We live in a time when we like things spelled out for us or made as easy as possible. Nothing really wrong with that – things aren’t always that simple, however. Take the 10 tips to a winning golf swing. Does that mean that everyone who reads this becomes a proficient golfer at the end of the article? Is there practice involved? Does it depend on our physical size and ability when we start reading? Does it matter if we’ve ever played golf previously? Just some things to consider.
The internet is full of articles and ebooks with the top 3, 5, 10. 15, 20, 25, 30, 50, and 100 ways to do various things from raising children, making furniture, buying the right car, choosing a college, getting a credit card, growing award-winning produce, getting great painting results every time, using household scraps to make interesting art or furniture, losing weight, finding or keeping a mate, staying healthy, warding of disease, curing infirmities, running a marathon, investing, retiring early, and on, and on.
And so it is with aging in place – a concept popularized by the Baby Boomers. Aging in place would still exist because it is not something that needed to be created – people were doing it already – but it would not be so common and so widely accepted. It seems that Boomers have been responsible for many evolving trends during their lifetimes – the need for more public school classrooms (first at the elementary level and then at the secondary level), youth sports such as Little League, Scouting (Cubs Scouts, Brownies, and the older ranks of both), being the first in their families to get a college education, and then starting families of their own and needing more and more housing to accommodate that growth. Consumer products and advertising along the way have appealed largely, though not solely, to this market.
So now that aging in place is something the Boomers are participating in, as many of their parents did as well, the question that many people are asking is what they need to do to have the perfect or ideal home for aging in place for themselves – or how to buy one if they want to find something different. Even though there are many articles that talk about finding the right aging in place home or how to create it, the answer is that this can’t be done until we have more information.
While we can build or renovate a home using universal design principles and concepts wherever possible to enhance mobility, accessibility, function, safety, comfort, convenience, and enjoyment of the living space, regardless of who is occupying the home, this is not the same as designing a home for aging in place. It isn’t done in advance – by definition. Aging in place is meeting the needs of the occupants of a home – one-at-a-time and individually. While many solutions and treatments may be similar or have similar approaches or outcomes, they all are different because each person, their home, and their needs are different. They can’t be determined in advance. We have to evaluate who is using the space, their needs, the characteristics of the space, their objectives, their budget, and their timing before making recommendations and deciding how to proceed.
Whenever we are challenged to describe the ideal home for aging in place, we should stop because there is no answer without more information. We can’t know what people will need to function more effectively in their space until we see and evaluate their living space and then determine how they relate to it and get along within it. That’s why the correct response to this question is that it depends or that we need more information.
It’s not that we don’t know how to improve a home – we do. We just don’t know what someone will need before we get inside that specific home with those particular individuals and see what is going on there. Each person is going to have different needs, priorities, design tastes, budgets, and ways they use their homes. After we learn more about what is needed, we can move forward. The design follows the evaluation. It doesn’t precede it.