“Let’s Be Careful Not To Overthink Aging In Place Designs”

In our role as aging in place professionals – as remodelers, designers, occupational therapists, architects, consultants, equipment specialists, or so many other professionals that may contribute significantly to creating appropriate aging in place solutions for our clients – we have many choices in design, materials, scope, and budget. Some designs are going to be simple and straightforward, while others are going to be more complex.

Since each aging in place renovation project is unique because each client and their dwelling is unique – no matter how much it may resemble another situation that we have seen on worked on – we are not restricted or confined to creating a template design where it has to match anything that we may have done before or to comply with what a textbook or schedule says is suggested or necessary based on the parameters we are experiencing.

We need to base our design recommendations on the client’s needs, and even here, a simple, less-expensive design may serve their needs as well as something more elaborate. We need to look at our design objectives, how long the project is needed to perform (“effective life”) based on what they share with us or an occupational therapist suggests is appropriate, and what the project is designed to provide for the client.

We need to meet people where they are and devise our solutions for them that are necessary, functional, and within their budget. After all, the design is not for us. It’s for them. Through our discussions with them, our evaluations and audit of their living space, a functional analysis that an occupational therapist or consultant performs, and a plan for achieving the best outcome for them based on these criteria, we will have something to present to them for their approval.

In some cases, something very simple will work and might actually be the recommended course of action. Even though more could be done, the client’s budget, the amount of disruption in their home and daily routine that they are willing to endure, and how soon they want to begin using what we are creating for them may mean that something that can be done well and yet quickly will be what we recommend. It doesn’t matter that a more complex solution might have addressed other needs that they have or that we normally would recommend a larger scope in a dwelling of that size and age. Our first idea may be our best. No need to overthink it or put more into the solution than the client needs or wants for their safety, function, and comfort. No one is judging our efforts except the client or a funding agency, when this is the case.

We have tremendous leeway in suggesting solutions for our clients so we don’t have to go for elaborate or far-reaching if this is not indicated by what we observe or determine. It doesn’t mean that simple is always best, but it doesn’t mean to rule something out because it is a less-expensive or simpler approach to solving an issue than others that could be used.

When we think about overthinking a proposed or possible design solution we are speaking of making it more complex that it might need to be. With such complexity tends to come increased costs, a larger scope, and more time to complete. Sometimes this will be warranted, but sometimes it won’t. We must keep the needs, concerns, and desires of our client in mind even when we would rather do something a little more complete for them. As long as what we are creating is safe and functional, it solves their immediate need and doesn’t create any new ones, and it has a reasonable project life, we should be satisfied that we have served our client well.

Some people are going to require more extensive solutions than others, but we should only suggest, recommend, and prescribe for people what would really address their needs. We may want to suggest some other alternatives for them to consider – in terms of concepts, products, brand names, models, or styles – but we shouldn’t be disappointed if they don’t select the additional items.

All an aging in place design needs to do is address the needs of the client and other members of their household to help keep them safe, comfortable, and mobile in their home as they continue to reside there and enjoy it. There are many ways to accomplish a design solution, and simple may be the choice they want to have us implement. In many cases, if we never even met with them or did not know about their situation, they might do nothing at all with their home to continue living there, or they could create a very simple solution of their own.

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