Accessibility expert Deborah Pierce, AIA, CAPS, discussing aging in place changes for your home:
Successfully aging in your own home, or "aging in place," is something that requires careful planning, according to Deborah Pierce, AIA, CAPS, and author of The Accessible Home from Taunton Press:
Retirement marks both an ending and a beginning. Your time is, finally, your own - for hobbies, volunteering, tracing the family geneology, or simply relaxing. Traveling beckons, as do “encore careers.” It’s also a good time to “get your ducks in order.” Update the will. Revisit financial projections. Confirm insurance coverage. Conduct an access-review of your home.
And take the plunge into a remodeling project – it will never be easier and less costly than now. Your access review will highlight areas for improvement. Bathrooms are always a good place to start. Unlike the kitchen - a non-essential space in the age of nutritious take-outs - bathroom functions can’t be delegated to others!
Just as a starter-home for newly-weds expands as the family grows, so too does a home for empty-nesters adapt for successful aging. Life expectancy has increased by 20 years since WWII, which means that the home we enjoy at age 60 will now need to serve us when we’re 80. And while many of today’s seniors are more agile than their parents, most will still experience some reduced vision and hearing, arthritis, or cardio-pulmonary conditions – all normal conditions of aging.
The age-friendly home has many features missing from a start-up, so it pays to consider upgrades as well as repairs when remodeling. For example, provide a bedroom and bathroom on the main living level to make it easier to grab a sweater or a snack. Provide a guest suite for a live-in care-giver. Take the laundry out of the basement and place it near living areas, for convenience and safety.
Other modifications for easy living are more subtle. “Universal design” applies to both objects and places that work for everyone – young and old, able-bodied and impaired. A familiar example is the OXO line of kitchen utensils, designed by inventor Sam Farber, whose wife had arthritis. Lever-handle door pulls and plumbing fixtures, and rocker-type light switches, are also universal design, as they can be used with without great strength or coordination. Good lighting, by day and night, is another example, allowing people to communicate when hearing and sight are limited.
“Choice” is an essential element in today’s age-friendly housing. We want to be the ones to decide where and how we live - to stay or move, in an apartment or assisted living, with our age cohort or in a multi-generational setting, living alone or with others. New options are becoming available as ever-resourceful boomers re-define productive aging.
The “village movement,” co-housing, and NORCs (naturally-occurring retirement communities) all represent a social revolution in the making, as older citizens explore ways to share resources and live in harmony.
AARP reports that 85% of Americans plan to age at home. For most people, familiar settings and social networks still exert a powerful force. To make our homes age-friendly and safe, and our later years comfortable and independent, adapting the home is critical.
(Deborah Pierce, AIA and CAPS, is an architect and author of The Accessible Home (Taunton Press). In a career spanning 35 years, she has designed access upgrades at public buildings and worked with homeowners to create accessible residences, both new and remodeled, tailored to the unique conditions of each user. During a 5-year tenure on the American Institute of Architects, Deb initiated a national design awards program focusing on accessible homes. Recipient of the BSA (Boston Society of Architects) Women in Design Award of Excellence and the BSA/MA Architectural Access Board’s Honor Award for Accessible Residences. Deb is a frequent speaker at regional and national conferences.)