The main goal for a home modification or aging-in-place remodel must be helping your client gain or maintain independence over time. But how does a remodeler — even a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist — know what will be best for their client now and in the future? While you know the building codes and proper specs for the renovations, an occupational therapist (OT) can provide a medical perspective and help you better understand your clients’ needs.

An OT focuses on enabling people to perform all of life’s daily activities, inside and outside the home and in any environment in which they perform. “It’s not just getting dressed but being able to get into the bathroom to do so. It’s the ability to get into your kid’s bedroom, for example,” says OT Debra Young, owner of EmpowerAbility, in Newark, Del.

First On Board

It’s best to have an OT available at the beginning stages of the project to make an assessment and observe how your client manages in his or her existing space. “What is their hand strength like? Their gross motor coordination? How do they manage ambulation? How will they move around their kitchen today, and if they have a disease, how might their abilities change over time?” Young asks. If the OT is pulled in too late, she says, “you might have a bump where you shouldn’t, like in a shower, or you might put in a too-high countertop.”

Young does a pre-interview for information about the client’s illness or injury or whatever affects their functional performance, then she visits the client’s home to observe what might be impeding their access to a kitchen or bathroom, for example, and takes measurements before she makes recommendations. While Young knows something about design, she says, she doesn’t know whether a wall is load-bearing, for example.

“I like to bounce ideas off the remodeler and see how everything works so clients can have the independence they need,” she says. “If we need wheelchair access in the bathroom and we need to break down a wall, I need a remodeler to say whether that’s possible.”

Some clients contact Young before speaking with a remodeler or architect, and other times remodelers get to her first. To find an OT, visit the American Occupational Therapy Association website.

—Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.