Aging in place is a lifestyle strategy as well as a design emphasis. We don’t design for aging in place proactively, in advance, but we can design to help individuals with aging in place in mind. If we actually were designing for aging in place and displaying our designs – and this was a commonly accepted business practice – people could shop for treatments online or at a showroom much the same as they do for home furnishings. While there are many types of approaches that we can use to facilitate a person who is aging in place, including universal design, there is no central source of these modifications or improvements.
Because many aging issues deal with decreased vison or changing visual perception, there are many solutions which will be relatively common to anyone who is undergoing such changes, but these treatments – as similar as they might be for many people – aren’t automatic. They have to be considered in light of everything else that is going on in a person’s home and with their general health. We have to look at what already exists in a person’s home and how that might be contributing to issues or helping to alleviate them. Then, we can go from there based on their needs and their budget.
We may actually recommend a similar approach for several different clients – not because we are committed to a certain style but because it works for multiple people with their particular needs.
Changing vision or eyesight is just one issue that affects many people as they age, but again not limited to any certain age. To work with potential vision concerns, we need to concentrate on creating more contrasts for safety and navigation within the home, but we don’t want to have patterns or colors too bold or busy to the point of causing visual confusion or overstimulation.
Additionally, the way people perceive and interpret colors (based on yellowing of the lenses of the eyes that can occur with aging or with color blindness) needs to be a factor of design. As do reflection and glare from shiny surfaces and how easy it is to see something in the home.
Recognizing objects well enough to use them correctly and intentionally without accidentally walking into them or picking them up wrong to the point of injury and being able to walk about the home safely are keys factors in our evaluation and resulting recommendations. Still, each home is different, and each individual is different. Even two or more people in the same home are going to be experiencing aging and mobility issues differently from each other. Trying to create a singular design treatment that works for everyone is to overdesign for some people and possibly miss the mark for others.
If we create supports, assistive devices, and other helps throughout the home for everyone in it to use because we are concerned about an individual in that home with lower quality vision, reduced hearing, weaker ability to stand or walk, poor balance or stamina, and issues with squatting, sitting, standing, reaching, grasping, and holding, we may have limited or reduced the usefulness of that dwelling for others present. We will have solved a need and possibly created another at the same time.
To be sure, there are certain approaches that we want to consider in evaluating how well someone can use their home and then to recommend and implement a design that help them function in their home more successfully. Universal design, when it works for a situation, allows everyone in the home to benefit, However, individual needs may be more severe than what a universal design solution can accommodate so we will have to address the specific needs of the client, even when the client is the only member of the household who needs this design solution.
It would make our jobs easier if there were a set of improvements that we could use house-after-house. We could inventory those items, buy in bulk, showcase them, or put them on our website and in a catalog or flyer. However, this would take some of the skill and the challenge out of meeting with every potential client, evaluating their home environment and the needs of everyone in the home, considering their budget and the severity of any needs identified, and then determining a one-of-a-kind approach to working with this client in this specific home.
This is what makes our jobs anything but routine and where the skill level of our training and experience comes in as we identify what needs to be done and at the same time, what isn’t recommended.