“For Successful Aging In Place Strategies Look Out The Windshield More Than The Rearview Mirror”

Most of us have driven a car – if only to get our coveted driver’s license at age sixteen. We may have little need for a car now because we have someone who drives us where we want to go, we carpool, we take public transportation (buses or trains), we use taxis or car services such as limos, Uber or Lyft, we bicycle, or we walk. This is especially true in urban environments where transportation alternatives, general traffic congestion, and lack (and expense) of parking facilities make it more challenging to drive and use a personal auto.

Nevertheless, most of us have at least sat in the driver’s seat of a car. Some of us do this several times a day. The point is that mounted in the middle of the windshield is something called a rearview mirror. There also are mirrors mounted on the outside of the driver’s door and passenger door.

Mirrors have a purpose when it comes to driving. They allow us to check adjacent lanes for other traffic before putting on our turn signal and attempting a lane change (attempting is the correct word because sometimes we change our mind, and sometimes someone else fills the space we were going occupy mere seconds before we could make the lane change).

Mirrors also allow us to check on where we’ve been – especially when something catches our eye as we drive by. It might be a physical feature that we noticed, something we thought we saw laying in the road, or something along the side of the road that we noticed but didn’t stop to take a closer look before passing it.

The issue with mirrors – as necessary and important as they are – is that we can become too dependent upon them. They are legally required equipment on automobiles, but so are windshields. If we spent all of our time looking at where we had been or what we were passing as we drove, we would miss everything in front of us. Aside from not nothing where we were going, we would run the serious risk of running into objects because we were focused on what was behind us rather than ahead.

Again, it’s OK to have perspective. It’s fine to understand where we have come from – our most recent history. But more than this, we must know where we are going and must pay close attention to the road, informational and warning signs along the way, children, dogs, and pedestrians near or in the roadway, cyclists using the same roadway as us, and potholes or other obstacles that make the road surface challenging.

Now, as we get into creating aging in place design solutions for our clients, it’s similarly important to know where they have been and what types of solutions we have created for similarly aged homes or individuals of a similar age or ability. That’s rearview mirror activity – reviewing the past to get a bearing on how we got to where we are or some of the applications we have used to solve similar or related issues we have faced. Now it’s time for a windshield perspective.

With the windshield perspective, we focus on what is in front of us – what we see, perceive, sense, and observe. We evaluate the client’s needs and abilities (as many different needs as there might be in a particular home setting) and compare them to what the home is allowing us to do based on its construction style, physical characteristics, age, and ease of making changes. We take in everything that can affect our design recommendations.

Often we are going to involve our team or contractors, occupational therapists, interior designers, and others, depending on whether any assistive technology is required or suggested. We may have many other specialists join our efforts as well. The important part is that all of the contributors to the design will get to see first hand from the driver’s seat what is going on in the dwelling and present their choices for a solution. The team ultimately will decide on an approach, with the occupational therapist pulling everything together in the case of a medically or needs-based solution.

We want to be forward-thinking in our approach – as in looking out the windshield to see what lies ahead and to either side – but we won’t overlook treatment plans or solutions that have been tried for the client in the past. Likely they no longer are effective, but it will help us rule out ideas to use in our new solution. It’s important that we get a clear view of what is going on as well – no spotty or dirty windshield that might mask, obscure, or confuse our interpretation of what needs to be done and recommended.

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