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Florida Matters Preview: A Look at Aging in Place

Mildred Barnett of Tampa says she once saw a picture with three faces: one of a baby, one of a woman and one of an older lady.

"And it says, ‘the sunrise is as beautiful as the sunset,’ and with proper planning, it most certainly can be," she said.

Barnett is a VA geriatric psychiatrist who recently remodeled her home to accommodate her 81-year-old mother. 

"Her idea of the ideal aging and getting older is being as independent as possible, having her own space," Barnett said. "We made it as senior-friendly as possible so everything is specifically built for her and her height ... we have the bars in the bathroom and everything is very accessible for her."

The bathroom in the additional bedroom for Barnett's mom has a barrier-free, roll-in shower with horizontal and vertical grab bars for stability and to help her stand up. There's a built-in bench, a lowered valve and a handheld shower head. And there's the toilet, with buttons.

"I know and it actually heats up for you and everything. So, you know, it’s very senior friendly," Barnett said.

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Credit Yoselis Ramos
Prospero-Altiery's bedroom is also known as a mother-in-law suite.

Barnett hired contractor Jon Greaves to do her home addition. He's the president of Greaves Construction in Temple Terrace and is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS).  Greaves said making a home age-friendly has a lot to do with accessibility.

Greaves explains it this way: "So I’m just walking in a walker right now, and I know I’m going to be in a wheelchair later, so we want to make all the entrances barrier-free. You know, ramps from the outside to the inside, lever door knobs so they’re easy to open. Maybe lower switches so you can reach them when you’re eventually in your wheelchair, wider doorways, smooth floorings..." 

Greaves said he finds it surprising that people don't know what renovations are possible.

"Everybody thinks grab bars are ugly. Well, they make very beautiful grab bars now," he said. "Change the color, the texture. We can make a grab bar in any configuration you want so it doesn’t look like that hospital bar that people don’t really want to see in their bathroom."

Last summer, a Georgetown University study found that an overwhelming majority of baby boomers want to age in place -- stay living in their homes as long as possible. But only 1 in 5 of those surveyed said they had any plan to remodel their home or incorporate technology to make that possible.  

Back in Barnett's home, the additional room also has a kitchenette with a lowered sink, a raised mini-fridge and cabinets with handles.

"We specifically wanted handles because if you have arthritis, it’s hard to grab a little knob and it’s just easier if you’re hands are stiff just to grab things like this," Barnett said as she demonstrated.

Barnett's mom, Carmen Prospero-Altiery was living alone in Puerto Rico two years ago when she fell in her home. That's when Barnett had "the talk" with her.

"She reluctantly came but she understood that it was important for her to be closer to me because I’m her only child," Barnett said. "This is normal for me, this is just what we do when we get older and we retire." 

Barnett lives with her husband and two children. Being a part of a multi-generational household isn't something new to her mom.

"She had a chance to interact with her grandmother who lived to be 104, so she has lots of fond memories and a lot of those what we call 'consejitos' -- those valued truisms and words of wisdom that you only get from a grandmother," Barnett said.

Carmen Prospero-Altiery saved money over the years for when she aged.

"It’s essential [to prepare]. It’s essential because nobody knows what the future holds and lots of times people become disabled and if you’re alone it’s very hard," Prospero-Altiery said.

We will feature an in-depth discussion on aging in place on Florida Matters Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 21 at 7:30 a.m. on WUSF 89.7 FM.