Whether we have any particular needs or not, and regardless of our current age, there are some days when we feel that aging is catching up with us – when we feel that we really need some aging in place solutions to help us cope with life is asking of us. There are some days when we don’t feel as sharp mentally or emotionally or as vital physically as normally is the case for us – whatever our baseline of ability is.
It could be balance issues, fatigue, vision or hearing difficulties, headaches, general strength and stamina, general aches or pains (or strains), or other issues that arise from time-to-time as a result of overexertion, not enough rest, illness, medication, or just trying to get too much done in the time allotted. While it’s no fun to go through these little trying episodes, it makes us appreciate those who encounter challenges like this of one sort or another on a regular basis. It further underscores the need for aging in place solutions within a home – especially universal design ones – before there is a specific or identifiable need for them.
Because we all have different abilities and conditions, and therefore various requirements in terms of how a home is designed and outfitted, we need to approach each challenge with an open mindset that incorporate the people in the home and their needs and abilities along with the constraints of the design of the home. To the extent that we can convert unworkable areas of a home into more universal design concepts that serve the needs of most anyone coming into the home – residents and visitors alike – we can help to address and offset those feelings of inability or “sudden aging” that people get occasionally.
Since we never know in advance (although sometimes we have a feeling or premonition about such things) when a feeling of frailty, weakness, or aging is going to come upon us, it behooves us to have universal design elements in our homes (and those of our clients, of course) to account for such conditions when they do arise – and most likely they will at some point.
There are several great places where we can start with universal design improvements that will enhance the overall appeal and usefulness of our homes as well as provide for the safety, comfort, convenience, and accessibility of anyone in the space, resident or guest. Lighting, controls, and flooring are initial places to look for improvements.
Most homes need more lighting. It’s that simple, and the solution is also. Unlike years ago when we would simply replace a lower wattage bulb (say a 60w or 75w) with a larger one (100w, for instance) or a three-way bulb if the socket allowed for it (up to 200 or 250w), we now have to consider both lumens for light intensity and degrees Kelvin for color output. Regardless, we achieve a much more evenly distributed light with less hot spots and harshness with LED bulbs. We also eliminate the heat generated by the bulb.
By just replacing all non-LED bulbs (even florescent tubes in closet, bathroom, laundry room, garage, and kitchen ceiling fixtures) we will be reducing the electric bill, providing lighting that generally does not require attention for twenty years or so (often a “lifetime” bulb as a result), is cool to the touch, and much easier on the eyes. We can literally leave them turned on all the time which helps mitigate safety concerns as we are attempting to wayfind in a darkened or shadowed area – even during daylight hours.
Light switches, thermostats, outlet wall receptacles, faucets (including shower or tubs controls), and controls for appliances should be less challenging than many of them are by using ones with a universal design appeal that is appropriate for most any age, height, or ability. Then, when people find that they are less able to cope with the day-to-day operations of turning on convenience items or even showering or washing their hands easily, accommodations to facilitate will already have been made. On those days when we don’t feel as needy as others, the changes will just make it easy for us those devices.
Flooring is important because we need to feel that we have something substantial to stand on and walk across that is not going to be slippery or tricky in any way, such as causing us to misstep or stumble. Hard surface flooring is best, but it needs to be resistant to slipperiness. It also needs to be free of glare or any contrast issues that might cause difficulty in walking or moving across it.
For those days when we feel a little older or more vulnerable than our typical selves, we appreciate a home that is especially kind to us. Making universal or visitable design improvements as son as we can will help the next time such a situation arises – and on an on-going basis for ourselves and others who come into our home to be with us.