Home modifications let the mobility-impaired age in place and in style

By Eric Newman

Home modifications let the mobility-impaired age in place and in style.

While it may be true that everybody can use a proverbial lift, for mature adults who want to age in place in their homes, a literal lift might be needed.

Seniors, disabled or injured people might have trouble walking to, from and around public places, or even just traversing through their own homes. The right equipment, though, can assist people in prolonging their years of independent living.

“In a lot of cases, the equipment keeps them in a home instead of having to go into a nursing facility. And that’s what people want to do. A lot of people don’t want to have to go into those homes if they can help it,” says Larry Wright, the owner of 101 Mobility in Chandler, which sells, installs and services in-home medical equipment in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

“That’s where they raised their kids, created a life, and that’s where they want to stay. They don’t want to have to pack up and move and go somewhere else. We’re all about aging in place.”

Local medical equipment companies like 101 Mobility allow people to get into and out of their homes easier, but also to be able to move around inside.

Stairs, in particular, present a challenge to those with scooters or wheelchairs, and stair lifts help people not only live in their homes easier, but also thrive in them.

“In some instances, we can even give them access to parts of their home that they haven’t had in months or years,” Wright says.

The upfront cost of equipment and installation can be expensive, though. Wright says a straight stair lift usually costs around $3,500 with his company. But the investment can minimize the risk of falling or injury, therefore mitigating the costs of a hospital stay and rehabilitation, or the monthly cost of a nursing home or hospice care. Wright says some Arizona nursing homes can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $12,000 a month.

Yolanda Romero-Alemany, owner of Scottsdale Medical Equipment & Supplies, says the cost of a fall or injury that causes somebody to lose their independence could include moving vans or trucks, initial move-in fees and more, but are exceeded by expenses that go far beyond finances.

“When you fall down, it’s not just the cost of the hospital, and further expenses that could come from injury. There’s the cost to your overall health, as well. You might break something and can’t even stay at home anymore,” she says.

But one concern that may arise when considering installation of medical equipment inside the home is the look it will have. Romero-Alemany acknowledges some people may be cautious of bulky or “ugly” equipment inside their houses, but custom options that work with the overall aesthetic of a home are expanding.

“Now they make so many things,” she says. “For instance, you can get grab bars that can match your fixtures. It doesn’t have to look so medical, but it can still be stylish while providing safety.”

Wright says there are options, usually at a higher price, that can help with this issue. 101 Mobility, for example, has installed elevators for those who were averse to a stair lift. However, in his experience, the function usually outweighs looks.

“Almost all of the people think about the safety of the individual, and that takes precedence,” Wright says.

When it comes to medical equipment inside a person’s home, there is more to consider than just the contraptions themselves. There must be adequate space for efficient use, the right products for a patient’s specific ailment, and proper installation, which can be obtained easiest by having experts do a walk-through.

Wright, whose company first inspects a home and interviews customers about exactly what they need and what hazards might accompany certain products before selling a single piece of equipment, says the extra money is worthwhile to stamp out further risk of injury.

“Most often what we see people overlook is that they don’t think about the space that they need. For instance, when they need a mobility device to get in and out of their home, they don’t think about the size of the doorway. The width of their door, if it’s too small, needs to be big enough to get their equipment through,” he says.

Whether for cheaper prices or perceived convenience, Romero-Alemany says she has seen numerous people consider purchasing mobility equipment online. Consequentially, she has had customers come into her store needing repairs, or to buy new equipment, after their new products prove to not fit or work exactly as originally planned.

“You’re paying for customer service and our knowledge,” she says.

Time of delivery is also a concern, as online products can take many business days to arrive, and some people cannot safely wait that long. The ability, then, to walk in and out of a store on the same day with the right equipment gives a major edge to buying in-person from one of the area’s certified stores.

“Sometimes people say they have somebody being discharged from the hospital in a couple hours, and they want to make sure they have the equipment that day,” Romero-Alemany says.

Companies like 101 Mobility, Scottsdale Medical Equipment & Supplies and others are attempting to help people age at home all throughout the country. Arizona presents some unique challenges, in that a large population of seniors live in the area for only a portion of the year, and many own swimming pools that require special equipment, but are only used temporarily.

However, 101 Mobility co-owner Dave Malloy says local companies like his have the perfect solution.

“A lot of snowbirds come here for a few months,” he says, “so we actually offer rentals as well for those who don’t want to commit to something long term.”

Wright says people should also think about their vehicles, not just their homes.“ A lot of times people have no way to transport their scooters or wheelchairs, so we have auto-lifts that they can put on the back of their vehicle or inside it, so they can continue moving and getting places,” Wright says.

Medical insurance does not always pay for equipment, but it can be financed in other ways. “The veterans’ administration often helps veterans by buying equipment for their homes. Some long-term health care insurance will pay for some of this, so they’ll get reimbursed after installation sometimes. And some third-party agencies and worker-compensation agencies that work closely with partners like us or insurance agencies [can also pay for some modifications],” Wright says.

Family members or loved ones are encouraged to reach out as well for help. “A lot of times, it’s a family member that’s worried or that initiates the contact with a company like ours, because they’re concerned about their loved one,” Malloy says.

Do not hesitate to ask about proper use or issues with equipment. “If you have issues with the equipment or need help learning how to use it, that’s available as well,” Romero-Alemany says.

Romero-Alemany advises against secondhand equipment whenever possible: “You don’t ever want to buy bathroom equipment or anything like that used, for health and sanitary reasons. And you want to know that it’s going to be quality, be used correctly and you know that you’re getting the right product.”