As a certified aging in place specialist and retired occupational therapist, I’ve dedicated my career to understanding and implementing aging in place design aka Universal Design.
Aging in place design is firmly rooted in principles of universal design, which focuses on creating environments that are safe and comfortable for people of any age.udservices.org
This principle is crucial for seniors and their caregivers who wish to maintain independence while ensuring safety and comfort at home.
Understanding the Concept: What is Aging in Place Design?
Aging in place design is an approach to home design that allows seniors to live in their own homes safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.
The concept has evolved over time, focusing more on accessibility, safety features, and easy-to-use fixtures.
Aging in place is crucial for seniors as it allows them to maintain independence and comfort in a familiar environment, preserving their autonomy and dignity.
This familiarity supports mental and emotional well-being, sustains social connections, and can be more cost-effective than institutional care.
Adapting their homes for safety and receiving personalized care can lead to better health outcomes.
Moreover, the emotional attachment to a long-standing home and the reduced burden on healthcare systems further underscore the importance of this option, although it may not be suitable for everyone, particularly those with extensive healthcare needs.
There are pros and cons to aging in place and those points should be considered.
Core Principles of Aging in Place Design
The core principles of this design philosophy revolve around versatility, accessibility, and simplicity.
Universal design creates environments, materials and tools that provide accessibility, adaptability, ease of use, and safetycaot.ca
From wider doorways for wheelchair access to non-slip flooring to prevent falls, every aspect of the home is considered from the viewpoint of those who might have mobility or sensory challenges.
Elements of Aging in Place Design
“Aging in place” design refers to creating living spaces that are safe, comfortable, and accessible for older adults, allowing them to live independently for as long as possible.
Here are key elements often considered in aging in place design:
- No-Step Entry: Having at least one entrance to the home without steps to accommodate wheelchairs or walkers.
- Single-Floor Living: Essential facilities like a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and laundry on one level to avoid the need for stairs.
- Wide Doorways and Hallways: To accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, doorways should ideally be at least 36 inches wide.
- Accessible Bathroom Design: This includes features like walk-in showers with grab bars, non-slip flooring, and a wheelchair-accessible sink and toilet.
- Lever Door Handles and Faucets: These are easier to use for people with arthritis or limited hand strength compared to knobs.
- Good Lighting: Increased lighting and task lighting in areas like the kitchen and bathroom to accommodate diminishing eyesight.
- Non-Slip Flooring: To reduce the risk of falls, which are a major concern for older adults.
- Variable Counter Height: In the kitchen and bathroom, having counters at different heights to accommodate seated or standing users.
- Easy-to-Reach Storage: Lower kitchen cabinets and closets to avoid the need to reach high or bend low.
- Emergency Response System: Installation of devices that allow the resident to call for help in case of an emergency.
- Smart Home Technology: Automated systems for lighting, thermostats, and security can provide convenience and safety.
- Accessible Outdoor Spaces: Ensuring that patios, gardens, and other outdoor areas are accessible and safe.
- Reinforced Bathroom Walls: To allow for the future installation of grab bars around the toilet, shower, and bath areas.
- Adjustable and Ample Lighting: To accommodate changing vision needs.
- Contrasting Color Edges: To help those with diminishing vision distinguish between surfaces and depths.
- Low Maintenance Materials: Using materials that require less upkeep and are durable.
Remember, the specific needs can vary greatly depending on the individual’s health, mobility, and overall living situation.
It’s often beneficial to consult with an occupational therapist or a certified aging-in-place specialist to tailor the design to the specific needs of the individual.
Aging in Place Design Checklist
When considering aging in place design, there are certain features to look out for.
These include essential home design ideas such as ground-level living, handrails in critical areas, accessible storage, and easy-to-use fixtures.
This checklist can be used as a guide for designing or modifying a home to meet the needs of aging individuals. (Download a PDF version of this checklist here.)
- Assess Current and Future Needs: Consider health, mobility, and any anticipated changes in the coming years.
- Professional Consultation: Engage with aging-in-place specialists, occupational therapists, or architects experienced in accessible design.
- Budget Planning: Determine a budget for renovations and potential funding sources or grants.
Entryways and Exits
- No-Step Entry: At least one step-free entrance.
- Ramps: If necessary, with gentle slopes and handrails.
- Well-Lit Pathways: Ensure all paths to entrances are brightly lit.
- Non-Slip Flooring: At entrances to prevent falls.
- Single-Story Living: Essential rooms on one level (bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, laundry).
- Wide Doorways and Hallways: At least 36 inches wide for wheelchair or walker access.
- Open Floor Plan: More space for easier mobility.
- Variable Counter Heights: Accommodate both seated and standing users.
- Pull-Out Shelves and Lazy Susans: For easy access to items.
- Lever-Handled Faucets: Easier to use than knobs.
- Front-Control Appliances: To avoid reaching over hot surfaces.
- Bright, Non-Glare Lighting: Over work areas.
- Walk-In Shower: With no or low threshold.
- Adjustable Showerhead: Handheld and/or height-adjustable.
- Grab Bars: In shower, near toilet, and tub areas.
- Raised Toilet Seat: For easier sitting and standing.
- Non-Slip Flooring: To prevent falls.
- Lever-Handled Faucets: For ease of use.
- Main Floor Location: To avoid stairs.
- Ample Space: For easy navigation with mobility aids.
- Emergency Call Device: Within reach of the bed.
Lighting and Electrical
- Ample Lighting: In all areas, especially hallways and stairways.
- Rocker Light Switches: Easier to use than traditional switches.
- Extra Outlets: For medical equipment or assistive devices.
- Automatic Night Lights: In hallways, bathrooms, and bedrooms.
Safety and Security
- Emergency Response System: Easily accessible in multiple rooms.
- Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors: In key areas, with battery backup.
- Security System: For peace of mind and emergency alerts.
- Fire Extinguisher: Accessible and easy to use.
- Non-Slip, Smooth Flooring: To reduce trip hazards.
- Minimal Use of Rugs: Or securely fasten them to the floor.
- Contrasting Colors: For better visibility of level changes.
- Smart Home Devices: For controlling lights, thermostat, and security.
- Internet Access: For communication and emergency information.
- Remote Control Devices: For blinds, windows, etc.
- Accessible Outdoor Spaces: Ramps, non-slip surfaces, and handrails.
- Low Maintenance Garden: Easy to care for with raised beds or containers.
- Adequate Outdoor Lighting: For pathways and entrances.
- Low Maintenance Materials: Durable and easy to clean.
- Accessible HVAC and Water Systems: For easy maintenance and control.
- Adaptable Spaces: Rooms that can change function as needs evolve.
- Personal Touches: Decor that reflects personal style and comfort.
Regular Review and Update
- Annual Review: Assess the home annually for any new needs.
- Stay Informed: Keep up with new technologies and solutions in aging-in-place design.
This checklist is a starting point and should be adapted to fit the specific needs and preferences of the individual. It’s important to regularly review and update the living environment as needs evolve over time.
The Future of Aging in Place Design
The goal of aging in place design is to create a “forever home” that is safe and comfortable at any age.
Universal design principles are increasingly being incorporated into this concept, focusing on making all aspects of the living space more accessible to all, regardless of age or ability.
Making Homes Safe and Comfortable at Any Age
As we look to the future, the focus will continue to be on creating homes that are both safe and comfortable.
From smart home technology to innovative construction techniques, the field of aging in place design is continually evolving to meet the needs of seniors and their caregivers.
In conclusion, aging in place design is a vital aspect of creating an environment that allows seniors to maintain their independence while ensuring their safety and comfort.
As we continue to understand the needs of our aging population better, this field will continue to evolve and innovate.
01 – Naru, Lauren. “Aging in Place With Assistive Tech Survey 2023.” U.S. News & World Report, 10 May 2023, www.usnews.com/360-reviews/services/senior-tech-aging-in-place-survey/