Aging In Place – The Future of Interior Design, Part 1
Reality 13 years ago No Comments


contributed by Courtney Branham, ASID [interior designer / proud mom to a ten-month-old baby girl / seeker of work-from-home opportunities]

America’s population, as well as the overall global population, is aging. According to “Why Population Aging Matters: A Global Perspective”, 500 million people worldwide were age 65 and older in 2006. Imagine that number quadrupling to 1,000,000,000 aging_in_place-title.gif(yes, that’s BILLION) as that is the projection for the year 2030. As of 2000, 12.4% of America’s population was age 65 and older. According to the Administration on Aging, this age group will number around 72.1 million by the year 2030, making up 19% of the population of the United States. This is the first time in recorded history that children age four and under will be outnumbered by those age 65 and over. Translation: Interior designers can play a significant role in helping this growing population stay safe, stay satisfied and stay put, and they need to start preparing now to make the most impact on their quality of life in the future.

The Options

As a generation, the Baby Boomers are defined demographically by the U.S. Census Bureau as those born during the years 1946 to 1964. Therefore, the Golden Boomer Era officially commenced on January 1, 2011, as the first Baby Boomer turned 65.

In November 2010, the American Association of Retired Persons [AARP], conducted a poll about aging in place. About 75% of their respondents desire to remain in their homes as they age. The National Aging in Place Council [NAIPC] defines aging in place as “the ability to continue to live in one’s home safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level. It means living in a familiar environment, and being able to participate in family and other community activities.”

Certainly, this is much more appealing to many people than living out their last years in an assisted living or nursing home. It will be beneficial to the elderly and their families if this goal can be achieved by those who desire remain at home. It is not rare for nursing homes and assisted living homes to have a waiting list for admission.

Potential residents are often forced to take whatever room becomes available, regardless of whether it is suited for the occupants or not. For example, my grandparents had to reside in separate bedrooms after more than 60 years of marriage, because they needed to move quickly to a facility that provided more intensive care to Alzheimer’s patients. They and the family would have preferred for them to be at home, but by the time modifications were considered, it was too late.

The Number$

An interesting discovery of a recent study by Cornell University found that approximately 100,000 low-need individuals currently residing in nursing homes could still be living in their own homes with the right support system. The monetary savings that these individuals could realize is quite significant, even if remodeling their homes is necessary. According to the MetLife Market Institute, the national average cost for a private room in a nursing home was $229 a day, amounting to a whopping $83,585 annually.

Based on the same study, assisted living is significantly less expensive, coming in at an average of $39,516. Even if an individual did require some in-home assistance, with activities of daily living (bathing, grooming, dressing, etc.), meals, and laundry, a home health aide could be available 20 hours a week for around $21,840 annually.

When family members or neighbors could offer this assistance, savings would be even greater. If an individual would be able to care for himself, provided some modifications were made to his home, then families would be considering a one-time remodeling cost vs. repeated annual expenditures. In many instances, the modifications could be considered an investment, bringing added value to the residence.

The Essentials

There are several critical elements to consider when making the decision to age in place. Most importantly, the home must be safe and accessible for the inhabitant. The following is a list of aging in place essentials:

Barrier-free entry. Low- or no-threshold entries allow easy access for walker and wheelchair users. Of course, this means at least one entrance with no steps.

Living on one level. Ideally, all living spaces are on one level. Eating, sleeping, and toileting can all occur without tackling steps. In a two-story home, at minimum, a bedroom and full bathroom must be located on the first level.

Accessible bathroom. A curbless shower with a bench, grab bars at the toilet (or blocking in the wall for future addition), and a higher toilet seat, at 17” to 19” above the finished floor.

Accessible kitchen. Resilient flooring, such as linoleum or cork, offers relief for those with arthritis. As for appliances, a side-by-side refrigerator, a counter- or below-counter-height microwave, and a separate cooktop and wall oven are necessities. Other desirable features include seated workspaces, and low or adjustable counter heights. Redundancy of some features, such as sinks, creates a kitchen that is easier to use due to reduced travel.

Doorways of 36” widths. This allows for wheelchairs to pass through.

Hallways of 36” to 42” wide. This allows for easier travel by wheelchair and walker users.

Higher level of ambient lighting. Fixtures should also require two bulbs so that light is still provided when one bulb burns out.

Flush thresholds when flooring material changes. This prevents tripping for all occupants.

Lever door handles. These are easier to operate. Also in this category, using rocker switches as opposed to standard light switches (the lighted type are even better!), and faucets with a single lever control for temperature and turning the water on and off.

More To Come
Next month we’ll discuss how Universal Design principles translate into effective aging in place strategies, why the small things can have a big impact, and how interior designers can prepare themselves to serve the vital design needs of this important demographic segment.