Aging in place design is an established and growing discipline. It is about creating homes that are safe and secure, free of barriers and yet aesthetically attractive, by following the principles of Universal Design. It is also about modifications that will allow us to continue living independently in the homes that we choose as long as possible regardless of our abilities.
The youngest members of the very large Baby Boomer generation are now closer to 50 than 40, living healthier lives and thinking about where they will retire. Many of us, regardless of generation, are taking care of, or anticipating the care of, aging parents. And a turbulent housing market has locked some of us into homes we cannot sell.
It is a basic tenet of remodeling that the principles of Universal Design create greater and more lasting value, since application of these principles makes the built environment usable by as many people as possible. Universal Design benefits people of all ages and abilities. Even those of us without immediate concerns or limitations can see the benefits of making their homes visitable, or accessible on at least one floor to visitors with special needs.
Aging in place design considers safety, fall prevention and convenience features. Nonslip floors are a basic, since the potential for injury from falling increases as we age. Wider doorways not only allow wheelchair access, but also make it easier to get around with bags of groceries or a baby carriage. Countertop and appliance heights are given special consideration, providing the ability to sit or stand at a work surface, whether the work be chopping or shaving. Low-rise toilets put more stress on the body, while comfort-height toilets (17-19 inches off the ground) are preferable. Raising the dishwasher a foot off the ground eliminates stooping. A curbless shower facilitates access—and who among us at any age hasn’t slipped getting in or out of the tub?
Even small decisions we make regularly about our homes can make it more livable for us and our aging relatives. Consider changing doorknobs to lever-style handles, which are much easier to grasp and open when you are carrying items. Where possible, eliminate a few items of furniture, especially in smaller rooms, to keep a clearer path. When replacing window treatments, especially for harder-to-reach areas or larger windows, consider upgrading to remote control options to make opening and closing them easier.
Tom Mirabella is President of LIHome411.com, a directory of prescreened home improvement contractors on Long Island that specializes in helping homeowners find the right contractors for any job.