If we lived in a smart house – and they are coming – where it could determine deficiencies and report to us what needed to be done or actually make some of the changes and updates that it was programmed or allowed to do, our homes would be responsive to our changing needs. Even at this – if, when, and to what extent it becomes available – physical changes would have be done by a contractor or the owner.
Our homes – many of them decades old – have been selected to be occupied for a variety of reasons. It was the right price at the right time for what we could afford or what we felt was a good amount for to commit to in a home. It was in a neighborhood that we liked (and likely still do) for its serenity, prestige, physical beauty, appearance of the homes, history, location, and other attributes. The layout of the home appealed to us – or at least it did when we bought it. It was a home that we felt could serve our needs over time.
Back in the 70s and 80s, people in America were more mobile than generally is the case today, in terms of changing homes. At that time, roughly 20% of the population moved every year. Thus, the average family or household moved into a new (or preexisting) home every five years – some more often and some less, this is how we get an average. Now, the trend decidedly is to remain in place – at least as we get older in life.
As people remain in their homes longer, their needs for those homes to remain responsive to them can change. What once was acceptable – climbing steps, for instance – may not work so well now. It may not allow for utilization of the home or may even hinder enjoyment of it. Since the home doesn’t inherently or intuitively know this and can’t adapt on its own, we (as aging in place professionals) have to come in and make suggestions.
Some people can live in homes that take a lot of agility and physical ability to navigate and use them. There are stairs to climb, hallways to negotiate, bathtubs to climb into, stepping stones to use coming to the front door or going into the side or rear yard, a spa or pool to get into and out of, reaching, lifting, bending, and other activities that present no issues. Others, when faced with a home of this nature, find that such a home creates significant mobility issues for them.
Thus, we have to be able to evaluate where people are in relation to their homes and make appropriate suggestions for improvements that will allow more safe and accessible activity. This is predicated on having a sufficient budget to undertake these improvements or being able to suggest modest updates that will provide a minimum level of increased utilization of the home.
Homes are inanimate and as such can’t speak to us about difficulties they perceive in serving the needs of their occupants. We must be told this by the residents or observe it firsthand – given the opportunity to do so. This is the largest challenge we face – being present to witness how people need help in using their homes more effectively and then being able to help them achieve those improvements.