Whether thinking of yourself or an aging family member, what will day-to-day life be like 10, 20 years from now?
Will Uncle Pete’s achy knee become a real mobility issue that curtails his ability to climb the stairs in his home? Do you worry about your elderly mother, who lives alone, climbing in and out of the bathtub? When you are older, do you still want to live in the home you built?
These are some of the many considerations that may go into a decision around “aging in place”—the concept of equipping homes to allow their inhabitants to successfully manage independently as they age.
Aging in place encompasses everything from lighting to location, and A-1 Builders and Adaptations Design Studio has knowledgeable designers helping homeowners make (and implement) those kinds of choices.
Design Manager Maggie Bates and Dave Kangas, a certified aging in place specialist, are part of A-1 Builder’s design arm, Adaptations Design Studio. They work with homeowners on aging-in-place improvements, which, they say, can be simple, inexpensive fixes all the way up to extensive remodels or new construction with aging-in-place concepts at the forefront of the design.
“It’s not exorbitantly cost prohibitive to make simple changes that affect the way your space works,” says Kangas.
According to Bates, one of the easiest and least-expensive improvements that can be made is in improved lighting.
Outside the home, that means no dark walkways or approaches to the house. Inside, think task lighting in the kitchen, garage, laundry or other workspaces, as well ample light for your favorite reading spot and in the bathroom—including in the shower.
“A lot of people don’t realize this, but you really should have a light in your shower,” Bates says.
Bathrooms are also an excellent place to add grab bars—a simple safety feature that can go a long way toward continued independent living.
Similarly, graspable handrails for both interior and exterior stairs are an inexpensive improvement that greatly aid in mobility and confidence. People at any age may have trouble with stairs for any number of reasons, Bates says, including progressive lenses in glasses that make it more difficult to gauge where the step is. Adding a railing is a simple, relatively inexpensive addition that adds safety and peace of mind.
Another place to consider adding an exterior handrail is along an inclined driveway, Kangas notes. It can make taking the garbage out or getting to the mailbox easier and safer in slick conditions.
Making functional changes to the kitchen—one of the most utilitarian rooms in the house—can be a game changer, and not just for those who are aging, Bates and Kangas stress.
For instance, putting a microwave at counter height instead of above the stove is safer in the long run for everybody.
“If you’ve got children, or anyone in a wheelchair in the house—or you’ve just got someone with limited mobility—you don’t want that microwave up at head height,” Bates says. An under-cabinet microwave is another option.
Add-ins to the cabinetry that make things easier to reach is another place to make changes. Anyone who has had to reach into the depths of a cupboard can appreciate these improvements. People are familiar with cabinets that roll out, Bates says, but there are also models where the shelving can be pulled down into reach.
“All the kitchen gadgetry you see in a very well-designed, high-end house, often it’s also very good for universal design to make that kitchen accessible to a lot of people,” she says.
And many of these changes, adds Kangas, aren’t just about aging in place, but also part of the larger concept called universal design. A home that applies universal design concepts works for everyone.
“To me, it just makes sense to make your home as accessible to as many people as possible,” says Kangas.
Universal design elements can become a selling point for your home in the future, are optimal when an elderly friend or relative is visiting, or may even be a godsend when something like an unexpected injury or illness makes those accommodations necessary.
For homeowners already planning a remodel, incorporating universal design principles and specific aging-in-place improvements into the home, such as a stair lift or zero-threshold shower, are fairly simple to incorporate into the redesign.
Bates sees many couples who come to Adaptations because they’re beginning to think about aging in place. With the luxury of time, homeowners can plan and budget for the major changes.
However, sometimes peoples’ situations change quickly, and a ramp or an accessible bathing area are needed right away. A-1 Builders and Adaptations Design Studio can help in those situations, as well, working with the scope and budget that meets the needs of homeowners.
Looking ahead might also mean a change of location.
“If you’re going to build a house—say it’s your last house—consider where it’s located in relationship to shopping, the senior center, or public transportation if you’re not able to drive eventually,” says Bates. “Location is so very important to consider.”
It might also look like adding an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) or suite within your home for a caregiver, for use now or in the future. Given a long enough lead time, these considerations can be met with thoughtful solutions.
The team at Adaptations Design Studio can also help homeowners anticipate needs they may not have even thought about.
“That’s part of our job: to think of the things our clients haven’t considered, to forecast future needs for individual families,” says Kangas. “Planning for the future with our clients is a meaningful and fun part of our work.”