“The Human Part Of Aging In Place”

Last time we looked at the physical condition and characteristics of the home or dwelling space as being half of the aging in place equation. The other part is the human condition.
As we noted, either part – the dwelling unit itself or the needs and requirements of the individuals occupying the home – may be the focus of our aging in place modifications and recommendations. We discussed the home as being the best place to start our assessment and renovations.
While this is especially true for older homes, it also is quite appropriate for people with no urgent or apparent medical needs. They don’t have to be defensive about what they need or don’t think they need in a home remodel or any limitations or restrictions they might be feeling but don’t want to readily admit or reveal. This is a non-threatening approach because we are looking just at the physical characteristics of the home and not addressing anything about the individuals occupying the home. That’s why it’s a great strategy.
Universal design and visitability treatments are quite appropriate for suggesting and implementing changes, updates, and upgrades. Because we weren’t focusing on any individual needs within the home, a design that appeals to most anyone is a strategy that has broad appeal and acceptance.
With all that said, let’s turn our focus to the individuals living in the homes we are evaluating. True, there are many opportunities in the homes themselves for upgrades and safety improvements. Human performance characteristics is a term that looks at the individual needs and abilities within the home. Remember also that we are interested in the visitability aspect of effective home design to accommodate those who come into the home on a regular, semi-regular, or infrequent basis. 

Sometimes the occupants of the home are going to have a progressive condition – arthritis, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, a stroke, a heart condition, diabetes, or other impairment or ailment. Sometimes it’s going to be a mobility issue due to inflammation or deteriorating joints (hips, knees, shoulders, or ankles, for instance). These issues manifest themselves in how well someone gets around their space, climbs stairs, sits, squats, bends, stands, or reaches for and retrieves objects from closets, dressers, or cabinets. Sensory issues, especially vision, also impact how well people use and relate to the living space.

Generally, an occupational therapist or other healthcare professional is going to be consulted before designing and creating any home improvements. They have the training and background that enables them to determine how people relate to their space and specifically what might be required to make their homes safer, more accessible, comfortable, and convenient for them to use.

Thus, there are two important considerations for creating aging in place environments for our clients. The first is the home itself – regardless of who is occupying it. The second is the specific needs, requirements, and characteristics of those residing in the living space as well as those who might come into it from time-to-time.

Both approaches are important. The physical characteristics of the home – doorway and hallway widths, door swings, height of counters and wall cabinets, access to the bathroom and shower facilities, and so much more – affect and impact how well the occupants of that space are going to enjoy living in the home and find performing normal everyday activities to be safe and pleasant. Then, the physical limitations or issues that the people living in the home are experiencing and living with are going to have a bearing on how they relate to their home and find it functional for them.

For the total aging in place solution, we must consider and address the requirements of the individuals living in the dwelling space (and those coming into that space occasionally from the outside). Starting with the home is fine, but looking at the individuals is important also.

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