As aging in place specialists, we get to work with and help, on a daily basis, people who want to remain living in their homes for the long-term. We see and meet a broad cross-section of people with various abilities, histories, and life experiences. The aging process itself, and the need to have a permanent or forever home to feel comfortable living in is not the same for any two people. It necessarily is an individualized approach and experience by us for them.
That said, there are certain broad scale applications and approaches that can be implemented that will apply to large numbers of people – but not any particular or standardized template will work or even be suggested for each application. Universal design and visitability are two such approaches that transcend the majority of home types and individual needs.
Still, when it gets right down to specific dwellings (whether it’s a homeowner or a renter situation) and the particular needs that someone might present for living comfortably in their space and to move about with as few restrictions and limitations as possible, this is when the actual situation needs to be evaluated and dealt with on a case-by-case basis. This is when generalizations and wide-scale design approaches cease to be applicable.
While it might seem like it would be a great idea to require that every dwelling had certain accessible features, fixtures, passageways, and appliances, the fact is that a person’s height, weight, physical size, hand and arm strength, ability to stand or walk, stamina, coordination, and other mobility, sensory, and cognitive abilities factor into what might be needed or required – and the same approach won’t be appropriate to recommend or implement across the board.
Designs that may have worked or been recommended for some clients would prove to be too high or too low to reach or use comfortably, too hard to grip or control, or too difficult to navigate for others. It must be an individual, personal approach. There may be similarities between designs and similar strategies of approach, but each case is different as well the objective in coming up with an effective solution.
When the client’s needs are mostly concerning safety and general accessibility aspects in their home rather than specific mobility limitations they may have, universal design is a great starting point. It provides so many accessible solutions in a home – depending on the extent to which they are implemented and used. Keep in mind, that aging in place – while often directed at seniors – isn’t limited to just them. It benefits anyone who wants to live comfortably in their living space over time. Also, people with mobility limitations or those impaired by a progressive disease or illness or restrictions brought about from an accident may need modifications and adaptations to the homes to accommodate what they need to exist effectively in their living space.
However, when universal design is used, it makes it easy, convenient, safe, and comfortable for people to use their homes or apartments, and they get to enjoy living there. When specific modifications are necessary to convert or adapt a home or apartment to meet the specific requirements of the client, solutions that are aimed at addressing those specific concerns will need to be employed.
Much of living successfully and effectively in our homes as we age can be achieved through solid universal design principles. When they are not sufficient, individual remedies and solutions need to be used – on a person-by person, dwelling-by-dwelling basis.
No matter what we do on a universal design or visitability basis to accommodate the needs of most people, there are still going to be some applications that need a personalized approach. This is aging in place design – appealing to the specific needs of an individual to allow them to enjoy their living space and function well within it. We are focused on individual design strategies that work for that specific dwelling and the people residing in it.
Again, what we do for one person we may not do for another or do it in a slightly different way. When we are employing aging in place design solutions for a client, we are taking into consideration several factors. We start with the dwelling and what challenges or conditions it might present in terms of access, the width of doorways and passageways, the types and sizes of windows and doors, cabinets and closets, rooms layouts, appliances and fixtures, and other aspects found in a home. Then we look at the specific needs and requirements of the individuals living in that space, whether similar or varied just in that same home. Finally, we merge those two views to see how them impact each other. This is how the process is specific and personal, applying to one home and its occupants and not to any other.