Aging Gracefully

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Aging Gracefully

Adapting Your Home for a Changing Lifestyle

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(left to right) 1.Grab bars were incorporated throughout the bathroom for ease of movement. 2. In addition to the mirror above the vanity a full height mirror was added. You can also see the entry to the roll-in shower and the shower seat as well as the grab bar at the toilet. 3. In order to make the dishwasher more accessible it was raised to bar height. This is a simple change but can make a great deal of difference. 

March 9, 2012
by Mike Schumacher
RDM Architecture

As the baby boomer generation matures, the phenomenon known as “aging in place”  is gaining momentum.  More and more people are looking at ways to make changes to their existing home to help them live there as long as possible. And the trend is just beginning.  In fact, according to a recent report published by AARP, 78% of adults between the ages of 50 and 64 report that they want to stay in their current residence as they age.  Furthermore, one-third of American households are home to one or more residents 60 years of age or older.
The good news is, there are many opportunities to renovate, remodel or add on to your existing home to help you age in place.  Architects familiar with universal design* principals can help determine what options would work well for you.  Read on and check out this list to see examples of how you can help your home age gracefully, right along with you.
  • Kitchen
    • Provide appropriate size and space needed to approach and use sinks, refrigerators and stove/oven
    • Use drawers instead of doors on cabinets to allow for easier access
    • Have countertops at multiple heights to accommodate an adult, child or an adult in a chair/wheelchair 
  • Bathroom
    • Adjustable height shower head
    • Use a full length mirror
    • Install grab bars around showers, tubs or toilets
    • Install curbless walk-in showers
    • Install single lever plumbing fixtures
  • Basements 
    • Unfinished basements can be remodeled into an ‘apartment’ with a full bath and a small kitchen that can allow aging parents to keep their independence while still being close to a caregiver. Note:  It’s critical to understand the exit code requirements for basement bedrooms to ensure everyone’s safety.
  • Electrical
    • Replacing toggle-style electrical switches with rocker-style switches
    • Changing the volume and frequency of doorbells and telephones
  • Entry
    • Creative solutions exist for modifying entryways to accommodate wheel chairs or those who have trouble with stairs. Challenge your architect to come up with aesthetically pleasing solutions. In the case of the project shown below we were able to add a ramp from the drive to the front door that is unobtrusive but allows for easy wheel chair access.

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In the case of the project shown above we were able to add a ramp from the drive to the front door that is unobtrusive but allows for easy wheel chair access.

  • Closet
    • Install a closet organizer system that has adjustable shelves and hanging rods
    • Install proper lighting in the closet

One last point to note. As the market for these features grow, so will the value of your home.  Well-planned, well-designed, well-constructed amenities like these will be attractive to many buyers for many years to come.

*The phrase “universal design” was coined by architect Ronald  Mace to describe the concept of designing products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable by everyone.   While it’s earlier definition tended to focus on serving the needs of people with disabilities, it’s meaning is much broader today, and encompasses many of the ideas listed above.