All ages are included
Aging in place begins with the word “aging” so it seems natural that it would be an aging-related or centered activity. It can be, but it certainly isn’t limited to this focus. All of us, from birth onward and at all stages of our lives, are aging so necessarily aging in place as a concept or strategy includes getting older, but it’s so much more than this.
Aging in place is not limited to seniors or to anyone of any certain age or ability – it welcomes everyone – from the earliest age onward and of any ability or physical size. It affects everyone whether or not someone embraces it as something impacting their lives and well-being.
Safety is the bottom line
As aging in place specialists, rather than being concerned about the physical and psychological aspects of aging and what may or may not be required to accommodate the needs of people we encounter or that we and our household might be experiencing, let’s focus more on home safety to assist people in remaining in their space more effectively.
Regardless of someone’s age – from toddler, adolescent, twenty or thirty-something, to nearing traditional retirement age or beyond – people aren’t so much interested in converting their home into a space that can accommodate their perceived changing physical needs (while there still are important) but having a space that is safe to be in – regardless of their age or abilities.
There are many ways to improve and enhance safety in our homes, but surfaces are a key factor.
The way that surfaces impact us
When we speak of surfaces, we might think of something flat that we can see. However, surfaces, in the home environment, include a range of considerations. We think of what lies underfoot that we stand and walk on, what lies overhead that shelters our space, wall surfaces that define and enclose our space, and many other aspects of creating our living areas.
Beginning with lies beneath us in a room – the flooring – there are so many aspects to consider that have a comfort, convenience, accessibility, and safety aspect to them. For instance, how easy is it to navigate across the surface as in bulky, loose, or stretchy carpeting or flooring that is spongy or uneven? How about flooring that is so polished or bright as to create unusual or unexpected glare that can affect the way we perceive it or go across it?
Are there uneven transitions where the flooring requires a step up or down to continue on our way – maybe not in a traditional step sense but just a difference of a fraction of an inch or a few inches – enough to make a difference in what we see or experience underfoot as we are navigating that space unaided or with the help of a cane, walker or wheelchair?
Glare is a troublesome issue
Glare from reflective or shiny surfaces is a real safety issue in our homes (among other places we go and visit). In addition to shiny flooring, there are granite, hard surface, and laminate countertops, appliance fronts, glass windows in appliances, window glass in general, and picture frames. Often, there are polished surfaces that are supposed to have a bright appearance such as table and chair arms and legs, grab bars when present, shiny plumbing fixtures (sinks or tubs), and faucets.
Sometimes, the glare is from sunlight generated outside the home and bounced or reflected off window glass of parked cars, vehicles driving by, or reflective surfaces in the yard. Whatever the source, it can be extremely bright and disabling to the recipient.
As we get older it takes considerably longer with each passing year for our eyes to adjust to glare and other bright lights and to recover from being visually stunned and momentarily blinded by this bright light exposure. We might be unable to move from where we are for fear of falling, losing our balance, misstepping, or walking into something that we cannot see while our vision is affected.
Glare and reflections are a major safety issue that affects balance, depth perception, general comfort, and safe use of our living spaces. Also, and very importantly, the glare we experience is subject to change by the time of day and weather conditions. Sunlight entering the home in the morning likely will not be a factor later in the afternoon, but the afternoon sun will. On cloudy or overcast days, glare will be less of an issue if it’s even present at all. At night, glare will not be caused by natural light but only by artificial light within the home and any surface from which it is reflected.