We’ve seen the topic of aging in place addressed before, and it seems like it’s finally starting to catch on. However, the possibilities for optimal care infrastructure for aging in place — technology, existing housing stock, funding sources, and the businesses and services available — are still not being fully realized.
According to the MetLife Mature Market Institute, today’s current uncoordinated approach to aging in place could be significantly improved by focusing on these three goals:
So how do you implement ageless and universal design, exactly? Builders, designers and remodelers report that their new customers are individuals who may still be actively employed, and who may have built their own home. And, like most of the Boomers out there, they’re doing some serious research of their own. Some basic guidelines include:
No-step entry: At least one step-free entrance into your home — either through the front, back, or garage door — lets everyone, even those who use a wheelchair, enter the home easily and safely.
Single-floor living: Having a bedroom, kitchen and full bathroom with plenty of maneuvering room — and an entertainment area on the same floor — makes life convenient for all families.
Wide doorways and hallways: With your home’s doorways at least 36 inches wide, you can easily move large pieces of furniture or appliances through your home. Similarly, hallways that are 42 inches wide and free of hazards or steps let everyone and everything move in, out, and around easily.
Reachable controls and switches: Anyone — even those who are wheelchair bound — can reach light switches that are between 42 and 48 inches above the floor, thermostats no higher than 48 inches off the floor, and electrical outlets 18-24 inches off the floor.
Easy-to-use handles and switches: Lever-style door handles and faucets and rocker light switches make opening doors, turning on water, and lighting a room easier for people of every age and ability.
Cabinet knobs and pulls: Many new homes do not have cabinet pulls and knobs installed. External hardware not only extends the life of the cabinetry by keeping dirty and oily hands off wood surfaces, but also makes it much simpler to get into your cabinets on a regular and frequent basis.
Over-bed lighting: This provides convenience for reading and makes it safer for you if you need to get up in the middle of the night. With the switch located right next to you, you won’t have to worry about getting out of bed to turn the light on or off and you won’t have to stumble around in the dark.
Pathway lighting: Lighting installed along the toe kick beneath cabinetry serves as a nightlight when all other lights are turned off; this also provides a great way to safely find your way to the restroom in the middle of the night.
Designers are finally having an impact on the manufacturers who are creating aging-in-place products, as we’re now seeing stylish, non-institutional-looking items (American Standard and Kohler stand out). In our opinion, builders and specifiers should keep using them in projects, even if the consumer doesn’t need them right now.
There are important guidelines for marketers of these products and services as well. First and foremost, don’t forget to research the market before you design a product or home. Listen to the needs of the current and future retirees who will be looking into these options more seriously. Obviously, test your design before you build. Establish a brand strategy and promote your design based on the fact that it reflects real-world consumer research. Finally, connect with consumers on their terms. Aging-in-place design is all about the future, and sooner or later, everyone who desires to stay in their home will need some sort of assistance.