Program hopes to accommodate "demographic tsunami" of seniors

(CBS News) BALTIMORE - Nearly 3 million Americans will turn 65 this year. It is a trend health care experts call a "demographic tsunami."

With private nursing home costs skyrocketing to an annual average of more than $80,000, is there a better solution?

Carol Glover, 72, knows she has a challenge ahead if she wants to continue living at home.

"I don't want to fall, I don't want these brittle bones broken," she said.

But getting around is difficult.

"I knew that I was bumping into things," Glover said.

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Researchers say seniors living at home face hazards that can be as disabling as their medical conditions.

A new pilot program called "Capable" is looking for ways to help low-income seniors avoid being injured in their own homes.

"Older adults very much like control like the rest of us," said the program's leader, Sarah Szanton.

Szanton, who works at the John Hopkins University School of Nursing, says the goal is preventive.

"Currently, if someone goes into the doctor they're asked about their diabetes, their congestive heart failure -- but they're not asked, 'Can you walk across the room? Can you get up off the toilet?' And these are the things that send people into nursing homes, rather than their diabetes or their congestive heart failure."

Carol Glover, 72, is one of many seniors taking advantage of a pilot program that aims to be an alternative to nursing homes.
Carol Glover, 72, is one of many seniors taking advantage of a pilot program that aims to be an alternative to nursing homes. CBS News

In addition to providing nurses and occupational therapists, the program hires handymen who can add a second rail to a flight of stairs, grab bars in a bathroom, spinner knobs on steering wheels to help senior drivers.

"We found that if we could treat their home as well, they would be able to get down the stairs to go to church. Or stand long enough to cook," Szanton said.

Just a few relatively minor adjustments can make a major difference for seniors at a fraction of the cost of a nursing home.

The total per household is $4,000, which includes $1,100 in handyman repairs -- repairs that made all the difference for Carol Glover.

"The microwave was higher, I've shrunk," she said.

A handyman with the "Capable" program lowered her microwave and added a rail on her steps.

"So now I can go up the steps safely," she said.

It's a step in the right direction for a senior who values her health as well as her independence.