Which approach should we use?
Aging in place as a strategy, and universal design as a concept, are closely related but very different at the same time. Their purposes are different, yet they often accomplish the same result. So how do we know which one we should advocate or focus on with our clients since both are popular and similar design topics?
On the one hand, aging in place is a design strategy that focuses on making a dwelling – specifically for the individual or individuals in that living space – safe, comfortable, accessible, and enjoyable so that they can live independently in that home for the rest of their lives (unless a serious medical issue forces relocation to a hospital, rehab center, or memory care facility).
Nevertheless, both design strategies are just for residential applications. We only age in place in our homes. Sometimes it may seem like this happens at the workplace or elsewhere, but aging in place is strictly a residential strategy. There are other approaches for non-residential environments.
Why two approaches?
There actually are several approaches for renovating, modifying, or accommodating a dwelling space for long-term continuous living by the occupants. Aging in place is the operative term for adjusting the current living space into something more suitable for the residents’ needs, whether it’s just one treatment or many.
The design treatments are personalized and individualized as necessary to address and accommodate the specific needs of the people in the household without as much regard for how people not living there would respond to seeing or using the treatments that are being created and implemented.
However, if they are not exhibiting any special concerns, a universal design approach may be appropriate because it improves the home in such a way that anyone can use it well – appliances, controls, flooring, lighting, passageways, doorways, and other aspects of the home. There are no special considerations to any particular needs that someone might have because it encompasses all needs in general.
Visitability is yet a third approach that is the trickest and potentially most expensive to implement because it levels the playing field so that literally anyone who may want to come into that space, regardless of what needs they may have and no matter how long they stay or how often they return, can function in that home well
Changing one’s address
Rather than remodel, rehabilitate, reconfigure, or update their current home to make it more suitable for their specific needs and requirements, some people choose to find another living arrangement and move from the home they are in. They opt for a different floor plan that they believe can accommodate them long-term (one-level, easier entry and navigation, more storage, newer design, more technology features, smaller and more compact, or other advantageous features).
While this technically is aging in place simply because that is where they will be living, it’s beyond the spirit of aging in place which is to modify or otherwise address issues in the current home so that moving from it is unnecessary and the occupants can maintain safe and viable lifestyles in their present homes for the rest of their days.