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RISMEDIA, July 20, 2010—(MCT)—The new catch phrase among homeowners is “aging in place.” Instead of selling their homes and moving into retirement villages or assisted-living quarters, a growing number of older Americans are modifying their homes to make them more user-friendly as they age.

The concept has caught on so successfully, it even has its own National Aging in Place Week, which falls on Oct. 11-16 this year.

“Aging in place is a near and dear subject,” said Karen Kassik, president of Home Accessibilities, a residential design firm that focuses on building barrier-free homes.

The inspiration for the firm was Kassik’s experience with her own mother, who moved into Kassik’s newly remodeled home in Casselberry, Fla., while recovering from foot surgery. Thinking the visit would last only a few months, Kassik installed her mother in the master suite while she moved into the tiny guest bedroom. But it soon became apparent her mother would not be able to live alone.

Kassik’s 1,300-square-foot house, with its narrow doorways and awkward steps, was unsuited to someone struggling to get around with a walker. Rather than remodel a second time, Kassik decided to build a larger, more-accessible home in the same neighborhood.

“I designed it with wider door openings, a shower with no doors or steps, and a kitchen with more storage at waist level. My mother has complete access to anywhere inside and outside the house, and we both have our privacy,” said Kassik. “Going through that experience brought to light how many clients in their 50s and 60s could benefit from incorporating these kinds of features into their homes, whether they’re building new or remodeling,” she said.

Since launching Home Accessibilities in January 2010, Kassik has discovered that many features benefitting the elderly also work for young children, from lever-style door handles to low-level storage in drawers rather than overhead cabinets. Instead of “aging-in-place homes,” she uses the terms “multigenerational” or “universal” for the houses she designs.

Her interest in age-friendly homes also led her to help launch a local chapter of the National Aging in Place Council, a network of professionals from the private, public and non-profit sectors who can help retirees plan for their housing needs.

The reasons for the aging-in-place trend are demographic, economic and cultural, said Jim Lucia, a home designer and general contractor with Lucia & Monday Architecture in Winter Park.

The baby boomers now reaching retirement age tend to be healthier and more independent than previous generations, and are not ready to give up home ownership when they retire. The weak economy means fewer Americans can afford the move into retirement facilities—even if they manage to sell their homes. And among some fast-growing ethnic groups, including Hispanic and Asian, it is traditional for older family members to share living quarters with the younger generations.

“We’re doing more and more remodeling for couples who want to grow old in their own home. Or we’re adding a suite onto the kids’ home,” said Lucia.

“People are living longer. Many of them don’t want to be alone, or maintain a home alone. And as they age, family is becoming more important,” he said. “I’m definitely doing more three-generation homes now than five years ago.”

(c) 2010, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.