Everyone is getting older. There is no denying that, although some refuse to accept it as affecting their abilities or lifestyle pursuits – after all, one is only as old as they feel goes the adage. They want to continue the activities they are accustomed to doing – such as golf, tennis, biking, running, gardening, or do-it-yourself projects. We call these people procrastinators, but they may know something secret about the aging process.
Some people refuse to age mentally and act as if they always are going to have the same physical abilities or interests in activities that they do now – projected forward into the future. This works for some people because they are able to remain active well into their later years when others have been forced to slow down. It’s not that they don’t have vision or hearing issues (some do, and some don’t) or a touch of arthritis or balance issues from time-to-time. It’s that they have adapted and learned to live with it. They don’t seem to let it affect them even though it might when no one is around.
It’s all relative also. A 75-year old playing tennis or running a 5-K with other people their own age or close to it will still feel like they performed well and may not see any loss of performance from an earlier time. However, when competing against people several years younger, the difference in performance should be apparent. Otherwise, the professional golfers tour would consistently have top performers, regardless of age, from among those who have been in the sport for decades. It’s rare in other professional sports to see people still competing after the age of 40. The mental ability may be top notch, aided by years of experience and maturity, but the physical conditioning and performance that is required to compete at a championship level just aren’t there.
While most people stop driving at some point later in life due to age, vision, or reaction time, albeit reluctantly, some are still driving and doing well at a time when others their age have stopped. There are several centenarian drivers.
The point is that we all are different with varied abilities. This means varying needs also. If we, as aging in place professionals, were to suggest designs or modifications for everyone the same regardless of their needs, physical size, sensory perception, or ability, we would be overcompensating for some, under designing for others, and likely insulting some in the process.
On the other hand, if we employed universal design principles to approach our solutions, we may well use the same techniques for most of our clients. Those that have very specific needs that require chair glides, overhead lift systems, bathroom changing tables, or additional support systems in the bath or elsewhere would receive these types of solutions – but only these clients.
For people without specific conditions that would require us to address them we can create many general safety, comfort, convenience, or accessibility improvements in their homes. Several approaches that would apply universally to improves the homes or quality of life in general would be better lighting or flooring, general safety features (such as strategically placed grab bars or elimination of glare and clutter), wider hallways and doorways, alternate doorway styles, easier to use door hardware, more accessible cabinets and closets, as well as kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures that are more accommodating.
Still, the actual features and the locations of them could vary with the client. Universal design has more to do with the appearance and use of the product and less to do with where it is located. More lighting in the kitchen to illuminate work areas (under cabinet or task lighting, for instance) or enhance safety (toe-kick lighting) would be a feature that could benefit anyone, but the amount of them selected, their relative physical size and amount of light output, and temperature or color desired and selected could be quite different among the various applications.
The same basic approach would apply to selecting flooring and other beneficial features to enhance the quality of a home and enable people to continue living in their home successfully long-term. While we know what areas of a home generally deserve attention, and we have some favorite treatments or solutions to apply in those areas, there are many factors to be considered that will decide what actually is recommended and implemented – with no two jobs being intentionally identical. Budget, timing, improvements that already have been made, and the general condition of the home will govern the ultimate suggestions. Just because they may be universal design does not mean that the same features and details will be used in every case. That would be presumptuous of us to suggest and a disservice to our clients for not taking their individual needs into account.