In the first of a three-part series on how building pros can help their clients gracefully age in place, we explore the value and necessity of creating living spaces that can adapt to aging homeowners, as well as Universal Design principles for kitchens and baths.
According to a study by AARP, 90% of people age 65 and over would prefer to stay in their own homes as they age. But for that lifestyle to be feasible, the home needs to be comfortable, functional and safe. If a home’s features—especially in kitchens and baths—are accessible for a wide range of abilities, aging in place can be a more emotionally satisfying and cost-effective option with a greater sense of independence, privacy and familiarity.
Embrace “Grand Design”
The need for designing safe and comfortable homes for aging in place can be overwhelming. The 65-and-older population is predicted to grow 80% by 2030. Furthermore, 40% of U.S. adults age 85 and older live alone.
However, clients approaching—or even well into—their senior years may dislike discussing aging and their potential needs for the future with their architect, designer or builder. In fact, they may not know what those specific needs might be.
Building and design professionals can help guide these discussions and frame them in a way that’s palatable, with a true understanding of Universal Design—which has also been called “grand design,” meaning it’s functional for the grandchildren as well as the grandparents.
Adaptable Yet Stylish
Recent product innovations have resulted in options that are stylish, graceful and available in a variety of finishes that blend naturally into the rest of a home’s design.
Kitchens and baths suitable for Universal Design must be functional and safe and follow a few specific requirements:
- Doorways must be able to accommodate a wheelchair or walker (if designing new, opt for a 30- or 32-inch width).
- Counters should allow space for working in a seated position.
- Cabinet doors and drawers must be easy to open.
- Controls should be located on the front of the stove.
- Faucets should be installed on the side of the sink (rather than at the back).
A few additional ideas to bring function and safety to a kitchen or bath could include installing a shower rather than a bathtub, eliminating thresholds in doorways and showers, and installing fixtures and faucets with lever handles.
When designing spaces for aging in place, preventing falls should always be top-of-mind. Approximately one in three people over the age of 65 will experience a fall in a 12-month period, representing the number one danger for older individuals—and also the most common reason for nursing home placement.
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) recommends installing grab bars by the toilet and tub to provide needed support and balance, adding a shower chair and a hand shower to minimize reaching or straining while bathing, and placing a non-slip rubber mat in the shower or tub.
The Longevity Economy
Professionals who understand and adopt Universal Design elements will not only create safer and more appealing homes, but will stand to reap significant financial rewards, as well. According to the AARP, Americans over 50 are responsible for at least $7.1 trillion in annual economic activity. This fast-growing “Longevity Economy” is composed of 106 million people and is expected to account for more than half of the U.S. GDP by 2032.
For architects, designers and contractors, becoming proficient in the housing needs of aging Americans is to tap into this enormous economic force.
Growing older in one’s own home is a compelling and popular concept, and the vast majority of older Americans want to live out this scenario. Help them realize their dreams of aging gracefully in their homes by showing them that Universal Design concepts can be achieved without sacrificing their personal style.
To learn more about this topic, we invite you to complete our CEU course, “Transforming Aging in Place to Aging with Grace in the Kitchen and Bath,” created in partnership with Hanley Wood University.