Aging in Place Design

aging in place design

Aging in place design has become an important topic. The over 65 senior citizen cohort, that is the, is the fastest growing segment of the US population. It is projected to double by 2050. 

On top of that, seniors are living longer. An 80-year old woman can expect to live another 9 years. And an 80-year old man another 7 years. They are also healthier. This means that they are more and more and more capable of living independently at home..

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What is aging in place home design?

Aging in place home design is actually a specialized subset of Universal Design, which is widely described as the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

We treat the subject of aging in place design from a “whole of life” perspective. It breaks down into three interrelated sub topics that we cover in this post and elsewhere on this site:

  1. The aging in place remodeling process.
  2. The components that are incorporated within the remodeling project. This includes the equipment that belongs in a home properly fitted out and optimized for aging in place.
  3. The importance of sustained mental and physical activity for seniors and how the home environment created by the aging in place project can support this.

So preparing for “aging in place” is not limited to a mere remodeling project. Rather it covers the entire spectrum of what it takes to make a home retirement ready for the long term. 

It is important to remember that a senior may retire at 65 and still live another 30 years. This means that over time it will likely be necessary to make incremental adjustments to the home environment. This is to accommodate the progression of age. So it is as well to plan accordingly from the beginning. Of course, this assumes that the senior intends to live out his or her years in the same home,

Here we outline the entire process of remodeling, re-purposing, and equipping a home in such a way that the senior citizen resident can not only live but thrive. We go into the details elsewhere on this site. But below is an overview.

The Remodeling Process

Aging in place remodeling is all about making relatively simple design decisions and physical changes. These will enable seniors to live independently at home as safely and as long as possible. And this is an outcome desired by pretty much any senior you talk to. 

Living at home is strongly associated with the senior’s greater health and happiness. And, not to put too fine a point on it, nobody wants to die in an institution.

So how do we achieve this? 

It’s all about “elder proofing” the home. And, with respect to the remodeling process, this is done under the broad categories of safety, comfort, accessibility, and ease of use. We have provided examples.

Safety

A major part of the aging in place remodeling process is to make sure the home is as safe as possible. This means taking measures designed to prevent accidents that can institutionalize a senior and literally save lives.

This starts with simple things like eliminating trip and fall hazards, such as floor rugs. Seniors are more prone to falling than younger people and also more likely to suffer a life threatening condition as a result.

Another obvious safety measure is installing grab bars in the bathroom by tub, shower and toilet. 

And then there are the much less obvious safety measures. An example of this would  be choosing an induction cooktop over a gas cooktop. A gas cooktop can cause a severe accidental burn injury. An induction cooktop cannot.

Comfort

For example, when it comes to flooring, choose a soft material like cork or vinyl. This is much easier on older joints than, say, tile. Plus it is smooth and level. And it will much reduce the impact of a fall when compared to tile

And you don’t have to sacrifice aesthetics. These days vinyl looks great and can simulate the look of wood and tile.

Another example would be designing a kitchen counter such that the senior can sit when preparing food. 

And make sure there is a seat and a handheld showerhead in the shower.  

Accessibility  

  • Consider the possibility that the senior may need to get around in a wheelchair. So make sure that there are appropriate clearances everywhere, especially in the bathroom and kitchen.
  • Incorporate a no-threshold walk in shower. 
  • Easy to reach storage spaces, including shelves in the shower.
  • Incorporate lighting, tactile and color features that help a senior with impaired vision navigate the home. Adequate lighting throughout the home should include night lights and electrical outlet lights in hallways. 
  • Include lighting within closets and cabinets.
  • Laundry room modifications: put front loading washers and dryers on pedestals. It is much easier to load and unload laundry this way.
  • And don’t forget the exterior of the home. Incorporate ramps and fix uneven pathways.

Ease of use

Often, what with arthritis or just simple aging, the senior will experience diminished dexterity. Here are examples of what can help with this:

  • Use of drawers rather than cabinets to organize storage
  • Use of pulls rather than knobs on drawers
  • Use of lever door handles rather than knobs

Home Equipment & Components

For the kitchen

  • Touchless faucets or at least lever faucets
  • Kitchen tools that make opening cans and jars, peeling vegetables, and cutting and dicing ingredients easier and safer
  • Specialized eating utensils and dinnerware for easier dining
  • Automatic shut-off safety devices for kitchen appliances
  • Grabber tools for people with a weak grip
  • Smart appliances

For the bathroom

  • Toilet seat riser or chair height toilet. It can be hard for a senior to get up and down from a low seat.
  • Bidet attachment for the toilet
  • Medication organizer or alarmed dispenser

For the bedroom

  • Adjustable bed
  • Waterproof mattress/mattress pads
  • Over-bed table
  • Disposable underpads (“chux”)
  • Bed railings
  • Electronic personal emergency alert 

Clothing & gear

  • Button loopers and zipper pulls for easier dressing
  • Adaptive clothing and shoes: these have opening and closure designs to make it easier to get in and out of clothes. These could be zips, magnets, hook and loop, or snaps.
  • Touch-tone telephones with large buttons, speaker or hands-free capabilities, and/or text capability for those who are deaf or hard of hearing
  • Talking clocks and wristwatches for seniors with poor vision
  • Low vision aids to help with with reading
  • Proper non-slip shoes

Mobility aids

  • Elevators and stair lifts for multi-story homes
  • Railings on all steps and stairways
  • Mobility aids such as rollator, walker, cane, wheelchair, electric scooter)
  • Easy lift baskets for carrying things
  • Lift chairs to help get in and out of seated positions

Mental & Physical Stimulation

It is important for mental as well as physical health that seniors maintain a high level of brain function. Plus staying mentally active supports the brain and delays or even averts the onset of dementia.

To sustain mental activity over time it is essential to have the motivation of fun or a sense of purpose. It is preferable to have both, since one can support the other.

Having fun

This can be through playing games and doing puzzles. These can be traditional things like Scrabble or new things like digital games. There are a bunch of brain training apps like Memorado and Luminosity.

Studies at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College, London show that these online brain training games improve thinking skills and memory. They also help maintain the functional skill of daily activities like shopping, cooking and financial management.

Having a sense of purpose

Here are two suggestions for any senior:

  • Work for a local charity  
  • Start an online business. There is nothing like having fun and getting paid for it too!

As to the remodeling project, this kind of activity requires a home office.

Physical stimulation

Exercise helps preserve cognition, maintain balance, and enhance the overall quality of life. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) state “regular physical activity, including aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activity, is essential for healthy aging.” 

Exercise helps maintain balance. And this in turn helps prevent falls. So every senior’s home should accommodate some form of exercise equipment. It is also important that the exercise equipment selected matches the senior’s physical abilities.

Exercise equipment might include:

  • Resistance training gear like free weights, resistance bands and home gyms.
  • Cardio gear like a treadmill of stationary bike  (though there is nothing to beat a 5 mile walk, which only needs a good pair of shoes)
  • Stretching & flexibility gear like a fitness ball or stretching machine

As to the remodeling project, this kind of activity requires a home gym or somewhere to accommodate the equipment.

Conclusion

The bottom line for seniors is that the safer, more comfortable and busier they are at home, the better they will do. And it is the physical arrangement of the home environment that should support this.

Not everything we have outlined above is needed all at once. But the point is to have thought through all aspects of what it means to age in place and plan ahead.

design for aging in place

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