Elderly couple planning

After a major health crisis or injury, many individuals struggle with daily life activities because their home lacks the proper safety and access features. The recently-formed Home Modification and Aging in Place (HMAIP) Awareness Project, a collaboration of the extension offices of the North Dakota State University (NDSU) and the South Dakota State University (SDSU), is focused on helping more individuals heal and enjoy a high quality of life in the comfort of their home.

“A person’s place of residence plays a pivotal role in quality of life, especially for persons with chronic illness and disability,” explained Leacey Brown, MS, gerontology field specialist for the SDSU Extension. “Most residential settings are not well-suited for these populations, resulting in a widespread need to increase home modification and improve accessibility in residential settings.”

Jane Strommen, PhD, NDSU Extension gerontology specialist, expanded on the growing demands. “As the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, interventions designed to assist them in maintaining independence, mobility and quality of life will be increasingly important. Extensions can function as a critical and effective partner for facilitating programs and benefiting the lives of older adults through science-based education, community engagement, partnerships and collaborations.”

Each state’s regional Extension offers evidence-based self-management programs focused on preventing a health crisis and effectively managing existing chronic conditions.

“We offer educational programs that encourage positive change; such as the Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance program, which improves strength, balance, mobility and reduces the risk of falling,” Strommen explained. “Another program, Stepping On, assists older adults to gain a greater awareness of fall risk factors, take control of their fall risk factors, explore different coping behaviors, and follow through on safety strategies in everyday life.”

Home modifications remained an obstacle and a joint research project by the Extension offices identified knowledge and awareness among building professionals and community members as important barriers to aging in place. As a result of these findings, the HMAIP workgroup was developed and began recruiting interested professionals and content experts from across the Dakotas to develop a communications and awareness toolkit for release in September 2022.

Brown added, “Proposed materials to be developed include video and written testimonials, social media posts, public service announcements, educational curriculum and other relevant items. We hope to increase consumer and professional engagement in home modification, including more consumers hiring professionals to complete home modifications and entrepreneurs identifying opportunities for home modification businesses.”

Although remaining in the home is a priority for adults 50 and older, the high disability rates and limited materials make it difficult to meet the unique needs of Dakotans. The HMAIP Awareness Project continues to engage professionals and move forward with the work plan goals to secure sponsors, identify resources, develop materials, and execute a marketing plan. Those interested in participating or seeking information are encouraged to contact Leacey Brown.

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