Elders Get a CAPABLE Hand in Shoring Up Home Safety

CAPABLE is a Baltimore-based project that offers help from occupational therapists, nurses and handymen to low-income older adults to “age in place.” Video by Justin Scuiletti and Joshua Barajas.

BALTIMORE — With a bad back and arthritis in her knees, Nancy Dessesaure struggles to walk down the dozen or so steps outside her home to go to church. Afraid of falling, the 73-year-old often opts to stay inside rather than brave the loose railings out front.

But inside, Dessesaure’s home proves a challenge to navigate as well. Frayed rugs and wayward lamp cords are consistent tripping hazards. And with no grab bars, lowering herself into a bathtub puts more pressure on her weakened knees. Despite these challenges, Dessesaure wants to avoid moving to a traditional retirement home.

“This is where I feel comfortable,” she said. “I really don’t want to be away from here. I’m happy here.”

A research project led by a Johns Hopkins University team aims to allow seniors like Dessesaure to “age in place.”

Called CAPABLE, which stands for Community Aging in Place, Advancing Better Living for Elders, the project focuses on an older adult’s ability to take care of themselves through occupational home visits and handyman repair. “What CAPABLE does is decrease that gap between what the person can do and what the environment requires of them,” said Sarah Szanton, who leads the project.

The four-month program consists of 10 home visits — six with an occupational therapist and four with a nurse. Each participant also gets $1,100 in home repairs and modifications, provided by Civic Works, a CAPABLE partner.

“Very simple $10, $20, $30 modifications can really change how someone can stay safely in their home,” said Sarah Szanton, a Hopkins associate nursing professor.

Civic Works employees installed grab bars in Dessesaure’s bathtub, shored up the railings outside her home and tacked wires and cords against baseboards to prevent tripping. Dessasaure’s occupational therapist, Allyson Everlyn-Gustave, noticed her fast-paced breathing, which made it difficult for Dessesaure to speak.

“I didn’t know until working with them that I had shortness of breath,” Dessasaure said. “I never thought I had to give myself breathing exercises.”

The breathing exercises helped Dessesaure conserve her energy, Everlyn-Gustave said.

“It’s not common to come into someone’s home and see what they need and it’s not common in our current medical system to ask people about their functions,” Szanton said. “Questions like, ‘Do you have any difficulty getting off the toilet’ … if we asked these questions more often, we’d get answers and we’d know more what we need to do.”

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