Friday, May 4, 2001

AARP Hawaii's Kokua Corps made home modifications and
cleaned Sueno Nishimoto's Kaimuki home yesterday. She
watched as Ruby Silva vacuumed around her and as Irene
Anderson and Harvey Peltz repaired the curtains behind her.

AARP volunteers
help make homes
safer for elderly

The group improves homes
across the state for Independent
Living Week

By Pat Gee

It took two hours for Sueno Nishimoto, 78, to get up off the floor after she tripped on an area rug in her Kaimuki home a year ago. More recently, she fell down the back stairs, and her back is still sore.

"I can hardly walk," said Nishimoto, who has to use a walker all the time.

That is why she and her family welcomed 15 volunteers from AARP Hawaii's Kokua Corps into her home yesterday to make it "fall safe."

Dressed in bright orange T-shirts, the volunteers cleared out years of clutter piled high everywhere that could interfere with Nishimoto making her way about the house. They removed or taped down the area rugs, installed grab bars around her tub and bathroom, put nonslip strips on the back steps and installed a portable phone so she would not trip over dangling wires. They even cleaned her yard.

AARP chose three homes -- in Honolulu, Hilo and on Kauai -- to make safety improvements in honor of its Independent Living Week, May 1 to 8, said Joe DeMattos, associate state director. About $300 was spent per home, he said.

Justin Wong attached a grab bar in the bathroom at
Sueno Nishimoto's Kaimuki home yesterday.

About 7,600 people in Hawaii over 65 slipped and fell in 2000, most of them in the home, resulting in more than $84.5 million in health and long-term care costs, he said. Such falls are often preventable by working only a few hours and spending less than $50 to make a few simple modifications.

It can be as simple as changing a light bulb to make a dark hallway brighter so seniors, prone to balance and vision deficiencies, can be made more aware of walking from a carpeted surface to a slippery tile surface in the bathroom, DeMattos said.

Or, as it was in Nishimoto's home, "removing the clutter (is) half the battle," said Jackie McCarter, associate state director. "This whole house is a trip hazard," McCarter said, pointing to the various area rugs, which are among the top four causes of people falling.

Nishimoto was also using two shaky towel racks to hoist herself from the tub, so volunteer handymen Harvey Peltz and Justin Wong were drafted to install grab bars throughout the bathroom.

Great-nieces Rachelle Mararagan and Tammy Kuniyoshi helped Nishimoto decide what could be thrown out, making sure she was involved, since many things had sentimental value.

They found a large, yellowed picture of their great aunt when she was at Eleele Elementary School on Kauai, which they attended.

Nishimoto, with a big smile and bigger gestures, said of AARP's help: "I'm so grateful. Words can't express how much. Money can't buy it."

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