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Living longer is its own reward. But a person's later years can be more comfortable and safe if the home accommodates changing physical needs.

That's the theory behind a model home built early this year by the Hartford Insurance Group. The home, which features about 100 modifications to enhance comfort, convenience and safety, has been exhibited publicly in various parts of the country this year and will continue to be shown in 1989.According to the company, all the products used are readily available and most are from manufacturers' standard lines. The remodeling suggestions, such as lowering cabinets and raising countertops, also require only standard building materials and methods.

Research for the design choices made was conducted by Beverly Hynes-Grace, staff gerontologist, and Joan A. Pease, a consulting designer specializing in retirement housing.

Timing for the demonstration project is particularly appropriate since Americans are both living longer and staying in their own homes longer.

Government figures show life expectancy is now 74.9 years at birth, and a recent survey by the American Association of Retired Persons found that 75 percent of older Americans own their own home and nearly half of those over 60 had lived in their present home more than 20 years.

Yet, according to Pease, many of these homes have significant safety hazards and detriments to comfort for older Americans.

"I see design for seniors receiving more attention than 10 to 15 years ago, but I don't see what we have learned being implemented. I find too many architectural barriers, poor lighting, slippery floors and too few products available to make living more comfortable," she said.

She added that thinking about changes to remove potential safety hazards and comfort drawbacks should start long before one has aged enough to need them. "That way people could incorporate features to enable them to stay in their homes, especially since the vast majority of older people live in a home they've owned for many years."

As one ages, a loss of sensory acuity often occurs, said both authorities. Some 95 percent of older adults experience decreased visual perception. Reading fine print becomes difficult; glare from sun or overbright lights reduces concentration on close-work tasks and as the lens of the eye yellows, colors like blue, green, brown and black may appear similar.

It becomes harder to hear over competing background noise, harder to detect odors such as smoke and gas and more difficult to distinguish sensations such as being too hot or cold or feeling pain. Illness may also affect a person's strength, stamina, mobility, dexterity, agility and balance.