Designs help owners age in place

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INDIANA, Pa. (AP) — "Aging in place" and "universal design" are phrases Curtis Lentz uses to describe an expanding segment of his business — a growing demand for design services, products and remodeling touches developed for people who want to grow older in their homes rather than make the transition to an assisted living facility or nursing home.

Aging in place is a hot niche in the home remodeling industry, and Lentz, owner of Lentz Kitchen & Bath, in Indiana, has watched the demand for special aging-related products and services grow steadily, especially in the past decade.

His business has developed a specialization in serving those needs, and a new showroom being built at the company's headquarters at 556 Water St. will focus on universal design and aging in place merchandise for the bath and kitchen.

The demand is due in part to an aging population.

Connie Merriman, one of the company's interior designers, estimates 90 percent of Lentz Kitchen & Bath remodeling projects now include aging in place or universal design touches.

"We're incorporating a lot of those elements into most projects we do," she said. "People are starting to approach us and ask about these products."

Merriman completed training offered by the National Association of Home Builders and is a certified aging in place specialist. She conducts seminars to make seniors and their families aware of even simple things they can do to make home environments safer and more accommodating for residents with mobility limitations.

Universal design and aging in place features are also important and helpful for another segment of the population — those people recovering from surgery or a serious injury or illness.

Lentz said that often when people are well enough to be discharged from a hospital, their doctor will tell family members the patient "cannot go home unless ." What follows the word "unless" is a list of required special features the home must have so the patient can be both mobile and safe.

Helpful remodeling projects may start with a step-free entrance to the home. But there are many other products and touches available to help homeowners with mobility limitations.

Grab bars on bathroom walls and in showers and handrails in hallways can make moving about safer.

Replacing twist/turn doorknobs with lever-style handles — that can even be operated with pressure from the lower arm — can make opening doors easier.

Lower door thresholds and wider doorways may be needed if the resident has to use a wheelchair.

Toilets that are taller, even by a couple inches, are gaining popularity among those with mobility issues and walk-in tubs are making it easier for some people to bathe, Lentz said. Because walk-in tubs take longer to fill with water, heat lamps are making a resurgence in popularity to keep the bather warm while the tub fills.

Helpful changes to a kitchen include lower countertops that are easier to reach from a wheelchair, lower wall ovens, microwave ovens placed under the counter and kitchen cabinets with pull-out shelves and a higher toe space at the floor so wheelchairs can roll in closer.

And Merriman said installing a water faucet above the stove eliminates having to carry heavy water-filled pots from the sink to the stove.

"The whole accessibility and aging in place process requires planning to do it right," Lentz said, and he recommends getting a certified aging in place specialist involved early in the remodeling planning.

The Lentz interior designers can visit homes and do a needs assessment and then make recommendations on products or renovations to make a home more suitable for someone who can't move around as well as they once did.

At Lezzer Lumber Company, White Township, Sarah Byers, a bath designer, said some of her customers are seniors who now find it difficult to step over the side of a conventional bath tub and want to remodel their bath with a walk-in shower. Byers said a popular item at Lezzer is a sectional shower unit, complete with grab bar, seat and a hand-held shower head ready for a contractor to assemble and install.

Brycelin Costello said that in her eight years as a kitchen designer at Lezzer she has seen a growing demand for kitchen cabinets designed and built to be more accommodating to residents with limited mobility.

The most popular features of those cabinets, she said, are lower countertops and more clearance at the floor that allows the feet of a homeowner, while in a wheelchair, to roll under the cabinets.

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Information from: The Indiana Gazette, http://www.indianagazette.com

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