Age in Place with a Universal Home Design

age in place with a universal home design

Are you or someone you love interested in aging-in-place. While “aging in place” seems like a contemporary trend, it’s actually a return to the way all of us aged, prior to the post-war era. In the past several decades, both seniors, their families, and their pocketbooks have realized that remaining in a comfortable home, surrounded by the things, people and pets you love most, is often the most desirable scenario for everyone involved. The best way to do this is to create a universal home design.

Not only is aging-in-place proven to improve healing rates, senior mental and emotional health – it’s also considerably more affordable than moving into an assisted living or nursing home facility. When you pair the choice to remain at home – and bring the care to you as needed – and the tenets of universal home design, you create a living space that is entirely dedicated to your safety, comfort, and ease of mobility.

For specific details about universal home design, we recommend visiting the AARP’s article on the subject.

What is a Universal Home Design?

As we mentioned before, the goal of a universal design is to promote safety, comfort, and ease of mobility. In some cases, very little to no construction is required to create a universal design. In others, you may find it’s worthwhile to build an accessibly designed remodel. The latter ensures fixtures and finishes are new, stylish and comply with ADA building codes, all of which can increase the value of the home when/if it is eventually sold down the road.

Also, baby boomers often find a universally-themed remodel allows them to have their parents move in, as well as their own aging-in-place later on, which can collectively save tens of thousands of dollars. You do this by:

Creating a beautiful lighting design

Yes! You might not think of lighting first but lighting designs are an integral part of a remodel and they need to be thought about beforehand to be installed artfully. This includes a range of different lighting types:

  • Windows and skylights for ample daylighting. Not only does this keep electrical costs down during the day, it also helps to preserve human circadian rhythm, which will help to ease the daily rhythms for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
  • Plenty of task-lights set on dimmers. Artificial lighting should be warm, bright and task-oriented to improve visibility for senior eyes once the sun goes down – and ambient light creates attractive night lighting in the bathrooms and kitchen.
  • Floodlights and outdoor lighting. All of the exterior entrances and immediate outdoor areas should be well-illuminated using floods and other outdoor lighting sources. Special emphasis should be placed on ramps, stairways, walkways, and paths.
  • Motion-sensitive lighting. Motion-sensitive lights are always a bonus, set at certain times to ensure lights turn on when a senior enters a room or opens an exterior door, even if s/he forgets to turn on the switch.

Grab bars at all toilets, bathroom and shower areas

Grab bars are a tenet of senior bathroom safety because the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house – it’s hard, slippery and provides minimal room for comfortable maneuvering. Grab bars should be installed next to the toilet and within easy reach of bath and shower areas, as well as inside the bath or shower.

Flooring that’s compatible with mobility aids

Almost all seniors wind up using some form of mobility aid as they age. For this reason, universal designs automatically focus on flooring that is easy for canes, walkers, and wheelchairs to traverse. Typically, this involves a combination of linoleum (which is softer than tile or hardwood but comes in amazing luxurious patterns these days) and low-profile carpet.

Room to move around

This includes doorways, hallways, the space between the kitchen island and perimeter cabinets, the tables, and chairs, inside the bathroom, etc. Most universal designs will allow at least 38-inches or more so those with a walker or wheelchair can easily get around without having to constantly shimmy, lift, squeeze or reshuffled chairs and other furnishings.

Cabinets, drawers, and faucets that are easy to operate

Small doors and handles that need to be gripped are more difficult to operate when hands are weak and/or arthritis. A universal design eliminates this risk by using bar-style pulls and handles, and easy-lever faucets (or touch-sensitive faucets) to ensure seniors never have a problem accessing their drawers, cupboards, sinks, baths/showers, etc.

Smartly designed storage

Universal designs are often referred to as “accessible.” Not surprisingly, storage areas in kitchens, baths, and hallways are often inaccessible – particularly if they require a fair amount of bending, getting down on hands and knees, getting onto stepladders and so on. Instead, functional storage puts the things you use most within easy reach and utilizes things like pull-out shelving, pull-down racks, and lazy Susans to make cupboards and storage closets safer and more efficient.

As we mentioned before, a simple home rearranging and a few accommodations may be all your home needs to be more accessible. Or, if more significant work is required (like the installation of ramps, railings, new flooring, etc.), it’s worth considering a full, universally designed remodel. The combination of funds saved by aging-in-place, and the increased resale value, will make your new, accessible home well-worth the investment.

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