My favorite part of my job is creating a space that makes people happy, that’s what I do and it feels good. Recently, I had an elderly family member who was in and out of a facility that was supposed to help him get better. Every time I visited this place I was depressed. The place was dreary, smelled terrible, and had people just sitting in the hallways in wheelchairs. No one looked happy, not even the staff! The food was horrible, so we had to bring food in that he could eat. This is no way to treat the aging and the sick, but society does. We segregate them and warehouse them in places we label as “senior living” facilities and the reality is there is no living to it. It’s time to create a better solution to this problem, a way to help seniors aging in place in their homes, around the people and the things that make them feel good. As a designer, I want to be a part of a movement that creates connected communities that provide the necessary services for all people, for a successful transition through all stages of life.
Designing Your Home To Age in Place
Every time I meet with a new client to discuss building or remodeling their home, it is important as a professional to discuss an aging in place model. We are all aging and at one time or another, even due to an injury, we might find a need for having an accessible bathroom to accommodate our needs. I also discuss how it improves the resale value of the home. Having at least one accessible bathroom is good advice due to the increasing need for multi-generational families.
Many people have a false sense of what accessible design looks like, so I explain to them it doesn’t have to look “hospital like” to be accessible. With all the new offerings on the market today, a home-owner has a lot to choose from. Much of it has to do with allowing enough clearances for someone who might be in a wheelchair at any given time. A change in clearances would not affect the aesthetics in a negative way at all. Installing blocking in a bathroom shower wall to accommodate a future need for grab bars is a good idea during pre-construction. Curbless shower entries add a clean look to any bathroom and make it an accessibl for aging in place design too.
Another important thing to consider is at all stages of our lives, our sight changes and the older we get, the more lighting we need to accommodate our sight deficits. I recommend during the design stage of your project to make sure a layered lighting design is incorporated into all baths and kitchens in your new home. This gives anyone full control over the different light levels they need in order to see their space well. General lighting for pathways need is needed to navigate their space safely while task lighting over countertops needs to be more intense to work by. Ambient lighting would be used as interior cabinet lighting and fill lighting at vanities.
You also want to give some thought to a multi-story home, where there is a possibility of the upper story not being accessible to a family member. If you are considering a multi-story home, you would want to think about having a bedroom and a full bathroom on the bottom floor designed for accessibility.
An Aging in Place Community
If the area you are considering does not have mass transport, you will want to see if they have senior-transport programs available. As a baby boomer, many of my friends are facing the fact that their parents are getting to the age that they cannot drive anymore. This puts a lot of stress on families that have jobs and multiple commitments, but still have the responsibility of getting their aging in place parents to their doctor appointments, grocery store or appointments in general. It helps a lot when your community offers a community senior transport system and also gives your aging parent a sense of control over their life.
QUALITY HEALTH CARE
The older we get the more we depend on good quality health care and it is important to know that your community offers that. This would include rehabilitation centers for recovery, after an orthopedic or brain injury.
SERVICES FOR THE AGING AND DISABLED
I was recently speaking to one of my friends who’s father is elderly and widowed. The family splits up their time to take their father to breakfast and fix his dinner for him at night. Her concern was the many hours he was left in his home just sitting, without any mental stimulation or socialization. A community who offers programs to cater to the needs of those aging in place, offering senior day care, home health care, meals on wheels, etc. would be so beneficial.
The most dangerous things for the elderly is a sense of no longer being useful. It is important that they can access things like, church, libraries, museums, colleges and universities that could be outlets for them to participate in programs that make them feel like they still matter. Places for them to volunteer is perfect for socializing and feeling they are making a difference.