Being able to continue living as long as possible in one's own home is a hope for many seniors, and with the rising costs of assisted care it's become a financial necessity as well.
Still, the basic concern of being able to do so safely remains.
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The Barrington-based Angel Guardian aims to bring these goals together by physically adapting houses to make them manageable for those losing some of their former strength and coordination.
"We've found that people's sense of identity is in their homes," business co-owner JoAnn Fletcher said.
She and co-owner Mike Kozel are certified Aging in Place specialists. Fletcher is a former educator while Kozel has been in the construction field for 35 years.
Kozel said the concept of Aging in Place -- staying put in one's own home -- really began to take off at the dawn of the 21st century, just after a flourish in the retirement community industry during the '90s.
While the broad goal of Angel Guardian's work is to make all aspects of home living easier for seniors -- such as being able to reach things once kept on higher shelves -- the single most important aspect is to prevent falls.
The earliest and most basic part of the firm's work is to do a safety check of the home, which can result in changes as easy and cost-free as rolling up a carpet that's become a tripping hazard.
With items that are treasured mementos, such as a longtime rug, Angel Guardian tries to come up with sensitive solutions like turning it into a wall hanging instead, Fletcher said.
When construction work is deemed necessary, most clients prefer it to be as subtle as possible, she added. These can include grab bars and railings disguised as towel racks, toilet-roll holders and shower soap dishes.
Some of the other more common types of projects include widening doorways, adding entrance ramps, installing between-room threshold reducers and replacing swinging doors with sliding pocket doors. Other examples include outdoor pet runs for people no longer able to take their pets for long walks and first-floor laundry rooms built into closets to prevent having to go down basement stairs.
Though there are several general categories most projects fall into, some degree of innovation is necessary with pany construction project, Kozel said.
"The (only) limits would be financial," Kozel said. "You can make any home accessible."
Though most seniors are on fixed incomes and rightfully budget-conscious, adaptations to homes can avoid even higher costs of nursing homes and the medical bills from falls, he added.
As most people intend major renovations to their homes to last for decades, Angel Guardian advises homeowners in their 40s and 50s to consider incorporating such changes into their projects.
Fletcher and Kozel don't give advice on how long any particular person can safely live independently in his or her home, but a very general threshold is a person's ability to use the bathroom on their own and get their own food.
Their three-year-old business belongs to a 24-member consortium of businesses called the Senior Professional Assistance Network (SPAN), which offers senior-related services including health care, mortgage experts and attorneys.
Angel Guardian also does projects to make commercial properties more senior-accessible, but 80 percent of its work is on homes, Kozel said.