“There Is No ‘Average’ Adult For Aging In Place Design”

Adults (because they already have reached their mature height) come in a wide variety of sizes and abilities, and designing for them is less of a template response than it is addressing their specific needs.


We like easy approaches

When it comes to doing most anything, we look for simple or easy solutions. If there is a synopsis of a long story, play, or movie that we can read or watch that gives us the basic idea and lessons of the larger work, we may find this works for our busy schedule to gain a basic understanding of the entire work and then decide which of those larger projects we want to actually watch or read in their entirety.

If we can get a ready-to-assemble kit for a bookcase or other piece of furniture, we may opt for this over buying the finished item at a higher price and be able to fit it into our car for an easier trip home from the store. Putting it together on our own schedule may suit our needs, and budget, better than getting the finished product although the easiest approach to having a bookcase ready to use immediately is to buy it already finished.

We like snacks (pizza, pastries, popcorn, and similar items) that we can take from the shelf or freezer and place in the microwave for a quick and easy solution to providing something to eat for ourselves and our families.

We like ready-to-wear clothing that go from wearing them into the washer, and then the dryer, and then to our closet or dresser, to be worn or used again, without much fuss on our part. In some cases, everything goes into one laundry load without sorting them by color or fabric care instructions and comes out ready to fold or hang.

Forget about appealing to mass markets

We also look for quick or easy solutions for our aging in place clients – at least ones that will apply to the general population even though aging in place, by definition, deals with specific individual needs and desires.

Takes chairs and toilets, for instance. Both are designed to be used from a seated position, and both are prescribed to be at least 17” above the floor for the most accessible use. But what if they are built closer to the floor – lower? Does this make them inherently unusable? Absolutely not. In fact, many people prefer them to be smaller or lower to match their physical size, abilities, or requirements.

While there is a general standard in sizing, we cannot mandate a certain height from the floor for devices like chairs, beds, and toilets. Some people are comfortable using them at a 17” inch or even higher, and many are not. Some people just aren’t tall enough to use them at an elevated height, and some desire them to be 19”-20” or more. As we know about aging in place, everyone is different with varying needs so there can be no pronouncement or universal creation of such items unless they are adjustable – and we are starting to see a few of them.

Therefore, as much as we want to find an acceptable standard with mass market appeal that can be used universally, this is not easily achieved.

Factoring in sensory limitations

Whatever height we choose for sitting (chairs or toilets, for instance) or for standing, such as countertops, we know that people have varying sensory abilities that often mean changing what we want to use to what will meet their needs. Needs are subject to change over time as well.

Someone earlier in life may have more flexibility, coordination, balance, leg strength, and visual acuity to where they can find the toilet or chair and sit on it comfortably and easily. As the years go by, this task may become more challenging. Just raising it or making the sitting surface larger isn’t necessarily the answer either.

The point is that each design must meet the needs of the most demanding user in the home – sometimes a design just for them with other members of the family using something different for that particular purpose.

Adjustable height toilets, countertops, tables, sinks, and other items in the home may be a reasonable solution for people with needs that respond well to such changes and accommodations.

Aging in place design treatments mean that we determine what will work for the members of a household or family – single member, a couple, ones with children, or ones of multiple generations. We then design according, with a single design that works for everyone or more than one design to accommodate various needs and abilities.

When we are finished with our design treatments, they should work for the people in the home we are working with and not necessarily be something we want to feature as a classic design on a website or forum. That’s not why it was done.

Share with your friend and colleagues!