Aging in place is a term used in the US to describe one’s preference for growing old in one’s own home instead of going into a nursing home or other institution. There are many benefits to aging in place. Research finds that people are more likely to stay healthy and independent by remaining at home. There are also cost benefits to staying at home as institutional care costs are increasing dramatically as people live longer.
The number of seniors in the United States will more than double in the coming decades, with the first round of baby boomers just turned 65 in 2011. The overwhelming majority want to grow old in their own homes. According to the AARP, nine out of ten seniors stay where they are when they retire.
One of the barriers to aging in place is the design of homes. Steep stairways, narrow hallways and slippery showers are just a few of the things that provide a barrier or danger for the aging to remain at home. Renovating a current home to take care of these barriers can be extremely expensive.
Universal Design, also called barrier-free design, focuses on making the house safe and accessible for everyone, regardless of age, physical ability, or stature. When thinking of accessible housing, most people think immediately of ramps and grab bars. Universal Design makes a home accessible with the modifications invisible to the casual observer. The beauty of Universal Design is it allows for people to plan for the possibility of being in a wheelchair, without spending years in a home that looks like it was designed for a wheelchair. It is also a functional home to grow in. For example , wide hallways that will later accommodate a wheelchair may also accommodate strollers and larger furniture needed by younger families.
Some of the key features of universally designed homes include:
- No-step entry that eliminates the need for stairs into the home or into the home’s rooms. It’s often achieved with slight slopes in the landscape rather than by building ramps.
- Entrances that are protected from the weather with sensor lighting and automatic door locks.
- One-story living includes places to eat, bath and sleep that are all located on one level.
- Wide doorways typically 32-36 inches wide let wheelchairs and walkers pass through. They also make it easy to move big things in and out of the house and can accommodate strollers.
- Wide hallways typically 36-42 inches wide, will accommodate wheelchairs and walkers and also allow everyone and everything to move easily from room to room.
- Extra floor space is especially important in rooms such as the bathroom. Everyone feels less cramped and people in wheelchairs have more space to turn.
- Floors and bathtubs with non-slip surfaces helps everyone stay on their feet, along with handrails on steps and grab bars in bathrooms.
- Curbless showers with trench drains allow water to flow into a gutter so no one needs to step up or step down into the shower, and a wheelchair can easily enter.
- not only helps people with poor vision, it helps everyone else see better, too. Motion activated pathway lighting is a good example as it can help elderly people who get up often during the night as well as small children who get out of bed after a bad dream or to use the restroom. Other examples of this are glare-free task lighting overhead and under counters and automatic motion-detector lighting in garages, entrances and basements.
- Lever door handles and rocker light switches are great for people with poor hand strength and dexterity issues. Others find them helpful when carrying in groceries or when arms are full of packages.
- Kitchens where everything is within reach includes appliances that can be raised or lowered, pull out shelves and drawers, cabinets mechanized on tracks, and faucets with extendable arms are just a few examples.
- Alarms -such as audible and visual alarms for the doorbell, safety alarms on doors and baby monitors.
The benefits of Universal Design are numerous but one of the most important ones is that it adapts to people’s changing abilities and circumstances, but the home is still suitable for everyone from the beginning. Universal Design also eliminates the need for expensive modifications down the road by planning ahead from the start with the entire life span in mind.
To learn more about Universal Design, the homes and products or to see what a livable community looks like visit www.universaldesign.com