Rebuilding Together Improves Independence for Neighbors in Need

December 15, 2020
by Erin dos Santos, Occupational Therapy Doctorate Resident at Rebuilding Together National

“I can now shower and wash my hair and wash my body, which was dangerous to do before.” — Survey Respondent

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives and impacted how we look at independence in older adults and those with disabilities. Social distancing mandates have made it difficult for many to have extra help around the home from family and friends, and at the same time, there is heightened importance for this population to remain independent so they can be safe, take care of themselves, and avoid costly hospital admissions. Even in non-COVID times, these neighbors want to be independent in their homes for as long as possible and retain their pride and dignity. However, many homes are not designed to accommodate the physical age cognitive changes that come with age and disability, which can lead to safety concerns and inability to perform basic tasks, such as showering, cooking, using the bathroom and getting around the home safely without falling.

Safe and healthy homes enable older adults and people with disabilities to maintain independence. Independence can be measured by whether homeowners can stay in their homes as they age.1 Aging in place is also widely understood to be more cost-effective compared to nursing home and assisted living facilities.2 In fact, for many low-income older adults, aging in place is the only viable option because the cost of assisted living facilities is out of reach. A private room or apartment in an assisted living facility is estimated to cost $48,600 annually, on average– yet the median annual income of clients served by Rebuilding Together is $20,000, well below the federal poverty threshold of for a family of four ($26,200 in 2020).

Rebuilding Together Affiliates address these concerns by providing repairs and modifications that promote independence in daily activities such as cooking, cleaning and bathing  These repairs can include home modifications that increase mobility like wheelchair ramps and grab bars or repairs to kitchen appliances and improved access to clean water. A recent homeowner impact survey conducted by the external evaluator Actionable Insights found that ninety-one percent of adults surveyed said that they believed they would be able to age in place after receiving repairs compared to 82% of respondents before repairs.3 A significantly greater proportion of individuals who rated their health as not good prior to repairs said they planned to age in place after repairs were completed.  Additionally, 91% of survey respondents who originally felt it was not easy to get into and out of the home before repairs found it easier after repairs. These important repairs help homeowners age in place with pride and dignity.

Other important aspect of daily independence is the ability to cook meals and take showers or baths. Six months after repairs, nearly one third of survey respondents reported that cooking was easier than before. For a small proportion, the repair or replacement of kitchen appliances contributed to homeowners’ ability to eat healthier food. Additionally, more than half of survey respondents found bathing after repairs easier than before. An accessible shower or bathtub and access to clean water promotes a healthier and independent lifestyle by allowing for good hygiene without stress of falling or worry that water is contaminated.

With more people spending time at home due to the current pandemic, independence in the home must be addressed to increase safety and prevent potential hospital admissions. To read more about how Rebuilding Together affiliates improve home safety for our neighbors in need, read the full Impact Measurement Pilot Report.

To see how Rebuilding Together is making a difference in the St. Louis area, watch Jeanette's story.


1 Fausset, C. B., Kelly, A. J., Rogers, W. A., & Fisk, A. D. (2011). Challenges to aging in place: Understanding home maintenance difficulties. Journal of Housing for the Elderly, 25(2), 125-141. Retrieved from
2 Genworth. (2019). Cost of Care Survey. Retrieved from
3 Rebuilding Together (2020). Impact measurement pilot report. Retrieved from