Life rolls a little smoother for one Elizabeth City area family that had to lift a wheelchair up and down five steps each day at their home.
Ron and Rachael Winterburn said a new handicap ramp has made getting in and out of their home easier and safer for their 8-year-old daughter Claire. Until a couple of weeks ago, the Winterburns were lifting Claire's wheelchair up and down steps to get her to P.W. Moore Elementary School. Claire is tall and thin, weighing only 35 pounds, but together with the chair, they added up to 50 pounds.
The new ramp was installed by Atlantic Mobility, a company that specializes in adapting homes to meet the needs of older adults and people with handicaps.
Owner Grant Crutchley said the project is one of many he's working on in the community. He is a licensed contractor and Certified Aging in Place Specialist with the National Association of Home Builders, the only one in the area. He modifies homes to fit a person's needs and also helps clients apply for government funds to pay for it.
Crutchley's services are likely to grow in demand as the population ages across the Albemarle. According to the American Psychological Association, only about 5 percent of older Americans live in nursing homes at any given time. The majority of adults ages 65 and older are living in homes that may or may not fit their needs.
"A lot of people don't realize some of the services out there," said Crutchley.
To spread the word, he talks to senior groups and will be a guest speaker at the Healthy Aging Conference, hosted by the Albemarle Area Agency on Aging, on Feb. 23 in Columbia.
"I work with families and organizations to develop solutions for improving the functionality and safety of their homes, whether they are currently struggling with mobility or just want to future proof their current environment," he said.
Many older adults prefer to stay in their homes for as long as they can, noted Crutchley. According to the AARP, 90 percent of people over age 65 want to stay in their home for as long as possible, and 80 percent would prefer to stay in their current residence.
"If someone is planning on staying in their home for the remainder of their life, or 'Aging in Place', there are lots of changes that can be made to make that possible," said Crutchley. "If I am passionate about anything, it would be independence. There are very few things more important to a person's self esteem and mental health than being able to take care of themselves. "
Home rehabs not only help improve the lives of disabled people but also for caretakers by making their duties easier, said Crutchley. He said those modifications can fit into a person's everyday life without making the home look like a hospital room.
"I can tailor the job based on a person's individual needs and that's how I approach every job," he said.
Crutchley started his business a year ago after researching the "underserved needs" of senior adults throughout the community.
"As able bodied adults we tend to gloss over the myriad of obstacles and struggles that people with limited or reduced mobility live with every day," said Crutchley. "For me or you, a set of steps is a way to get inside a house or inside a building; for a large section of the population those steps look like a wall."
Some modifications, such as grab bars in the shower or tub, can help prevent falls. Falls are the leading cause of home related injury and death among older adults. It is estimated that one in every four older adults falls each year, resulting in over 2.8 million emergency department visits and over 800,000 hospitalizations, according to the The National Council on Aging.
Crutchley also tries to help his customers apply for government aid to pay for the modifications.
Crutchley, 37, said his experience in working with governmental contracts as project manager from 2008 to 2016 at the U.S. Coast Guard Base in Elizabeth City, has helped him navigate the paperwork.
"I have many projects going on right now, but most of them are small, government funded jobs, he said. "I have a few big remodel jobs in the pipeline, however, the clients are still waiting on the VA to grant final approval."
One of his possible projects, still awaiting funding, may help a client who lost use of his right side because of a brain tumor. Crutchley is proposing to redesign the family kitchen and bathroom, making everything accessible to his left hand. The changes would include moving the microwave to counter height so he can warm up his own food and putting in a curbless shower with the controls on the outside so he can reach without getting wet.
The Winterburns were able to get their job done quickly by drawing on a trust for their daughter, who has cerebral palsy. Rachael said he liked that Crutchley built a sturdy, durable and safe ramp at their Newbegun home.
"He definitely puts a lot of heart into what he does," she said.