As we meet with a potential client and begin reviewing their home and their needs – as we do our initial assessment – we are attempting to determine what needs to be done to help them live a more vital and vibrant life, to allow them to remain safe within their home, and to have that home meet their needs at least in the near-term.
Some of the improvements that we are going to recommend are going to be based on the physical attributes of the living space, and some are going to be directed to their personal needs. It’s a blend.
As aging in place professionals, we have the ability to suggest and create – by ourselves or with our team – a complete overhaul of someone’s living space. However, that may not be the most prudent thing to do. Budgetary constraints, the amount of time to complete the project, the specific needs of the client, and urgency of the desired repairs or modifications all factor into our approach.
Depending on how our client relates to their living space and how free it allows them to move or how restrictive or challenging it might be, we might choose to begin our aging in place modifications with the structure itself. In completing these, often the needs of the individual occupants of the home will be met as well.
For instance, if someone is having difficulty getting through a narrow doorway or using a narrow hallway, that is not so much a question of installing anything specific to help them – because nothing really would help to alleviate or minimize their issues – but of fixing the dwelling or the structure. Here we would not be doing anything specifically to assist our clients in using the space but in changing or modifying the space to allow our clients and their guests to function better within it.
Often, it’s going to be physical improvements like this which then have a ripple effect on improving the lifestyles of our clients that are going to be the direction we go.
Here, wider doorways throughout – including bathrooms and closets (which notoriously are narrow) – will be one of the first things to examine. Going from whatever they are now to a three-foot door or larger (accomplished with single or dual hinged doors, barn doors, sliding doors, bypass doors, or pocket doors) will facilitate passage through them for anyone of any condition. It also allows for moving furniture and other items more easily through the openings. It will turn a home into one of universal or visitable access.
That might be all the budget can sustain in a first rendition of improvements. This can be a fairly major undertaking that can involve installing new headers, moving electrical wiring or plumbing lines, moving switches (or outlets and wall controls), reframing, and repairing the flooring. Also, the direction the door swings, in or out from a space and from the left or right, can be significant in terms of how the space is used.
If we are able to do more with the home, lighting and flooring are two good candidates for improvement. Flooring already factored into doorway improvements, but the other areas of the home need to be evaluated and modified as necessary. Ideally, a single flooring type is used throughout – tile (ceramic, porcelain, slate, or marble), engineered or laminate flooring, hardwood (with the possible exception of wet areas), or other hard-surface materials. We want no threshold to be present at a seam when two flooring types meet, and there should be no height difference either. If this can be achieved, any hard-surface materials can be used to meet the needs and desires of the client.
Creating a safe environment is a top priority. Better lighting, wider doorways, and more solid footing that doesn’t act soft, spongey, or weak when stepped on, are good strategies for improving safety. Elimination of glare is another one. Almost like a magician that creates illusions, makes things appear or disappear in front of us, and generally trick our eyes, glare has some of these same characteristics. It can mask objects, cause us to not see something in our path, misjudge where something is located, and affect our visual perception. It creates a risk when there otherwise wouldn’t be one present. We need to be alert as to how glare can happen in a home (sources of it, reflective surfaces, and times of day) and then how it can affect people in the home – and take steps to minimize it as much as possible.
It’s not that there are only so many improvements that we can make in a home to assist people as they are aging in place. It’s a matter of what is the most pressing need and where we begin.