’.  A standard sized bathroom is 5’ x 8’ and while not spacious, is still usable as people get older.  A single car garage can certainly accommodate a bedroom and bathroom.  A double car garage could even accommodate a small kitchen.  Here are sample floor plans for both a single and double car garage.

You may be considering constructing an in law suite because of an immediate need, but it’s smart to keep future accessibility needs in mind as well.  Here are some minimum dimensions and clearances to use when planning for accessibility. Of course you’ll need to check everything with local building codes. 

   General Interior 
Doors: 2 ft. 8 in. clear opening
 3 ft. wide
Wheelchair turning space = 5 ft. diameter
Sink: counter on both sides = 2 ft.; knee-space below
Oven/cooktop/stove: counter on both sides = 2 ft.; pull-out shelf below oven
Refrigerator: counter on open side = 1 ft. 6 in.
Wheelchair turning space: 5 ft. diameter
Sink: 2 ft. 6 in. clear width; knee-space below
Toilet: 1 ft. 6 in. to grab bar wall; 3 ft. 6 in. clear width  


Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

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