“Intuition May Not Work For Determining Someone’s Aging In Place Needs”

We can’t tell just by looking at this woman what her needs for aging in place might be – we must engage her in meaningful conversation and inspect her living space to get the complete picture.


First impressions can be misleading

Conventional wisdom says that most of the time we should go with our initial impression or our first choice. When shopping for clothing, furniture, a computer, a home, or a car, often we seem taken we the first one that impresses us – because of its color, size, features, or other attributes – and ultimately buy it or compare it to everything else. When we take a quiz or test, our first choice is usually the correct one unless we misread the question or what it was asking. If we do change our answer, we learn that we changed it from correct to incorrect.

So is our first choice or impression always the right one then? No. Sometimes we are a little hasty. Sometimes we don’t have all of the facts. Sometimes we are in a hurry. Sometimes we let our personal experiences affect or filter how we respond.

Adjusting for what we see

When we enter a person’s home, or when we consider what we might like to do to help them, flooring, lighting, and passageways often come to mind – along with cabinets, appliances, and bath fixtures.

As for flooring, it would seem that carpeting would be a good choice with a somewhat soft texture and cushiony pad to give us additional protection against falls and protect objects that fall onto the floor from breaking. This is one of those cases when our intuition would be against us.

While it’s true that a thick pad and carpet underfoot will feel good to our feet and legs, it is not good for balance or mobility. The thicker, softer material has a tendency to engulf our feet and make it more difficult to take that next step or to push a cart, walker, or wheelchair across it. That soft footing also can throw off our balance by casting us to one side or the other as our feet sink into the surface.

That is not even considering how prone carpet is to staining (from foot and pet traffic and spills), wearing (from repeated pathways across it), fading (from sunlight and florescent fixtures), and capturing dust and allergens deep into its fibers and base.

Allowing for the client’s needs

Regardless of what we see and experience when we enter a client’s home – from a very good impression to one not so good – the client may relate to it quite differently. We tend to overlay our own needs, abilities, requirements, biases, and perspectives onto what we see as to how well we feel that the client may like, use, or enjoy their space. We could be off in our assessment as a result.

To say that what we initially feel about the home and how the client might relate to it could be misleading would be a proper conclusion. We cannot know from our first impression how someone actually uses their home and what we could and should do for and with them to make their home more suitable for their needs and abilities – whatever those are.

There are going to be some general conditions that we observe that may impact anyone’s effective use of the space such as poor lighting, narrow hallways or doorways, flooring that has support issues, and controls and hardware that seems to be difficult or awkward to use. However, even with what we consider to be issues for concern, the client may have found a way to make their home environment work for them through adaptation and accommodation.

Therefore, what seems like the most obvious or apparent issues to us may, in fact, not be so to the client and would be a lower priority to accomplish – if it even makes our final proposal. They may be having difficulty with other aspects of their home that are more urgent for them and the way they use their space. When this is the case, we need to identify it with their help and input.

Learning what is important instead of making assumptions

While we might think we can tell what is going on in someone’s home just by looking at it, our intuition or first impression may be off. What we should be recommending to the client might be a little to a lot different once we ask questions about how they use their home, what they would like to accomplish in it, what would be important for them to be able to well in their home, and how much they have to invest in their renovation so that we spend their money where it will help them the most.

Some modifications are going to be relatively easy and inexpensive to accomplish. Others are going to take more work.

We have to remember that we aren’t the ones who are going to be living in the space so our impressions of what we think might be needed are secondary to what the client needs and desires.

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