Aging In Place – The Future of Interior Design, Part 2
Reality 12 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]

EDITOR’S NOTE: Haven’t read PART 1 of this insightful look into the significant role interior designers can play in the quality of life of our aging population” Then do so quickly because we’re going to jump right in…

The Principles

aging_in_place-title2.gifFor a truly inclusive aging-in-place remodel, the principles of universal design may be an ideal place to start. The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University and Ron Mace offer this definition: “Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” The principles of universal design can be found HERE, and, ideally, an interior designer or architect would be contacted for help in translating these principles into design solutions.

For the elderly, universal design could greatly reduce the chances of a debilitating hip fracture, one of the most frequent reasons someone is placed in a nursing home. Hip fractures are so likely because as we age, falling is increasingly more likely. It is just more and more difficult to maintain your balance, due to several factors, which include:

  • reduced muscle mass
  • arthritis
  • poor vision
  • dizziness or disorders of the inner ear
  • diabetes (which makes sense of touch less sensitive)

The Consequences

If a hip fracture can be avoided, many other risks of hospitalization can also be eliminated. Imagine your elderly mother or grandmother fracturing her hip…

Her surgery is a success, but her recovery is not. With her immune system now weakened from the physiological stress, she develops a UTI (urinary tract infection) from the foley catheter, and the bed rest has lead to pneumonia. The pain is not allowing her to sleep and her appetite has dwindled.

She is now confused from the pain medications, lack of sleep, lack of proper nutrition, and the low-grade fever from the undiagnosed staph infection from the bed sore (caused by lack of movement in bed).

Her over all condition is deteriorating from the comorbidities, which now compromise the healing of the initial problem—her hip. After three weeks in the hospital and exhaustive treatments, including an admission to ICU for sepsis caused by a nosocomial infection (from being in the hospital—likely due to unwashed hands of a caregiver or equipment), she is finally released to the rehabilitation center for follow-up care until (if ever) she goes home.

Losing weight and getting weaker her family sees her decline and pleads with the staff to help–and they wonder if she will ever return to her home again.

The Impact

Remodeling costs can vary greatly, depending on extent of the renovations, materials used, and labor costs. However, if you imagine the emotional distress that could be avoided by simply eliminating as many of the tripping hazards as possible through applying the principles of universal design, these costs will seem worth it.

Universal design principles are not only applicable to aging in place, but are also important when designing public spaces, and especially for designing spaces for other disabled populations, such as young people facing a chronic disease, the blind and deaf, or mentally challenged.

A project that incorporates universal design from its inception will ensure that the universal design features are aesthetically integrated, and will not require individuals with limited abilities to be accommodated specially or separately.

The Village

An emerging concept for those wishing to age in place is the village. A village is a group of community members that operates as a non-profit. The members have yearly dues, and these funds are used to pay for support or services.

Villages often offer transportation services, meals, referrals to professionals, assistance with housekeeping, and discounts on handyman services. For the elderly, this can be the missing link to allow one to remain in the home that he has occupied for 50 or more years. It is ideal for elderly whose family does not live nearby enough to provide regular assistance with these needs.

Sometime younger or more able village members can provide assistance to other members and “bank” their volunteer hours for their later use. The sense of community is invaluable to an elderly individual who would feel disconnected and displaced if moved to an assisted living facility just because they can no longer drive or do their own laundry.

This concept would be ideal for my elderly neighbor Hazel. She voluntarily gave up driving, but needs a ride to her weekly hair appointment, various doctors’ appointments, and to church on Sundays. With a village membership and a few modifications to her home, like a ramp at the entrance, removal of high-pile carpeting, and a remodeled bathroom, she might be able to live in her own residence indefinitely.

The Future

For interior designers, a large market awaits of clients who will demand to age in place. Prepare to distinguish yourself by becoming a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist [CAPS]. There is a three-day training program for this designation offered by the National Association of Home Builders [NAHB]. As a CAPS, you will possess the skills to assess the needs of your client and present desirable solutions to make their home a place to remain in for the years ahead.

As interior designers, we possess the ability and talents to create a space to fit the client’s specific needs, and in doing so, help to enrich the person’s quality of life. The concept of aging in place is the perfect arena in which to apply this ability.