It is often an accepted norm in our society that what’s good for one must be good for all. And it would certainly seem to apply to the concepts and design philosophies of aging in place.
But the “one size fits all” philosophy may just not be the case since people age differently based on health, socio-economics or the region of the country they live in. Their needs may be different if they have to deal with a genetic disability at an early age or have an accident that is crippling. And our homes may not easily accommodate short visits by an elder guest or longer stays by an ailing family member.
So a “curated design approach” may be the right solution to better address one’s individual needs. Here are some examples.
--Aging in place conventions often indicate that taller toilet seats are the best choice, those approximately 2 inches taller than traditional toilets, and make sitting down and standing up easier. But are they are not right for everyone, especially if one is shorter than 5’4”?
• Solution? Consider the height of the individuals before choosing to swap out a toilet for a taller one.
--Keeping a bathroom or a kitchen clean and sanitary is a necessity to avoid the build up of bacteria, a serious problem for those who may have an immune deficiency or compromised systems.
• Solution? Sealing all floors, tiles and counters with a penetrating sealer and installing a humidistat switch that turns an exhaust fan on and off in response to changing humidity levels, can reduce and may eliminate the build-up of mold and mildew.
--At first glance, walk-in tubs seem like such a great idea over a conventional tub. But it’s complicated. While water can be quite therapeutic, these tubs may not be for everyone. To use one of these tubs, there is a step up thru then a rather small watertight door that requires a bit of negotiation to get up the step and into the interior.
Then one must move about to be able to close the door to be seated. Once seated, there is wait for several minutes the water to fill and once the bathing is complete, another wait for the water to drain before the door can be unlocked to exit.
• Solution? With prices that can be upwards of $15,000 installed, a better investment may very well be a size appropriate shower with a bench, a balance bar, floor drain and no curb at the entry.
--Building in a bench in a shower is a great idea. But is it for everyone? Often benches are placed away from the controls and shower head, sometimes designed near the entry to the space. As a result, they often become a place to prop up a leg or a place for the shampoo bottle.
• Solution? A moveable bench or a portable stool may be a better concept since one can adjust the placement or take it out of the shower altogether to maximize the space for maneuvering around.
--Scalding of overly sensitive or thin skin by overly hot water can be devastating. And the concern isn’t just in a shower. Overly hot water can be a danger in the kitchen, utility and laundry.
• Solution? A simple preventive action can be taken thru the installation of a whole house anti-scald valve at the outlet line side of the hot water tank and set at no more than 120 degrees.
--Small houses and small bathrooms can be an issue when it becomes necessary to create an accessible space. But adding on to a home may not be practical nor cost effective.
• Solution? Consider a “cantilevered bump-out” on an exterior wall to add a much needed 15 to 20 square feet to the footprint of the bathroom. Even just that additional small amount of square feet can permit greater accessibility.
--Technological advances can provide support for one who desires to remain independent in their home. As an example WI-FI cameras might permit a caregiver to check in on a loved one from time to time. But they can be perceived as intrusive to some.
Solution? Evermind (https://evermind.us) helps families to keep an eye on an older loved one by monitoring the usage of something such as a light by the bed or appliance like a coffee pot. Families or caregivers can spot breaks in routines that might indicate there may be a problem. The Wi-Fi modules plug into standard outlets and messages are sent to caregivers about usage patterns.
--Personal security is a worry and concern with everyone these days, but for those with a mobility disability or living alone, it can be very disconcerting.
• Solution? Wi-Fi connected dead bolts and door cams provide extra security and convenience especially for those who may be bed ridden. Connected to a cell phone or an iPad, an individual maintains control over who can enter the residence.
--Many aging boomers express a desire to remain in their homes living an independent life they determine for themselves. But isolation, lack of support services and social interaction can and do present their own issues.
• Solution? More than a neighborhood, a “virtual village” gives elders a better chance to stay in their own home longer by creating communal support services that provide a variety of volunteer services in an area or region — including grocery delivery, lawn mowing and transportation — and also connect members with paid service providers who understand the challenges of the aging process.
And by bringing together a group of individuals with similar needs, the benefits provide a unique social connection, build an extended family network and eliminate the isolation that can come as friends and neighbors pass or move away.
--And finally, the words age and aging have a negative connotation in our society. No one wants to admit they are getting older and may not have all the functional abilities or faculties they once had. Nor do they want to give up their home, a place where families were raised, memories made, and mortgages were paid.
sandy and john
12/20/2015 12:16:10 pm
Great article, Michael. Aging in place shouldn't be about the age of the individual alone... and I should know as I have a daughter with MS and she gets about just great in her place that has many of the solutions you wrote about. I always learn something from you. Many thanks. Sandy.
Michael A Thomas
12/20/2015 03:59:54 pm
Thank you Sandy for your comment on my post. Aging in place... or as I prefer to call it... Staying In Place is about making homes that are safe and secure no matter who is using the space and no matter the age. Great to have you follow my blog. --M.
James and Steve
12/20/2015 08:58:24 pm
This is a great little story, These are things we've talked about in the past but thought it wasn't for us. Now that we are approaching retirement, it makes sense to figure out what we might need to do to our home. This idea that we can customize and now do the things just because we need it now and do things later makes the decisions a lot easier.
Cindy + Bill Steffan
12/21/2015 06:59:32 am
The problem I see with aging in place is that there isn't much reporting in the news. You don't see articles about those villages. You don't see great pictures of places that have been remodeled for aging in place in magazines. You talk to a designer and they have no idea what you mean. And if you talk to a contractor they will tell you all those things are against any building code cause they don't want to do it. I tried and tired to get my dad's place remodeled so he could stay and had one problem after the other. Its not easy getting old and trying to stay in place as you suggest.
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Michael is an award winning interior designer based in Palm Desert, CA. He is a Professional Member of the American Society of Interior Designers and a member of the ASID College of Fellows.
As a Certified Aging In Place Specialist, he creates smart looking spaces that are safe and secure and create homes for a lifetime.
And with thirty plus years in the profession, he has honed his humor, elevated his passion for design and sharpened his wit to not take anything too seriously except his design work.