Learn About AAAs Home Modification and Repair Services: Results From a New Data Brief
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
by: Sandy Markwood, CEO, n4a

Section: USAging Blog

As the song goes, “Home is where the heart is.” Whether it’s a long-time residence or a more recent one, home is a place of comfort and memories—and it is pivotal to supporting connections to family members, neighbors, friends, places of worship, community groups, familiar shops and health providers. As the COVID crisis hit and stay-at-home directives were enacted, many of us have been spending a lot of time at home. But, for many older adults, without adaptations, their homes are often hard to navigate.
Most homes are not built to support the mobility, sensory and cognitive changes that can accompany aging. As we age, everyday tasks such as climbing stairs, stepping into and standing up in a shower or bathtub, and reaching objects in high or lower places can become more difficult. Consider this statistic: Only 5.5 percent of householders between the ages of 65-79 and 8.2 percent of householders age 80+ live in a home with the three basic features of universal design, the theory that environments should be designed to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. The three elements are: extra-wide halls and doorways, single-floor living and no-step entrances.[i]
As a result, older adults and their families often must make choices as to whether or not they can remain living in their existing homes and, if they do, how they can make the necessary home modifications or repairs their homes may need to allow them to continue to live there safely. Research shows that the vast majority of older adults want to live in their homes for as long as possible. We know that ensuring that these modifications and/or repairs are made is critical to supporting an older adult’s safety and independence, which of course is where the important work of Area Agencies on Aging comes in!
The coronavirus epidemic has further shone a spotlight on this issue. While older adults are safer at home due to the coronavirus, more time at home can present challenges, such as a potential for increased falls due to poor lighting, cabinets that cannot be easily reached, or showers that don’t have grab bars, as well as less access to in-home assistance. Although it may be difficult to arrange these repairs until after the pandemic eases, AAA home modification or repair programs are and will continue to be there to ensure that older adults’ homes are places of safety and comfort.
n4a has been hard at work, in collaboration with the University of Southern California (USC) Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, to gather information on home modification and repair services and activities provided by AAAs, how these services are funded, and how they are provided, either directly through the AAA or through contracts and other community partners. This collaboration is supported through USC’s Promoting Aging in Place: Enhancing Access to Home Modifications project, which is funded by the U.S. Administration for Community Living, to enhance access to home modifications and repairs for older adults.
Through this partnership, n4a has gathered relevant data through our 2019 National Survey of AAAs. An analysis of this data has culminated in the joint release of a new Data Brief, The Role of Area Agencies on Aging in Home Modifications and Repairs. Please note that the full report resulting from the National Survey of AAAs with data from all topic areas will be released this summer.
Key findings from the data include: 
  • Most (61 percent) of responding AAAs directly provide or contract with local providers for home modification or repair services.
    • Of these, 94 percent offer minor home modification or repair services such as installing grab bars, raised toilets, handheld showers, handrails and lever door handles.
    • 52 percent offer major home modification or repair services, such as remodeling bathrooms, adjusting counter/cabinet heights, widening doorways or installing roll-in showers. 
  • Nearly half (46 percent) of AAAs make referrals to local programs that make home modifications or repairs.
  • The most common funding source that AAAs use for home modification or repair services is Older Americans Act Title III B (67 percent) followed by donations (38 percent).
  • More than 25 percent of AAAs are utilizing Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services Waivers to provide home modification assistance to low-income older adults.  
The important work that AAAs do to assist older adults make necessary home modifications and repairs is critical to helping them age successfully where they want to—at home and in their communities. The information in the Data Brief is intended to serve as a helpful point of reference, not only for AAAs, but also for other stakeholders and partners, who, like we do, recognize that safe and accessible homes are an essential component of supporting aging in place.
[i] Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Projections & Implications for Housing A Growing Population: Older Households 2015–2035. http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/harvard_jchs_housing_growing_ population_2016.pdf.