The idea that builders can anticipate what a person wants in a home that plans on remaining in it for years – aging in place – is wonderful but impractical. Would that builders could have a crystal ball to be able to include features that a person would need over time to make that home safe, comfortable, convenient, and accessible for them in a variety of situations and circumstances. The closest they can come to this approach is to include many universal design treatments so that a person will find their home easy to use and live in, but this is not the same as creating aging in place solutions.
Because aging – getting older – is such a complex phenomenon that affects people in so many different ways, it literally is impossible to perceive what a specific person would need and then have a home ready for them. in fact, some changes that people will experience as they get older won’t have happened yet when they purchase and move into a new home – whether that purchase occurs now, happened years ago, or is still to come.
Aging in place solutions that we, as aging in place specialists, create for our clients are specific just to them. No two solutions are likely to be exactly alike because no two people or any two homes are going to be identical – similar perhaps, but not the same.
As a result, unless a custom builder is designing and building a home for a client where their current needs and those of everyone in their household (mobility, sensory, and cognitive) are being taken into account, it is impossible to build a production or semi-production home that can meet those needs. Even if the person purchasing a new home were to find one that addressed everything they are looking for today and one that they feel they would be happy living in for years – potentially their forever home – there is no way to know what changes might need to be made over time to address their changing needs.
Could someone find a home that they feel will meet their needs long-term and move into it today? Of course, but this doesn’t mean that it was built as an aging in place design specifically for them but just that they found a design they felt comfortable living in that had what they are looking for now (or whenever it was that they purchased it) and perhaps one as well that they felt could be modified or supplemented rather easily in the coming years as they might need such improvements to accommodate their getting older.
Again, using principles of accessibility and visitability to create doorways, passageways, controls, and maneuvering space inside the dwelling will go a long way toward making any home one that will accommodate people as they age and as they may have mobility needs that require the use of assistive devices such as canes, crutches, walkers, or wheelchairs. Even if those mobility limitations become more severe or happen after they move into their new home, that home would still be functional for them. Nevertheless, it would not have been designed and built explicitly for them and for their needs but rather for anyone desiring to enter and use that space. The fact that they could feel comfortable in that home is a result of the visitable design that would have been incorporated into it.
As mentioned, universal design features will go a long way toward making a home suitable for a variety of needs. The home would not have been created for any particular person but for people in general who would find such a home generally able to be used and lived in quite easily. Flooring, lighting, cabinets, door hardware, mirrors, bathroom fixtures, kitchen design and appliances, wall switches and controls, and windows would have been selected and installed for general safety, comfort, convenience, sustainability, and general usability. In this sense, homes can be built for people to provide aging in place opportunities for them but not for meeting the specific existing or changing needs of a particular individual or household.
This is what aging in place solutions involve – addressing the needs of the client, one at a time to their individual requirements and specifications. It cannot be done in advance because a person’s needs are evolving as they get older. Homes can be designed and built that generally allow people to live in them comfortably and safely, but we all have different needs and abilities. A person’s reach, range of motion, stamina, vision, gripping ability, height, ability to sit or stand (or climb stairs), and many other physical and sensory functions are going to vary widely and are not easily matched in a generic design.