Is Your Home Visitable by Those Aging in Place?

I want to ask you if your home is visitable. Could your aging parents or a friend who may have mobility issues come for a visit and be comfortable in your home?

Time for a little bit of visualization here: I want you to imagine walking around with a pair of dark glasses that have been smeared with Vaseline all over the lenses. Now also imagine a tennis ball in your hand with a sock over it and on top of that, imagine ear plugs in your ears. Have a good mental picture of what all that would feel like? These are just some of the ways that a person with macular degeneration, arthritis and hard of hearing has to deal with on an everyday basis. Now, imagine having to navigate around your current home with these impairments. Could you do it comfortably? How about safely?

How many of you have heard of Universal Design and Aging in Place? What do you think of when you hear these words?

I want to ask you if your home is visitable. Could your aging parents or a friend who may have mobility issues come for a visit and be comfortable in your home?

Are you planning to remain in your home after you retire? How do you envision yourself in retirement? Do you plan to have an active retirement? Aging in Place remodeling focuses on remodeling for easy living, comfort and visitability. It is design that is practical, functional, and efficient and yes, even beautiful. It is about making your home more livable now and in the future.

A study by the AARP surveyed home owners who are in their 50’s and more than 85% plan to stay in their current homes as they age. In addition to that, an ASID survey revealed 77% of the Baby Boomers plan to remain in their current homes during their active retirement years. With our current lifespan expectation, we can plan to spend one third of our lives in the active retirement years.

Aging in Place in not just for old people, it is about creating an attractive and stylish space that everyone, regardless of age, size or ability can live in or visit. It takes into consideration the fact that as we age, our needs and abilities change. The physical environment is a major factor in independent, active living. Some of the factors in aging can affect and interfere with vision, strength and balance issues. For instance, as we age, out eyes become more sensitive to glare, color discrimination becomes more difficult and our eyes don’t adjust to changes in lighting readily. When there is a loss of strength, our posture becomes more slumped and we tend to shuffle more as we walk. Our strength is limited as is our ability to reach things up high or down low.

These are some of the concerns that are evaluated when designing for an active retirement lifestyle and Aging in Place. Specific areas include evaluating the home as a whole. Could the home be modified so that all of the main living areas like the kitchen, the master bedroom, an area to entertain and a full-size bathroom all be located on the main floor? Stairs are hard to navigate as our knees get older. Thinking about doing some remodeling now? Consider making design choices that will age gracefully and incorporate them into your plans now – in all likely hood it will be cheaper to do it now rather than having to go back and do it in the future on a single item basis.

More Elements of Universal Design include a zero step entry to the home either through the garage or the front door. Safety is a priority too. Wide hallways of at least 42”, doorways that are 36” wide provide for maneuverability. Reachable controls and switches (light switches) are more accessible in the 42-48” above the floor range and electrical outlets at the 18-24” above the floor range. Things like easy to open door levers rather than door knobs, D-shaped cabinet handles, lever style faucets, rocker light switches are all accessible options. All of these are little things that make such a difference in convenience. Even things like a raised, front loading washer and dryer and a raised dishwasher are much more convenient. Kitchens that have varied height counters and pullouts and lazy Susan’s for storage make good design choices. Showers that have built in seats or benches and even comfort height toilets are all convenience items but are also universal design elements.

Consider areas like the kitchen, the bathroom and hallways. Consider the future uses for these areas and plan for low maintenance and comfort. So many things can be done in the kitchen and bathrooms to make it easier to navigate and certainly safer. We aren’t just talking about grab bars here. There are many wonderful products on the market that provide comfort and beauty that are universally designed.

Having Universal design products and features in your home is being proactive and forward-minded. It is design that makes sense. Universal design itself is the design of environments that are usable by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability or situation without the need for adaptation or special design. It embraces safety and convenience.

Aging in Place, active living retirement designs are not a one size fits all situation. There is no one way to make universal design work, the key is to take your individual needs and situation into account and plan for the future. The design needs to provide for flexibility and functionality. Aging in Place is about active living and designing a practical, functional and efficient space that looks beautiful and is easy to maintain and promotes safety and comfort.

I welcome your comments.  Take care.

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