Aging In Place Design – Not Just For Seniors

Written by Alex Deckard, Aeroflow Healthcare

As you gather with friends and family for the holidays, where do you picture your loved ones celebrating together? Most people would say that their home is their gathering place of choice. Rituals, memories, and people all turn a house into a home. As we spend years creating a home, nobody wants to move away for reasons outside their control.

America has an aging population with an increasing life expectancy. Last year, there were over 108 million Americans over the age of 50 and this number expected to grow another 10 million by 2020. In fact, the first human to live to 150 has (probably) already been born! Most people want to live in their own home for as long as possible. Nearly 90% of people over age 65 want to stay in their current home for as long as possible, and 80% believe their current residence is where they will always live. As we age, we will all need a little help.

Aging in Place Design

Aeroflow Healthcare offers a wide range of products that can help people live in their home safely, independently and comfortably regardless of age or ability level. It would be heartbreaking to have the resources on hand that facilitate independence with a home that can’t accommodate installation. Wheelchairs, bathroom safety devices like grab bars, patient room furniture, and oxygen tanks all have specific dimensions that need to be accommodated for when designing a home. So, what can you do today to prepare your home so you can age gracefully in it?

Cost Benefits of Thoughtful Home Design

A new construction or home remodel can be expensive, but assisted living isn’t cheap either. The median monthly assisted living costs could range from $2,288 in Missouri to nearly $6,000 in New Jersey. If you live 15 years longer in an assisted living community in Missouri, it will cost over $400,000.

Replacing handles and door knobs, adding grab bars and railings, and expanding door frames are some affordable projects to tackle in the beginning stages of the design. Some simple redecoration can help begin the process, as well. Removing trip hazards such as power cords or rugs can be a small step that encourages safety. As you age and your health needs change, Aeroflow can help by offering quality home healthcare products through insurance such as portable oxygen, home and bathroom safety devicescatheters, and more.


Advice from the Experts

We asked Aging in Place specialists Sean and Laura Sullivan to explain how a home can be designed with considerations to accommodate residents and their needs as they age. Sean and Laura are a husband and wife design team who are both accredited aging in place specialists, and together they create beautiful green homes. Sean is the President and accredited Master Builder of Living Stone, and Laura is the owner and lead interior design for ID.ology Interior Design. We asked them a few questions to better understand how aging in place design can benefit people of all ages.

What exactly is Aging in Place? Aging In Place is the ability for one to live in their home comfortably, safely, and as easily as possible for as long as possible. Building and designing in regard to Aging in Place (for new construction or renovation) means that different construction details or elements are considered in the design phase to ensure the home is suitable for the needs of individuals aging in their home as independently as possible. If a caretaker needs to be brought in, the home lends to their needs as well.

What are some examples of aging in place design? Some Aging in Place design elements would be the inclusion of wider hallways and doorways, sufficient lighting that can adjust to aging eyes, handles and grab bars selected for ease of use, and cabinet and appliance placement planned for limited mobility use. A curbless shower makes it easy for anyone and the extra lighting helps aging eyes.

How can these design elements help a person live in their home? If someone happened to use a walker or wheelchair, the home would be designed with larger spaces to allow the individual to move through the home safely and use each space without barriers. These inclusions can allow someone to stay in the comfort of their own home and avoid moving into an assisted living facility.

What rooms might require more attention than others? The main level of the home, including the master suite and kitchen.

At what age should a person consider aging in place renovation? Considering Aging in Place design is important for individuals of all ages. Aging in Place is not only for seniors or individuals with limited mobility or physical abilities— it makes living in a home easier and more comfortable for ALL ages and ability levels. Also, a young couple could have their aging parents come live with them or a loved one could break a bone and become temporarily in need of Aging in Place elements.

Are there certain home furnishings that are more aging in place friendly?  Yes, not only do we consider the physical abilities or needs of individuals, but also their health. Some characteristics of furniture used for Aging in Place homes to be considered would be the seat height and depth, the angle and ergonomics of the backs, weight, arms structure, firmness, and also whether the products are made with healthy components that do not harm the individual’s health.

Are there any stipulations for aging in place when one has a pet? Considerations of amenities for caring for one’s pet could be such things as bathing stations at appropriate heights, feeding stations also at appropriate heights for both the owner and the pet, and easy access to a fenced yard or kennel.

Why is “green” so important for a healthy home and how does Living Stone do “green” differently? Environmentally conscious design is important for many reasons, but the primary reason for us is the health and wellbeing of our clients. Building green protects the environment, supports local business, uses recycled or recyclable content, uses sustainable resources and utilizes energy resources efficiently. When applied in an above standard manner as Living Stone does, it benefits the health of the homeowner.

Indoor air quality is the missing ingredient in Green Building and that is the real reason many people don’t see the value in paying for “green” materials. However, when you consider that homes are being built with often inadequate ventilation systems, you can actually be causing damage to your health. According to the EPA, we spend up to 90% of our time indoors. Our indoor environment can be more toxic when we fill our homes with products with VOC’s, which are present in everything from cleaning equipment to building materials such as glue, paint, varnishes, and wood preservatives. VOC’s are emitted as gasses from certain solids or liquids and can have adverse effects on your health.

A green home is more than just an energy efficient home. It’s a home that prioritizes your health and wellbeing.

If someone is considering a remodel or new construction that includes Aging in Place, what should they look for in a contractor/builder/interior designer? We are both Certified Aging In Place Specialists as well as Certified Green Professionals, which gives us a more astute awareness and focus on the indoor air quality for our clients’ health.

What are some “outliers” in the design process that most people don’t know about? Any interesting/strange techniques to make a home more comfortable for aging? Most individuals overlook or underestimate the importance and value of space planning during the design phase of a renovation or new construction. Bringing in a professional service like those we offer at Living Stone and ID.ology give our clients the best approach possible when designing a home.

Staying Independent in Retirement

If things go as hoped my plans for retirement include living where I want in the house of my choice for as long as I can. I value my independence – the freedom to do what I want when I want and in this case, where I want. It has taken a long time to get here and now that I have arrived I want to make the most of my second act. As long as I am able to maintain my garden and keep up with maintenance on the house and safely exist without jeopardizing myself or others I am going to retire in place.

That said a retirement community has certain advantages. Those living as part of a senior community benefit from regular scheduled activities, near proximity to everything from gyms to pools to golf courses, plenty of people to interact with, and a certain safety in numbers. I am not saying I would never consider it just given the option and based on where I am today I prefer to live independently.

If we hope to stay independent in retirement there are a variety of considerations to address. Not all are within our control but we are able to influence our destiny in some cases to at least some degree.

Stay healthy and aware

No one debates the importance of good health not only to remain independent but also to experience a quality of life. Maintaining a good diet, working out, avoiding things that are bad – I think we all get it. But it is also important to be smart when it comes to tuning into a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is good but we should also pay attention to our body. If something hurts stop doing it. Contrary to the old no-pain-no-gain motto that drove us to extremes in younger days, as we get older our recovery capabilities are reduced.  If it hurts we may be doing damage.

Likewise if something feels off or not quite right, don’t ignore warning signs. No one knows our own body better than each of us. Chest pain, numbness, dizziness, confusion all are examples of the body trying to tell you something is amiss. Tune in to what your body tells you and pay attention – it just might save your life.

Look ahead

As we change with age so does the road ahead. Planning for what will be helps keep us ahead of the curve. For example if you make changes or improvements to your house and surroundings keep in mind the aging you and your needs down the road. During our recent kitchen remodel we added easily accessible drawers to store plates rather than the customary overhead shelves. It’s easier to lift plates at waist level than struggle with those stored shoulder height or above.

Little things matter when it comes to convenience and safety. Handles are easier to manage than knobs. Adding sliding drawers to shelves and closets allows you to make full use of space and access things previously lost way in the back. Good lighting, minimal stairs to climb, whatever you can think of to make your retirement safer and less physically challenging is worthy of consideration.

The more we can do to make our lives easy and safe the better our chances to stay where we are.

Three Old Ladies

Get to know your neighbors, not just their names

Being comfortable with the people living in your neighborhood not only enriches life but also provides a safety net in the event of emergencies. Beyond friendship, beyond someone to borrow a cup of sugar from, there is great peace of mind knowing those around you watch out for you and you for them. When you are out of town it is good to have multiple sets of eyes keeping watch. If you need assistance moving new furniture help is a door knock away. And should anything out of the ordinary occur, neighbors who know your habits and lifestyle are often the first to notice and take action. The reality is you can help assure your own independence by learning to depend more on those around you. Asking for help should not be considered a sign of weakness.

Stay on top of your game mentally

It is unfortunate but as we age some of us will have a harder time when it comes to our mental state. It is entirely normal to experience a slowdown as we get older. If we want to remain independent we need to stay as sharp as possible. I am not sure of the benefit of playing memory games beyond making you better at those games. And although I see advertisements about wonderful drugs that improve memory I figure if they really worked as promised none of us would have any problems.

I do think there are things you can do to help stay more alert and with it mentally. If you brain is a muscle then working it out should be beneficial. Here are some things I add to my routine in efforts to keep the old brain cells firing:

– I have always been bad at remembering names (not exactly a plus in the career of a sales guy!) Now when reading a book I do my best to remember each and every name. Before resuming my read I mentally review as many of the key players as I can come up with. I am actually getting better – at least a little.

– I was never into geography while a student so as a retiree I make up for lost time by memorizing all the countries across the globe as well as the US states. Every few days I take a mental trip around the world reciting the name of each place while visualizing it in relation to neighboring lands.

– While listening to history DVDs I do my best to remember specific events and associated dates. Then as I take my walk I run through the centuries trying to remember as much as I can.

One nice thing about brain exercises like these is you can do them wherever and whenever – driving down the road, waiting in line, sitting through mindless 5-minute long advertisement slots on TV or walking your favorite park trail. This convenience allows for a quick workout with no fuss. I know for me if it is a hassle I am less likely to engage. What things can you add to your day to give your brain a good workout?

Staying independent in retirement is a full time job but well worth the effort. Although we may not be paid in currency the freedom to live our life as we choose is beyond measure and something we all deserve.

Where Will Boomers Spend Their Golden Years?

Post by Kate Antheil Boyd, VP of Content,

Today in the U.S., there are 1.7 million nursing home beds — and about 76 million baby boomers. Even if boomers wanted to age in nursing homes (they don’t), there wouldn’t be enough room.

Then consider this generation’s growing life expectancy. First-wave boomers are 67 years old today and will likely reach age 82 to 85 (men and women, respectively).

We need more options.

Senior Living Redefined

Boomers dread nursing homes, it’s true. But senior living communities are another story. People are attracted to independent living, assisted living, and continuing care retirement communities because they’re ready to give up shoveling snow, cleaning gutters, and changing light bulbs. They want amenities: fine dining, social activities, interesting outings. They’re also eager for nearby help — assistance with health issues or activities of daily living — as their needs develop. If this appeals to you, start planning; it’s best to move in when you’re healthy and mobile enough to make friends and enjoy all the offerings.

Staying Home as Long as Possible

If senior living doesn’t interest you, new are trends emerging for those who want to stay home.

Universal Design

In years past, making a home more accessible to seniors meant adding a lot of clunky, ugly stuff. Universal design is changing all that. Instead of thinking about what some residents can’t do, universal design emphasizes simplicity and beauty for everyone.

Hallways and doors, for example: Yes, a wider hallway means a wheelchair can pass through. But the wider hallway is also helpful to the harried mom pushing a stroller. A push button pocket door means someone in a wheelchair won’t have to struggle with opening and closing the door; it’s also really handy if both your arms are full of groceries.

If you plan to stay in your home for years to come, look into the universal design options available for bathrooms, kitchens, and elsewhere. You’ll make your home more senior-friendly — and more beautiful.

Gadgets, Gizmos, and Services

You’d be amazed to learn of all the inventors out there, hard at work on new gadgets and gizmos to help you age in place. For example:

* Adaptable clothing that’s easy to get on and off, even if you have arthritis

* Remote controls with simpler buttons

* Medication reminders

* Home telephones with amplification systems

* Printers that don’t need a computer to print your e-mail

* Home-monitoring sensors that track every time you open a cabinet door, walk into a room, open a medicine bottle, or even sit on the toilet — and that report to your loved ones if your daily habits go awry

* Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) that let you call for help with the push of a button

* Canes and bifocals that are as much fashion statements as functional tools

* Meal services that bring you a weekly batch of *fresh*, delicious, nutritious prepared meals

The list could go on; the point is, great gadgets are here and more are coming. If you can imagine a way to more easily go about your daily business, Google it and see what’s been invented. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Care Co-Ops

Just because you’re home alone doesn’t mean you have to be alone. In more and more cities across the U.S., seniors are forming co-ops to coordinate aging-related services. For example, in the Beacon Hill Village of Boston, members enjoy discounts; organized outings; transportation; exercise classes; and a network of approved handymen, dog walkers, housekeepers, and home care providers.

In-Home Care Help

Home care services are another area of rapid growth. Many agencies move beyond medical care to offer companions who help with daily activities ranging from driving you to doctor appointments to helping with grocery shopping, preparing meals, and light housekeeping. Personal care assistants are another option — they typically have more training and can help with daily activities that require physical contact, like brushing teeth or shaving. If you’re in pretty good health but need occasional help, it’s an option worth considering.

We’re in for an interesting ride as this giant generation moves through the next chapter. Keep an eye out for new ideas to make aging easier for all.

Kate Antheil Boyd is VP of Content for, the leading online destination for caregivers seeking information and support as they care for aging parents, spouses, and other loved ones. To learn more about what makes a great assisted living community see: Top Assisted Living Trends; What You Can Expect From a Great Assisted Living Community.