The C-E-O of A-A-R-P, the association for retirees is in Iowa today (Tuesday), urging community leaders to do what it takes to help the elderly “age in place.” Bill Novelli says A-A-R-P is making home modifications a priority issue. “The reasons are obvious,” Novelli says. “Having people live independently in their own homes really enhances their quality of life.”

Novelli says there are a lot of impediments to getting home modifications — like ramps, handrails and wider doorways — done correctly. “We need to get more volunteers out there and more assistance to people who need home modification,” Novelli says.

While “it’s not terribly expensive” to modify most homes, according to Novelli, many elderly Americans don’t have the money to make the improvements. He says there are some government programs which give grants for home modifications, and some private foundations have grant money available for such projects. The A-A-R-P is also embarking on a home modification program with The Home Depot.

“We’re testing ways to provide information to ‘Boomers’ so they can help to modify their parents homes and to older people so they can modify their own homes,” Novelli says. Some argue it makes sense for the elderly to move out of a multi-bedroom family home and into a different setting with the kind of design features that accommodate a lack of mobility, leaving that original home available for a young family.

The A-A-R-P C-E-O says he doesn’t buy that argument. “I think keeping people independent at home, longer, is actually a benefit to an entire family,” Novelli says. “I think it’s important to think aging in place is a critical strategy for the country.”

Sixty-seven-year-old Marilyn Belman of Iowa City was among a group of citizens who urged Iowa City officials to change the city building code. If any public funds are used in home construction, so-called “universal design” features must be used. That means the doors must be at least 36 inches wide to accommodate a wheelchair, there must be at least one entry door that does not require someone to step up to get in and electrical outlets must be about waist-high to make it easier to the elderly and folks in wheelchairs use appliances.

Belman lives in a home that has those features. “We sold our 1905 house to Tim Dwight, the football player,” Belman says. “I couldn’t do the stairs anymore and we build a universal design house.” It has no steps, turn-around space in her kitchen and she can sit to cook. It also wired in case she needs to open doors electronically in the future, and she and her husband are finishing the basement with the idea that she’ll eventually have a live-in caregiver.