“Let’s Be Careful Of Subjective Or Qualitative Terms In Aging In Place Assessments”

When we make an assessment or an evaluation, we often are applying our ideas of what is necessary rather than using an objective standard and end up with using qualitative terms like enough, sufficient, or adequate

Whether we call them assessments, evaluations, audits, or checklists, and whether we focus on safety, mobility, general welfare, or other issues, many of us are interested in helping our clients understand their living space and make suggestions to them on how they can improve their homes.

If we have created a form to use for this purpose, great. If not, we likely are using a form we found online that someone else developed. Possibly, it’s a hybrid where we took part of one form and part of parts of another one or more than one and created a checklist or of form that we could use to evaluate the residence of our client.

Maybe we already have been doing the assessments, or possibly it’s something we are looking forward to doing and preparing for this time.

Regardless of how we are approaching it, we need to be careful that we are understanding what we see and perceive and that the client does as well. They can’t know what we are thinking or noticing as we walk through their space unless they are walking around with us at the time. Therefore, we must be as clear as possible in our analysis and recommendations.

There are many adjectives that are used to describe various situations that really are hard to define or quantify and don’t really help with the assessment. The clients may think that they understand what we mean, or they may think that a situation if fine when we don’t share that view. However, the language on the form we are using may keep us from making a correct or accurate diagnosis.

Take the word “adequate” for instance, or “sufficient.” What do these terms mean when applied to a client’s home? We may have one understanding of them, and the client may have another. We might suggest that their lighting in the hallway in inadequate, but they may have a different opinion – thinking that the lighting is fine for their purposes.

Therefore, there needs to be specific guidelines for what we are measuring and observing. Rather than have a line, sentence, box, or phrase on our form that asks if the lighting in a particular room is sufficient, we need to spell out what we mean and what we are looking for in measuring this item. Are there any harsh shadows, is there uniform lighting along the floor, is there any glare or reflections created by artificial lighting in the room and what are the sources of those concerns, or are there any areas of the room such as corners that are not evenly illuminated? Even is we say “well-lit” to describe what we want to see, the normal response would be to ask by whose definition? What seems well-lit or sufficient or adequate to one person )such as the occupant of the space) may seem completely different to us as the aging in place professionals.

There are many qualitative or subjective terms that we use in looking at a client’s space where indicating what it offers is hard for people to judge based on a one or two-word definition. For instance, what is adequate lighting? Does it vary by the individual and their vision needs? Does it vary by the time of day and natural lighting that may supplement the indoor ambient light available? Does it vary by the age of the individual and what activities they are doing in the space? Does it depend on reflective surfaces that are in the room such as lighter colored or shiny ones? Clearly, the answers to these and other such questions are yes.

When we talk about sufficient or adequate maneuvering room, is that for someone in a wheelchair or just the current needs of the people occupying the home? Of course, this space will vary depending on what activities are conducted in that space and how many people might be occupying it at the same time.

Comparative terms such as lighter, darker, or heavier might work when just looking at an evaluating two items – is this one lighter than the other? – but terms such as adequate, sufficient, well-maintained, large, and other qualitative assessments are going to be based largely on our frame of reference and what we would like to see the client have rather than what might be economically feasible for them.

Of course, when it comes to safety, this we can agree, if a space if too dark for safe passage or wayfinding, if there is not enough room for a door to swing open and out of the way to allow easy access into a space or permit unimpeded passage in that space, it doesn’t matter how we rate it becasue we can agree that it is not proper.

Our challenge in looking at the client’s space is to separate what truly is a safety issue and what is one of a more qualitative view that we feel could be done better but may actually work for them the way it is.

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