• Does Your Home Need Physical Therapy, too?

    by Peter Mounteer

    tim doyle-0594-rgbTim Doyle, PT, is out to change the way people live in their homes. He is a tall, personable, and friendly man who graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He has been practicing physical therapy on the Monterey Peninsula for some 27 years. However, as of several weeks ago, Doyle is looking to help people live safely in their homes as they age, so that the kind of incidents that injure people who become physical therapy patients do not occur as often, or hopefully ever.

    Doyle says the key to achieving this goal is home modification with the principles of universal design in mind. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the sixth leading cause of death among individuals over age 65 is falling, and reports from the National Institutes of Health asserts most cases of falling among the elderly occur in the home.

    It is common knowledge that falls can have devastating consequences for the health of older persons. Many falls may be the result of numerous other factors such as the way a person walks, naturally occurring low blood pressure, confusion, and the presence of certain medications resulting in loss of coordination can kick in anywhere, not just in the home. Doyle asserts that making necessary changes to the home as assessed by home modification specialists can make a substantial difference in reducing the possibility of falling in the home.

    Doyle sees a big potential market in Pacific Grove, given the large number of older homes in town that could use modification. Pacific Grove’s population of individuals over age 65 is the second highest in the county, at 21.6 percent, after the City of Carmel, clocking in at 35.7 percent. The city is well known for its high number of dated, non-ADA compliant Victorian homes.

    However, the traits of Pacific Grove that make it such a lucrative opportunity for the enterprising physical therapist – aging folks and old homes that do not conform to universal design principles – may be the most difficult part of establishing a business around the service of home modification. Aging structures make extensive renovations lengthy and costly, a turnoff for most, especially during current economic times when many people are still cautious to spend lots of money on anything.

    Additionally, some will not want to make home modifications because they may be in denial about their condition; memory problems may keep them from remembering to make the necessary changes or they may be afraid that such changes would make the house less aesthetically pleasing or would decrease its resale value.

    Home modification is the practice of making changes to adapt a living space to suit the needs of physically impaired individuals to ensure that they can continue to live independently and safely. Doyle insists that the “modification” part of home modification does not have to be extreme and can be as small as simply changing the lighting of a house by adding a few extra lamps to better illuminate the inside and ideally keep someone from tripping or slipping on things. Other modifications that can be made include installing light switches that are large flat panel switches (the kind you see in newer office buildings and homes) that are easier for motor-impaired individuals to operate; the installation of grab-bars for getting in and out of the shower or simply getting around the house; or removing a door to make the entrance wheelchair accessible after a resident has become wheelchair mobile.

    The home modifications that Doyle is discussing also do not have to cost an arm and a leg, so to speak, and Doyle estimates that bills could be as low as $200. Don’t have even $200 to spend on home modifications? Doyle says you may be in luck. You may be eligible for the Home Affordable Modification Program provided by the U.S. Departments of the Treasury and Housing & Urban Development. Check out www.makinghomeaffordable.gov for more details on this.

    The City of Pacific Grove offers low-cost loans for low-income individuals. The loans are dependent upon grants and government funding as well as the repayment of loans on the city’s books, and there are eligibility requirements. The city has emergency loans available for up to $10,000 which require an administrative decision only. For more information, call the Housing Department at 831-648-3100.

    Additionally, the City of Monterey also has funding available to support these kinds of modifications, but you have to live in Monterey.

    He asserts that the market has kept up with the aging population, and that home modifications can have elegant form without losing its crucial function. “None of it has to look unaesthetic,” he said in an interview. “With home modification your home does not need to look like a nursing home, modification can be very aesthetic.” Simple installations such as grab bars are available in various metallic and nonmetallic colors that number in the hundreds, and that’s just at The Home Depot.

    If you are a disabled person under the age of 65, and you are reading this, know that the service Doyle hopes to provide is not exclusive to the elderly. The physical therapist insists that such services are very needed by young people and that Doyle is interested in working with young people to meet their at-home needs as well.

    Doyle starts by assessing the condition of the individual in question, going over medical and medication histories with them, noting whether there are any of the various conditions and drugs which can cause dizziness, and which would increase a person’s chances of falling. According to the Mayo Clinic, some varieties of antidepressants, sedatives, tranquilizers and hypertension medications cause dizziness. Next, Doyle would assess the condition of the home. He looks for things that increase a person’s risk of falling, such as the absence of suitable structures to stabilize oneself, cluttered floors, inadequate home lighting, and narrow hallways and doorways. Doyle would then recommend behavior modifications, to help individuals with various conditions live better in their home, and then recommend home modifications, and would be present from initial assessment up until the completion of modification.

    It is especially important that individuals who do not plan to move out of their homes any time soon be realistic with themselves about their health and the state of their home, so education becomes the most important tool for both Doyle and those who are “aging in place” in Pacific Grove, a term used by the Centers for Disease Control to describe the ability to safely live in one’s home or community at any age. Doyle says he is planning on making appearances at the Sally Griffin Senior Center and on giving talks about how to age in place, home modification and the benefits of physical therapy.

    The long term goal of Doyle’s service is to keep people in their homes for as long as possible and reduce the costs of care for the elderly on the peninsula, as assisted living situations and retirement communities become expensive endeavors in little time.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on July 18, 2013

    Topics: Features, Peter Mounteer

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