Drive up and down any street that we choose – close to our home or far away. We won’t find very many homes that couldn’t stand to have some improvements done to them to assist in visitability or accessibility. That’s the good news for us as aging in place professionals. We definitely can suggest some corrective measures.
The flip side is that there is a large resistance and reluctance to undertake this work – for several reasons. Cost is one, but likely not the primary one. Denial of needing any help in or about the home is a big one. Just a failure to comprehend how such changes might be necessary or beneficial to them is the major issue also. Then, there is the scope – how many changes to suggest to made and to what extent. There will be a certain amount of disruption in normal activities while the construction and modifications are completed.
Because the overwhelming number of people are in the no urgent needs category as they age, they largely don’t identify with any perceived issues with the homes. They either don’t have issues negotiating entry walks and steps, stairways, narrow hallways and doorways, hard to grasp and use cabinet and door hardware, and the like, or they just don’t want to focus on the change such improvements might mean because that would mean admitting that age is catching up with them.
That’s a rationalization, of course, because making a home more accessible or easier to use for the occupants and their guests admits or suggests nothing about a person’s age or ability. Rather, it demonstrates that they are concerned about the safety of people living in their home and those that might be visiting occasionally. That want to make sure that the home is as easy to navigate and use as is reasonably possible.
Making improvements to reduce impediments to entry, to allow getting around more safely once inside the home, and providing general freedom of movement and access in the home could be our recommendations for the majority of homes in existence as well as new ones being constructed. Nevertheless, people have to be willing to undertake the improvements.
Even people who are encountering minor inconveniences to movement or daily activities such as vision or hearing decline, arthritis, balance, or other mobility challenges may not be willing to admit that these pose anything more than just some “aches and pains” they need to deal with. Many likely are undiagnosed conditions or self-medicated ones. These individuals still consider themselves to be in the none urgent needs category even though we could make a case that they are experiencing some progressive issues.
In a few cases, people will have the good fortune of living in a home where accessibility home modifications might already have been made – either through the normal updating and remodeling process or by the previous owners. We will see this more and more as we (aging in place professionals) get involved in the marketplace, but we are in the early stages of gaining consumer acceptance and being able to offer and implement such improvements.
We know how important it is for people to have safe living environments. We also are aware of how poorly many homes allow for easy navigation within them. Some people are going to seek us out for help because they recognize that their homes can use some help. Others are going to be indifferent to making the types of changes we are talking about or will actually compound the issue as they make modifications to their homes – without us working with them – that make navigation and accessibility more difficult.
It is challenging but extremely rewarding to find people we can work with. There is no shortage of places to look. We need to find stronger ways of communicating the benefits of making such changes.