“It Might Be Pretty, But Does It Work?”

One of the keys areas that we are involved in as aging in place professionals, regardless of our training or position, is the analysis of the living space of our clients. We call it by various names such as a home assessment or audit, but the approach is the same irrespective of the name we give it. We are looking at the function and use of a space with respect to its basic layout and design, the age of the space, and the needs of the client. 

Often when we look at a space, our initial impression is that it is very attractive and appealing. We may like the colors and the general look and feel of the space. Then we look a little longer and discover that there are shortcomings with the design – especially as it relates to our clients being able to use it effectively or the way it accommodates their specific needs.

A beautiful design that is capable of winning awards based on its visual appeal may be all wrong for the way the occupants of that space need to use it. That is the point and what we need to be sensitive to during our evaluations. We cannot be misled by the attractiveness of a design if it is not functional or safe for our clients to use.

An attractive design can work for the majority of the population. It can be one worthy of being copied and used in other home layouts. Still, it may not be right for the individual needs of our clients.

In doing our evaluations, we have to look at a space and determine if the sensory, mobility, and cognitive needs and abilities of our clients are being addressed by the design. As people get older, these concerns become more acute. What might have worked for a younger person no longer is as effective for an aging client or one with declining abilities.

The fact that something is pretty should not influence our observations. We might even like the design for our own homes, but that isn’t the point. We have to look at how a space has been designed – however recently or long ago that might have been – and determine how it allows for our clients to function effectively within that space.

Our assessment will take into account how someone can move about within the space. Is there sufficient room to move between furniture, cabinets, appliances, or built-ins? Is the flooring providing a solid, non-slip, consistent level on which to walk and get about – whether walking with or without assistance? Is the lighting bright and uniform with no shiny spots or glare and likewise no partially lit areas, shadows, or unsafe conditions produced by the way the area is illuminated?

In using the kitchen, can cabinets (upper and lower) be accessed easily and opened without them blocking access to adjacent spaces or other cabinets? Is there sufficient room for more than one person to be in the space when cabinet or appliance doors are being opened and used?

Are outlets and switches easy to see, locate, and use?

How are the bedroom areas, hallways, bath areas, laundry facilities, and other areas in the home? Even though they may be attractive (if this is the case) are they functional – not in a general sense of for most people but for our clients specifically?

It might be a great looking design when looked at aesthetically, but how about the function for the specific needs of our clients?

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