Aging in place is special because it focuses on individuals and their needs as they continue to live in their homes over time. Naturally, they are getting older through the passing days, months, and years as well. It’s contemplating how these changes can be accommodated and allowing for them that makes what we do as aging in place professionals challenging, worthwhile, and extremely satisfying.
There really are two distinct aspects to evaluating and creating aging in place solutions. Either may be considered and addressed independently of the other, or they can be approached collectively.
These two aspects of aging in place are the home itself – the physical dwelling or structure – and the occupants of the living space.
Either the dwelling or the needs and requirements of the individuals occupying the home may be the focus of aging in place modifications and recommendations, but the best place to start is with the home itself. This is especially true for older homes and those occupied by people with no urgent or apparent medical needs. In looking at the home, universal design and visitability approaches can be used to suggest appropriate changes, updates, and upgrades.
Regardless of who is living in the home (free-standing single-family dwelling, attached townhome or villa, condominium apartment, or rental home or apartment), the number of occupants, and their ages or abilities, the physical characteristics of the home itself is a great place to begin.
For mid-century homes (generally those built before 1960), the first thing that needs attention is the electrical service. It may have been upgraded to current standards and load demands, but if it hasn’t, this will need to be done before beginning any serious types of renovations. The house must be brought up to the current code – if a building permit is being applied for – and this means adding significantly to the electrical capacity of the home.
Current codes are between 200 and 400 amps. Older homes can have 60 amp service – clearly well below current demands. There just weren’t the amount of electrical appliances years ago that there are today – central air conditioning, microwave ovens, other small appliances, electric tools, hair dryers, pools and spas (pumps and heaters), for instance.
Older homes had fuses instead of breakers, and the newest breakers being required are the arc fault interrupter ones.
Hallways and doorways typically are narrower in older homes than current expectations. Hallway widths of 29″ no longer suffice, and bathroom doorways as narrow as 24″ (2-feet) are quite narrow for many users. Getting a walker or wheelchair through such an opening is not possible with the user still in contact with the device.
It was customary for many mid-century homes to have just a single bathroom located in the hallway. This served the needs of the entire home – and visitors and guests as well. The master suite with the bathroom located inside or off the master bedroom came later. So did the powder room. Everyone used that single bathroom. Clearly, this may not be the best idea for today’s residents.
Additionally, many homes were designed and built without covered porches and just exposed stoops, without adequate room to allow the entrance door to open without those attempting to use it being in the way of it, and without adequate lighting to illuminate the entrance.
There are other areas of the home to consider as well – garage and laundry are, for instance. Before even looking at the requirements of the individuals occupying the home, there is a total review and evaluation required of the living space itself to determine how well it can meet the needs of anyone living in the home – regardless of specific physical requirements they might have.
Often the best place to begin aging in place modifications is with the structure itself.