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Contractors Ready To Meet Demands Of Aging Homeowners, But Changes Aren't Cheap

Elle Moxley
Ellen Becky Grossman, 101, has lived in the same Roeland Park home for more than six decades. Her favorite place to sit is the sunroom, where a contractor lifted the floor six inches to make access safer with her walker.

The vast majority of seniors – nearly 90 percent, according to a 2011 AARP study – want to stay in the homes and communities where they've always lived.

Ellen Becky Grossman is no exception. The 101-year-old Roeland Park resident has never wanted to live anywhere but the home she built with her late husband in 1948.

But like a lot of Kansas City homes of a certain age, Grossman's single-story ranch house wasn't ideal for aging in place. That's why she enlisted the help of David Groves, one of a growing number of contractors who specialize in aging in place renovations.

“You might see his work right at the front door,” Grossman says.

An eye for safety 

Groves beckons me toward the tiled entryway, inlaid with a green and blue stone cross.

“This is an example of if you have your favorite area rug that you want to show off, there are other ways, safer ways, to do it,” he says. “A mosaic entryway is one way.”

Credit Elle Moxley / KCUR
David Groves of Accessible Rehab Works talks about how to make a bathroom safer for someone with mobility issues.

For someone like Grossman, who needs a walker to get around, rugs are a big no-no. They’re too easy to trip over, and a fall at her age could be devastating. So Groves replaced the throw rug with easy-to-clean tile.

Next stop, Grossman’s bathroom. It’s at the end of a narrow hallway.

“Most wheelchairs are not going to fit through there,” Groves says.

So Groves, who is also a licensed occupational therapist, had to get creative. 

“We cut into the cast iron (tub) and left some of the depth so water can still flow down the drain. We use all tile materials for this, for waterproofing, for the cosmetic finish for the glass tile,” says Groves.

Contractors tap a growing market

Besides Groves, the National Association of Home Builders lists two dozen Certified Aging in Place Specialists  in metro Kansas City.

Credit Elle Moxley / KCUR
Katy Dodd explains how a shower bench can improve safety for seniors in the bathroom. On the right, there's a model she uses to explain how the old tub will be removed.

A few years ago, Wineteer Construction started LifeWise Renovations to keep up with demand for aging-in-place renovations. Katy Dodd walks me through the company's Prairie Village showroom.

“A lot of the areas around Prairie Village here, they’re all pretty much all set up the same. You have the tub (to) shower conversion, and so it’s this big old bathtub in there, and we’ll take out the bathtub, pretty much rip it down to the studs,” Dodd says.

But a studs-up renovation doesn't come cheap.

“Our bathrooms range between $15,000 and $20,000, usually,” Dodd says.

Credit LifeWise Renovations
Because a full bathroom remodel can cost upwards of $15,000, many people opt for a few modifications they feel are most necessary.

Here’s the kicker: Medicare will pay for assistive devices, like lift chairs, but not extensive home renovations. That’s bad news in a town with older housing stock, most of which will need to be modified for senior residents who want to age in place.

But Groves, the contractor with the 101-year-old client, looks at it this way: “If it was my mom, I’d rather her spend $10,000 on a bathroom than $10,000 on a broken hip,” he says.

And a broken hip is actually more expensive – on average, $22,000.

This story is part of KCUR's reporting project “Aging in Place,” an exploration of how the Kansas City region will meet the needs of an expanding population over the age of 65. Tell us how you're aging in place here.

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