In Project Home Works: Ageing-in-Place (Pilot Phase) by Habitat for Humanity Hong Kong, the project team visited older adults to assess the safety and liveability of their home environment. After speaking with them, their carers and social workers, we discovered that despite similar layout and size of homes, elderly people face different challenges.
Some older adults with reduced mobility avoided moving about at home for fear of tripping over uneven floors. For some, every trip to the washroom brought anxiety given the lack of grab bars or shower chairs. Some had no clue where to put their care-on-call bell so that it would be at hand during emergencies. Some only realised how poor their indoor lighting was after speaking to the team. The team understood that there were many ways to modify a home, and being open and flexible was important for carefully understanding and accommodating each elderly person’s habits and preferences, so as to effectively help them age in place.
In rolling out the project, we had the good fortune of meeting many dedicated social workers who referred to us elderly people in need of our services. One of them was Mr Yu Chun On of ELCHK, Kwai Chung Neighbourhood Elderly Centre. ‘The response and follow-up of Habitat for Humanity was swift and practical,’ he said. ‘After referring a case, the home visit would be quickly scheduled (in around a week). After the visit, the modification would be completed within a month. The older adults were able to receive support promptly. Normally, even when elderly people were in hospital for treatment or follow-up and applied (for modification funding), it could take two to three months for therapists to conduct assessments and the Housing Department to complete the works. To older adults worried about their safety at home, the quicker the modification, the less likely accidents could happen. Therefore, the elderly people all found the services ‘very quick’ and ‘very helpful’.’
Mr Yu also praised the project team for their careful observation of home environments, their wealth of knowledge in home improvement, and their useful and pragmatic advice. Home modification typically only involves installing things like grab bars or threshold ramps for wheelchairs. The team, however, always paid attention to the older adults’ daily life and suggested things like tools for picking things up, or replacing lights with cables with motion-sensor ones to facilitate moving around at night. These practical suggestions effectively addressed different needs of the elderly people.
He added, ‘The staff interviewed the older adults on their habits, using different tools to assess the safety of their home environment. The tools posed detailed questions about the actual and perceived dangers to the elderly people, some of which were tricky to answer. Still, thanks to the team’s familiarity with the tools, they were able to help the older adults to better understand their own concerns and the hazards at home. Usually, within a week of a home visit, the team could already offer different improvement options and even schedule the modification works. Two to three months after completion, staff from Habitat for Humanity would even visit the elderly people again to understand how they were using and finding the modifications.’
As the project’s pilot phase drew to a close, Mr Yu said the service users’ quality of life improved significantly. Many gained confidence in moving about at home. Some could now rely on chairs with armrests to stand up more steadily, or no longer had to worry about slippery floors when going to the toilet. ‘Another change is that we social workers became more knowledgeable as well,’ he said. ‘We now pay more attention to potential hazards in the home environment and can instantly spot issues when visiting elderly people.’
Habitat for Humanity Hong Kong