The Center for Disease Control defines aging in place as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” That sounds pretty reasonable, however, there is one flaw in this statement, most homes and even many public spaces are not designed to accommodate regardless of age, income or ability level. That is a fact. As a nation, we design to accommodate a specific model; young, able-bodied, middle-class or above individuals. If you think that statement is false, then think about these simple things:
- When a restaurant is designed, usually only the minimum code requirements for ADA are considered. Basically, only doing what is absolutely required by law. Many times, heavy bathroom doors, little to no maneuverability and so on …
- When most homes/condos are designed and developed, they are designed for a specific market; young professionals, sometimes families, but, often basic designs, again, meeting only the minimum requirements; poor layouts, basic knob handles,
Why do you think this is so? Well, truth is, when developers are developing a community, they often have a preconceived notion about their target market and what they will look like. What they did not take into consideration is that seniors (those 65 and older) make up one of the largest number of homeowners in the country. In addition, they also make up the largest number of “free and clear” homeowners, meaning they have no mortgages. The number of seniors in our country is nearing 20% of the total population of the US. Only 10% of seniors live in an assisted community, which means 9 out of 10 are remaining in their own (traditional) homes.
Seniors are choosing to Age in Place, but if you are following the definition outlined by the CDC, clearly their needs to appropriately Age in Place are not being met. While, yes, they are aging in their own place, it is not necessarily a safe, independent or comfortable experience. This is why more and more Certified Aging in Place Specialists are popping up across the country. They are recognizing the difference and working to help bridge the gap so that the community and other professionals will better understand Aging in Place and Universal Design, as well as educating the homeowners on all of the possibilities which will ensure that their home can meet not only the CDC definition, but more importantly, their own personal needs.
The other important piece of this puzzle is convincing architects, builders, developers, designers both in commercial and residential settings to start incorporating Universal Design principles in their projects. Public spaces should not only meet, but exceed requirements and consider the needs of all abilities. There are some incredibly simple design changes which should become the standard; lever handles, touch-less faucets (even with light indicating temperature), wider openings. Even the most modern of restaurants or retail spaces could incorporate Universal Design principles without compromising the aesthetics.
Aging in Place is a decision we will all be facing at some point. It would be nice to think that by the time we need to make that decision, safety, independence and comfort will be the standard and the only decisions we will face will be “Bridge or Mahjong?”