Our role as aging in place professionals is to help our clients remain successfully living in their present home – the one they have decided is their forever or permanent home. Some of the homes are going to be better than others at addressing the needs of their occupants, and some are going to require major renovations to be more suitable for remaining in safely and functionally over time.
We have two principal challenges when creating effective living environments for our clients who are aging in place. The first is structural or physical involving the building itself. The second is functional or meeting the needs of the occupants. In some cases, one fix will do double duty. In others, we are going to be identifying changes and modifications that we would like to see accomplished to make the dwelling itself more livable, In others, we will focus on helping our clients get along well within their physical home setting. Both are valuable perspectives.
The home itself may have been at a time when conveniences that we are looking for in a contemporary design were not common or just not included. Providing for the electrical service that we have today (typically 200-amp service or more) was neither necessary or possible in the 1950s and earlier. People didn’t have central air conditioning, toaster ovens, microwaves, portable hair dryers and curling irons, computers, electric ranges, electric heat, and other appliances or conveniences we would find it hard to be without them.
It may have been constructed in a neighborhood where several steps were used to get to the front door. While reconfiguring the entrance might be possible, it might be frowned upon by the neighbors or the local authorities. Therefore, we have to be a little more creative and find an alternate way into the home that can be done with no steps or a minimal amount of them. Even when the client can go up and down steps today, that may not always be the case, and their visitors may already face such limitations.
There could be several other issues going on with the exterior of the home – covered porch (or lack of one), a sufficient landing area (porch or stoop) to stand on while waiting to open the door (or to have it opened as a visitor), sufficient lighting to provide safety, and a proper access (at least a three-foot door width and a two-foot area or so next to the door to stand before the door is opened). However, let’s leave that and move to the inside of the home.
We have hallway widths, doorway openings, doorway types, appliances, kitchen functionality, flooring, lighting, cabinets and closets for storage, bathroom layouts, and other areas of the home that need to accommodate the physical and sensory needs of the client. Homes built decades ago generally did not provide the same type of maneuvering space that is both common and in demand today.
Whether we are improving the home to make it more accessible in terms of getting to the front door and then through it and to the various areas of the home, safer in terms of eliminating places where falls might occur and providing more stable footing and stronger lighting, more comfortable with temperatures settings that are easier to control and other aspects of the home that make it more enjoyable to live in, and more convenient to use the appliances, fixtures, features, and other operational aspects of the home. These all relate to the physical characteristics of the home.
As to our clients, they certainly will appreciate any changes we make to their home that will enable them to live in safer and more comfortably. Additionally, they may have specific needs that we need to accommodate. It could be mobility challenges in navigating and using the home (including reach, sitting, standing, grasping, lifting, holding objects, retrieving stored items, and operating controls). They could be sensory in nature having to do with weaker vision or hearing, glare, depth perception, contrasts, notifications from appliances, touch, balance, stamina, or coordination.
Regardless of what needs to be in the home to help our clients, we want to make sure that we are serving their needs so they may continue living in their home challenge-free from issues we are resolving for them for the duration. If there are progressive needs, we will address them over time. Otherwise, we should make a true difference for our clients and create solutions for them that will last. We aren’t trying to make a point in our design that we can create something special, unusual, or potentially award-winning if that is not what the client needs or wants. Serving them is our primary focus, not creating a solution just to show that we can do it and possibly missing an opportunity to do what our clients need from us.