Modifying the home: the foundation of ageing in place

Michael Bleasdale, CEO Home Modifications Australia

Home Modification as an early intervention

Australia is one of a number of countries around the world which provides government-funded subsidies to older people, and people with disability, to modify their housing.  These programmes address home modifications reactively – they are often precipitated by a fall or injury in the house, or are addressed when a person is being assessed for other aged care and/or disability needs.  Home modifications include the installation of grabrails and handrails, ramps for access into homes, and work on bathrooms so that they are accessible and safe for use.  They have proven effective in reducing the need for ongoing service delivery, and because they are aimed at increasing or maintaining independent functioning they align closely with the aged care reform’s principles of wellness and reablement. 

The significant challenge of ensuring that people age well in their homes, and are able to receive services when they require them requires proactive solutions as well.  Living in a home which is already accessible when an adverse health or event occurs will make rehabilitation quicker and easier, and able to be undertaken largely within the home itself.  To achieve this we need better designed homes in the first place, but given the lack of regulation to achieve this we need initiatives which encourage property owners to renovate with greater accessibility in mind.

Planning ahead

Consumer directed care (CDC) is at the centre of aged care reform, and the overwhelming demand of the Australian population is to age in place.  This, in combination with the Government’s agenda of finding affordable solutions to the ageing population, has earmarked the family home as the site where most older people will continue to age for much longer than in the past, and as the place where they will receive the supports they require.  A mature, experienced and skilled industry dedicated to the delivery of quality home modifications has developed in Australia over the past 30 years, and continues to grow and diversify as more government programmes recognise the benefit of funding home modifications.  Home Modifications Australia (MOD.A) is the national peak body which represents this industry and works with it to improve quality through the identification of best practice.  MOD.A also aims to increase awareness in the general community of the benefits of home modifications and of living in more accessible homes. 

Good information is essential for consumers so that informed choices can be made about the home modifications required, and to facilitate the decisions which need to be made throughout the process. A home modification can be expensive, disruptive and complex, and may be required at a time when an individual has experienced an accident or a significant health problem. One of the skills of a good home modifications provider, which distinguishes them from a regular building contractor, is the ability to communicate with consumers, keep them informed, listen to concerns, be prepared to be adaptable, and to also relay communications to the other parties involved, such as occupational therapists, designers and funding body representatives.  The issue of communication, and the requirement to recognise and accommodate diversity, was a theme raised at MOD.A’s national conference in April this year, where Samantha Edmonds from the National LGBTI Health Alliance was one of the panel speakers. Communication, and better accommodating diverse consumer choice, will become an important hallmark of quality home modification services in the very near future.

Information about home modifications, and useful links, can be found at MOD.A’s website: www.moda.org.au.