As we age, we lose things that we once took for granted, like mobility and strength. These inevitable conditions can make living in our once practical abodes like living in a potential war zone. As your aging loved one requires more and more assistance, there are generally three options: allow them to move in with you, community living, or a fairly new trend that architects have been successfully working on: aging in place with certified modifications to their existing abode. Let’s take a closer look at those options and how architecture is playing a major role in helping people to age in place.
Moving in With You
While this option could potentially help to lower the risk of injury-sustaining incidences and allow your loved one to feel more comfortable than in a community living setting, it isn’t without its prickly points. Is your home architecturally ready to accommodate some of the specific needs that aging requires? Are you ready to take on the financial burden of making the necessary changes in addition to caring for your aging loved one in your home? How does your elderly loved one feel about this?
Some of the same architectural changes that would need to be made in an adult child’s home to accommodate an elderly parent are the same modifications we will cover for a home wherein an elderly person is aging in place.
Aging in place is considered desirable because staying independent for as long as possible is known to be one of the most important things when it comes to getting older. It allows us to retain dignity and a higher quality of life; things that are vital to overall health and longevity.
One option besides aging in place as an individual is for an elderly person to go in for community living. This will involve moving out of the elderly person’s current home, and that brings its own trepidations, but many find it very advantageous.
Architecturally Sound Community Living
Senior housing has come a long way as changing demands and newer concepts have been carving out a new landscape. The American Institute of Architect’s Design for Aging Knowledge Community has been collecting data through an ongoing design competition known as the Design for Aging Review. They found some pretty important recurring themes in the competition’s top winners, and these are considered the most desirable features for a senior community:
- Connection to nature
- Connecting to the surrounding neighborhood
- Sense of community
- Ecologically sustainable design and building processes
- Offering daily choices through amenities
These themes, in addition to safety protocols, are being applied to the architectural design of many new community living settings as a result of the overwhelming demand for more senior living accommodations. There has been a very real concern that the supply of senior housing options will not meet the demand in enough time. This led to architects looking at ways to re-engineer existing homes for the 77 million strong Baby Boomer generation and to make aging in place a better option.
Architects and Aging in Place
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has developed a nationally acclaimed program to certify Aging-in-Place specialists who can custom fit existing homes to be adaptable as an aging person’s needs change. According to the aforementioned Design for Aging Review, only 8% of existing homes can’t be modified. This affordable option serves as a one-time renovation rather than the annual living expense of senior community living. This pioneered pathway to greater independent living may be the best solution. Typical changes to make the home barrier-free, maintenance-light, and much safer include:
- Attractive ramps
- Fewer stairs or none at all
- Additional handrails on porches and steps
- A package shelf next to the front door
- Adjustable height sinks
- Pullout cutting boards, raised dishwashers
- Lever handles on all faucets
- Higher toilets
- Anti-scald pressure and temperature balanced valves for bathing
- Curbless showers
- Widened doorways to accommodate wheelchair access and walkers
- Planning for future elevator
- Raised outlets
- Prep for future chair lifts
There are many more options that can be personalized on an as needed basis as well.
Should the decision be made to age in place with appropriate architectural modifications, make sure the professional you hire to carry out the modifications is CAPS certified. They must maintain continuing education hours, have formal training, and subscribe to a Code of Ethics.
Designing living accommodations for seniors should be done with them in mind. Whether that means adapting a current home or finding a suitable community, what would work best for the individual senior should always be the top priority.
American Institues of Architects. (2011). Insights and Innovations: The State of Senior Housing. Design for Senior Living Review 11. Available at http://www.aia.org/aiaucmp/groups/aia/documents/pdf/aiab096294.pdf. Last Visited January 22, 2016.
Bawden, Dan. What is Design for Independent Living? National Association of Home Builders. Available at http://www.nahb.org/en/learn/designations/certified-aging-in-place-specialist/related-resources/what-is-design-for-independent-living.aspx. Last Visited January 22, 2016.
Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists. Why Aging in Place. Available at http://certifiedaginginplacespecialist.com/details/. Last Visited January 22, 2016.