A recent AARP survey, Voices of 50+ America: Dreams & Challenges, indicated that more than half of boomers view aging in place (AIP) as a major concern when it comes to the future of long term care. In addition, 49 percent of respondents supported the availability of long term care services that promote and permit aging in place, and 59 percent strongly supported the allowance of nursing home funds to be used for services provided at home or in the community.
These preferences and the so-called “silver tsunami” have launched aging in place as a niche all its own, with products, programs, philosophies, and professionals tailored to serving consumers who just want to stay home. Don’t believe me? Google “aging in place” and you’ll get an impressive 105 million hits. It’s probably one of the hottest, most dynamic industries out there, evolving as quickly as the graying boomers and seniors seeking these services and products.
Along with aging in place, the concept of universal design — designing places and spaces for people of all ages and abilities — has also become more of a household term.
Universal design is crucial for the millions of sandwich generation boomers who are caring for aging parents and their children at home, for grandparents who are raising grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and for all who are facing the challenges of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia. And perhaps the greatest thing about universal design? It benefits all parties involved in caregiving, whether they need the support now or down the road… and it’s a good long term investment for the home itself (I wouldn’t be surprised if houses that boast universal design features will become even more desirable in the future).
This post from AARP.org outlines the major elements of a home built on universal design principles:
- No-step entry: At least one step-free entrance into your home — either through the front, back, or garage door — lets everyone, even those who use a wheelchair, enter the home easily and safely.
- Single-floor living: Having a bedroom, kitchen, full bathroom with plenty of maneuvering room, and an entertainment area on the same floor makes life more convenient for all families.
- Wide doorways and hallways: A doorway that is at least 36 inches wide allows you to purchase that new couch or mattress without worrying about getting it through the door, but it is also helpful when someone you care for (or a regularly visiting friend or family member) is in a wheelchair. Similarly, hallways that are 42 inches wide are a smart bet for multigenerational families of varying “mobilities.”
- Reachable controls and switches: Anyone (even a person in a wheelchair) can reach light switches that are from 42-48 inches above the floor, thermostats no higher than 48 inches off the floor, and electrical outlets 18-24 inches off the floor. When placing these items, keep these heights in mind.
- Easy-to-use handles and switches: Lever-style door handles and faucets, and rocker light switches, make opening doors, turning on water, and lighting a room easier for people of every age and ability.
Want to take AIP and universal design to the next level in your home? Find contact information for trained professionals at these sites:
- CAPS (Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists)
- Directory of Home Modifications Resources
- Age in Place Service Providers
Staying home or caring for a senior loved one there doesn’t mean your house turns into a hospital. Yes, adjustments must be made, but thankfully, the industry has learned to adapt too — creating products and services that promote dignity, autonomy, freedom and security without compromising the character and comfort that makes your home the place you want to be.