Baby Boomers (among others) are familiar with Bob Dylan’s ballad “The Times They Are A Changin.'” There’s one line in the fourth (next to last) stanza that says “Your old road is rapidly agin’” and while that true chronologically, it may not be universally true when it comes to lifestyle and abilities. Just because someone is closing in the big 7-0 does not mean that things miraculously (or detrimentally) change. Boomers are now in their 50s and 60s with a few cracking the 70s. Everyone has left the 40s behind.
The point for us to remember and reflect upon as aging in place professionals is that nothing specifically happens as that personal age odometer turns over from one year (or one decade) to the next. People don’t suddenly become less able or require more assistance. While they may indeed be less able than they were a few years previously, it’s more of a gradual effect than a sudden one.In their homes, people don’t transition overnight to become less able to stand or sit, walk through doorways, take a shower, reach upper cabinets, operate appliances, open windows, set controls, or performs many other functions like they have up until this time. They don’t become any less able, but neither do they gain any appreciable skill either.
As aging in place professionals, we need to recommend and create universal design and visitable improvements to people’s homes whenever we have the opportunity. When someone begins aging into their 70s or 80s, their home won’t need any special attention to address any age-related needs because they already will have been addressed.
People will enjoy wide doorways (at least a 36″ opening), wide hallways (preferably 42″ or wider), wide lanes or aisles between cabinets or cabinets and the island in the kitchen (48″ or more), solid (hard surface), no-slip footing (flooring), covered and safe entries, well-lit entrances as well as passageways inside the home, easy to use door hardware, and so many other conveniences that make their home safe and pleasant to be in.
In essence, people will continue to do what they have been doing in the years leading up to the 70s. If they have arthritis or any other mobility challenges, they are used to dealing with them, and this will continue for them. It won’t suddenly get more intense for them just because they are becoming older. It will be more of what they have been experiencing. The same is true with vision or hearing impairments. They will just continue.
As people get older and remain living in their current homes as they age in place, they quite likely will not notice anything has changed from previous years. They may be a little slower, and some of their senses may not be as keen, but there won’t be any dramatic lifestyle changes in the short-term. They will continue as they have.
This is why aging in place and remaining in that permanent home works so well for so many people. They just keep on with an uninterrupted lifestyle – unchanged by age or the passing days. We shouldn’t feel that people are going to automatically need more treatments and adjustments to their homes until they determine that such changes are necessary. Until that time, if it happens, universal design choices that make accessibility, safety, and comfort the focus of their life in their home, will enable to function quite well – regardless of what physical, emotional, or sensory issues they might be facing and how those might change over time. For now, they just keep on going as they have without any noticeable change in their behavior or activity level from what it has been.