Aging in Place – By Design.
Susie Landsem advises home owners who think ahead, and designs spaces for them that are comfortable and safe for older people. She provides her design services in Washington State. Here are her thoughts on what we should all be thinking about if we plan to stay in our homes for a long time.
Aging in Place is a phrase used to describe the lifestyle choice of staying in your home – safely, independently and comfortably – for as long as possible. It’s a description of how you want to live today and in the future. Aging in place by design is creating a plan for using building solutions and design elements to add safety improvements to your home for lasting independence and comfort.
By 2030, 1 in 5 Americans will be over the age of 65. Approximately 10,000 people are retiring each day and able to start receiving Medicare and Social Security benefits right away. Not everyone will retire at 65, but it’s a sobering number for the impact on these services. Government support will not be able to cover the cost of living in an assisted facility for everyone. The average cost of living in a one bedroom apartment in an assisted facility in Washington State is $4,500/month, more if there are two people. Some people are choosing to stay in their homes as long as possible for financial reasons. Some choose to stay in their homes because they want to stay near friends and family. Whatever the motivation, aging in place can be a good option for many people.
Designs for New Homes
New homes are the easiest to prepare for the changing needs many of us are going to face. Accessible components can be designed into the house plans. Things like creating an on-level entry, ground floor room that can become a bedroom and making doors wide enough for crutches or a wheelchair help to make living at home easier for any age. Design elements like lighting along baseboards in hallways, motion sensor lights in the bathroom and accessible cabinets in the kitchen make the home more comfortable and safer. Including these ideas during the design phase doesn’t increase the cost of the home, but will improve its safety and comfort.
Design Elements for Existing Homes
Existing homes can be more of a challenge, but many adaptations can be easy and inexpensive. Swapping out round knobs for levers makes opening doors easier for people who have small or arthritic hands. Another adaptation is providing task lighting to work spaces such as under counter lighting in kitchens and work areas. Adding non-slip tape to bathtubs and showers is a low-cost improvement. Adding ramps and hand railings takes a little more skill and time, but is still affordable. More complicated retrofits, like kitchens and bathrooms, can be more costly and take time. If the changes need to be made right away because someone has fallen or gotten sick, the price and complexity go up. When there is a strategy already in place, much of this work can be phased in over time.
The path to safety does not need to look institutional and cold. As more people embrace the aging in place lifestyle, building and design industries are coming up with solutions and elements that match residential styles and are aesthetically pleasing. The options for attractive accessible appliances, door handles, and yes, grab bars, are available in a range of price points.
Here are a few questions to guide your considerations about whether to ‘age in place’.
Love my home and my community
What is important to you and makes you want to stay in your home?
- Great neighborhood
- Makes financial sense
- Friends and family are close, and they are likely to stay nearby
- The size is right
What services are easily accessible?
- Shopping – grocery stores, clothing, pharmacy
- Medical centers
- Bus line
- Health club
- Volunteer opportunities
Will you be able, or want to, manage the home that you live in now? For example, large gardens can be wonderful until the maintenance becomes a burden.
- Is your home safe for you right now?
- Is there a room or space for a family member to stay if needed?
- Have you researched modification options to your home for safety and comfort?
- Have you considered technology opportunities?
When considering the next step into the future, it’s a good idea to assess where you are now and where you want to be in 5 years. Evaluating now and planning ahead is a good start, taking action is even better.
These questions start a conversation between partners and loved ones. You probably have a few of your own you can discuss in the comments section.
If Susie has gotten you thinking about home safety, adding some motion sensor nightlights from bedroom to bathroom or near stairs is an easy first step.
This set of three motion sensor cordless lights, are powered by AA batteries that last about a year. The LED lights stick-anywhere – closets, stairs, bathroom and hallways. They are great for any of us, especially new parents who have to stumble around in the dark more frequently than the rest of us. $13.99 for three lights.
These Mr. Beams Battery-Powered Motion-Sensing LED nightlights stick anywhere. The affix to the wall with very sticky tape and can be removed from the tape to change the four AA batteries. You can adjust the brightness and the duration of the light. Choose between a bright white light or a subtler orange light. Three Mr. Beams Nightlights $23.52