Aging in Place- Developing a mindset

Universal/accessible design of the home from an occupational therapy and a construction perspective. This blog is part of a quest for cool, convenient, functional design that makes life safer, easier, and as maintenance-free as possible. It's about the lifestyle.
Any sort of physical deterioration or injury can change a person's life.  The goal is to live the lifestyle of choice and do what you want to do in spite of 'aging', injury, or disease.  Easy enough to say, even people without physical impairments have difficulty pulling this one off.

Spa shower

There are loads of articles out there on aging in place and what to do to your home to make it user friendly, that is my specialty but that is not where I'm going with this post.  The best way to 'age-in-place' is to start with the end in mind-the end being the goal not 'the end.' Ask yourself:
  • What's your ideal lifestyle?  
  • What do you want to do for fun and who do you want to do it with?  
  • How do you want to live?

Aging in place should be more about life style design.  As an occupational therapist that specializes in accessible, universal design home modifications I predominantly work with people who were suddenly catastrophically injured.  My clients were physically able then suddenly have a spinal cord injury, or lose a limb or worse have a brain injury.  These sorts of injuries no one is prepared for and have huge impact not only on the lifestyle of the injured person but also their loved ones.

Aging-in-place doesn't mean remodeling your home in one fell swoop to make it wheelchair accessible, it means when you update or work on your home that you make it safer and easier to maintain.  Which everyone should do at any age, who doesn't want life to be easier.  

Think of aging in place or just smart home planning as a 3-legged stool.
  • Safety.
  • Independence, and convenience.
  • Elegance/luxury or lifestyle. 
Safety, when remodeling a room what can you do to make it safer?
  • Better lighting, indoors and outdoors, a 45-year old woman like myself can appreciate that.
  • Skid resistant flooring, click here to see post.
  • Much used objects an easy to reach, not near anything hazardous like a microwave over a stove.  That's an accident waiting to happen.
  • Instead of towel racks in the bathroom how about designer grab bars attached to backer boards or studs, (forget the wing-its do it right make it safe.)  Now your towel racks won't come out of the walls, maintenance-free, no hassle and darn 'aging-in-place' for everyone.
  • Organize and get rid of the clutter, reduces tripping hazards and confusion at any age. 
Grab bar
Grab bar soap holder

Independence, as far as the home goes this means living the way you want to live and not needing help to take care of yourself or your home.  Making your house convenient, easy to use and my favorite 'maintenance-free'.  Again aging-in-place at any age if you ask me. 
  • Quality, fixtures in your home, by quality I mean faucets with metal parts not plastic parts that leak and need to be repaired or replaced in a short time.  Spend the money on quality it saves headaches and money in the long run.  Repairing your home costs money in labor and materials and time.  Use quality materials that last and save the replacement costs.
  • Make everyday tasks easy so they don't require so much strength and energy.  Again we all appreciate spending less energy on everyday tasks.  If  you have a chance put the laundry room on the same floor as the bedrooms, arrange the kitchen so items are easy to clean and put away, put items you use often in easy to reach spots.  Take the time to organize your tasks and work spaces.
  • Maintenance-free landscaping this is a wonderful thing, as a sailor and an aviator yard work is not a priority.  Maintenance-free landscaping is part of 'aging in place' or lifestyle design.  Utilize perennials, one of my neighbor's yards is all sea grass, make your yard as maintenance-free as possible.  Call a landscape architect or designer, money well spent better than spending the money to mow your yard or whatever else good lawn care involves. 
  • Living nearby, nearby what?  Nearby where you want to be and preferably a grocery store.  If you want to be with  your family-live near them.  If you love the water-live near it.  If you love to shop- live by commerce.  Public transportation is not a viable option in the United States, live where you want to be.  Try to eliminate the need to drive as much as possible.  Live in your paradise, if you can in the closest proximity to your resources.
  • Ease of use, paddle style light switches, motion lights, lever style door handles, D-shaped handles instead of knobs on cabinetry, full extension drawers, technology controlled lighting, door locks, or temperature controls.  These little details are cool, fun, and make life oh-so easy and convenient.  'Aging-in-place' touches that everyone wishes they had.
Lever-style door handle

Paddle-style light switch

Elegance, luxury, lifestyle.  The principals of universal design (click here to see this post for details of universal design) lend themselves well to elegance, luxury, lifestyle design, and of course aging-in-place.
  • Open floor plans, wide hallways, and spacious rooms allow for wheelchair mobility but also give a home a feeling of luxury.   Wide hallways are difficult to remodel into a house but reducing furniture and clutter make homes feel larger and make it easier to move around.  Enlarging a bathroom by moving a wall or increasing floor space by installing a roll-in shower is luxurious and makes sharing the bathroom much easier.
  • Spa showers which are basically low threshold or no threshold showers with more than one shower head are great for accessibility and independence, not to mention so luxurious.  Make sure the tile is skid resistant- click here to see post.
  • Organized, ease of use again, homes look so much better and are easier to keep clean when they are organized not to mention a fun lifestyle is so much easier to live if you can find the toys you want to play with.
Any other suggestions for 'aging-in-place.'?

1 comment:

Gainsborough said...

Great article. I agree with your point about asking yourself what lifestyle you want and modifying your home accordingly.
There's such a range of equipment out there now to make things like bathrooms and kitchens more accessible, so you can live as independent a lifestyle as possible.