Updated: Feb 4
Learning about Aging in Place and why it includes more than just age.
This past week I took a course to become a Certified Aging In Place Specialist. While I have worked in healthcare and senior living environments for a long time I wanted to make sure I was up to date on the information I needed to know and be qualified to help people in their homes, not just facilities. During the course I realized that the term "aging" might need to change. I heard the term 'livable' a lot and that seemed hit the nail on the head. When I was in college we called it universal design. The term used to imply that a space could be used by anyone, regardless of disability, but it's not used as frequently as it probably should be. Why? Because were afraid. Afraid to think about a future that isn't absolutely perfect. We are all taught to think ahead about our careers, retirement funds, investments, but how much do we really consider our homes being able to support us through the changes in our lives? I read a story of a family whose son was injured in a car accident. He might lose his leg. How will they adapt to care for him? A wonderful couple suddenly dealing with a husbands unexpected heart attack. How will they change their lives to care for him? A family needing to care for their parents with progressive diseases. How will their home help them and their parents? Every one of these situations is different. Unique. It requires unique solutions. The CAPS (Certified Aging in Place) designation does a great job of preparing the design and building community to handle each unique situation, but the term 'aging' excludes a good number of households needing assistance and implies that only the aging population need help. While I know it's not intentional, it's simply not true.
Three quarters of people want to live their retirement out at home. Ten percent of the population is living or caring for someone with a disability. Forty five percent of the U.S. population has at least one chronic condition. A little over five percent of the nation is living with cancer. Forty percent of homes built in the U.S. were built before 1970. Let's face it, older homes weren't designed to meet all our needs. What if those needs suddenly change? What do we do when we have to change how our house functions to serve changing needs?
When I was in college I had an accident. It was a stupid one I admit. I had these black platform style shoes that I loved. I wore them everywhere. One day I was walking to an art store for supplies in my favorite shoes and had to cross a brick paved outdoor marketplace. What I didn't know, nor could I see, was a depression in the ground. Water had undoubtedly gotten underneath the bricks and the soil had moved the ground over time and freezing/thawing. I didn't even look down. I was looking straight ahead. Then out of nowhere I put my foot in that depression and my ankle went sideways. I fell to the ground. The pain was excruciating. I managed to crawl to a nearby bench. I thought my ankle was broken. I was in denial. It couldn't be that bad right? Thankfully my car was less than ten feet away. I hobbled and somehow got to my car. I drove myself home. Then my real issues began. Stairs. I had to climb a set of stairs over a bridge, then go down another set of stairs, to get to my apartment. It wasn't until that moment that I considered my decision making process in selecting this particular apartment. I scooted on my but up and then down the stairs. I won't go into the drama that followed, but it took me months to fully regain the use of my ankle. No it wasn't a simple sprained ankle either. First I experienced the wheel chair, then crutches, then a cane. My apartment? Had no accessibility. No ramp. No elevator. They weren't required to either. But why would I even consider accessibility in my twenties? Who would? However, it only took one second to change my entire life. From that point on I looked at design differently.
While physical limitations such as mobility and eye sight comprise a large portion of the challenges for accessibility, there are also cognitive issues that need be considered. Alzheimer's isn't the only condition that requires modifications to the home environment to support changing needs. Autism, Parkinson's, Dementia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), ADHD, and anxiety (to name a few), can all create the need for certain home functions to change to support care and independence. Then there are medications. Light headedness, dizziness, hallucinations, decreased motor function, drowsiness or sleepiness, eye sight changes, are all side effects of commonly used medications. So what now? You've got some questions right? Do I have to have a home that looks like a hospital room? What should I plan for? Is this expensive?
The image above of a bathroom looks luxurious right? Big. Open. Nice finishes. Can you see how this supports someone with physical limitations? While this isn't a fully accessible bath it does have some items that could turn it into one very easily and without much modification. A wide open shower space with a level floor allows for wheelchair access, should it ever be needed. A hand held adjustable height shower head gives flexibility to a seated or standing user. The lower shelf could be used for toiletries. With the addition of some grab bars and a towel rack or two this bathroom is on it's way to supporting multiple needs with minimal modifications, and it doesn't look clinical.
Above is an image of KraftMaid's Passport series of cabinets. It is KraftMaid's universal design line of cabinets. While you may not need all of the features of this line, it shows what is possible and many of the features here can be incorporated into any kitchen design. A lowered table area behind the sink can be used for cooking prep and dining with family. A side by side fridge is easier to access to freezer. You could have removable cabinets under the sink and cooktop so that it functions like a normal cabinet until your needs change. Then remove it later for wheelchair access. Put it on casters with a butcher block top and you have a mobile island! There are companies that make cabinet inserts that accommodate many different needs. There are ways to phase in changes as well as simple modifications that don't require extensive construction or a ton of money. That's what a CAPS professional is trained to help you with.
See that image above? Would you believe that is senior living furniture? Doesn't look like it does it? One thing I want to mention that is often left out of a plan is, furnishings. Your typical home furnishings store makes and sells furniture that may not be helpful if you need assistance standing or sitting and for those with bone density issues can even cause fractures! If you think you are limited to just a lift chair, you are not! There are furniture lines that support mobility and are great looking. They also have the added benefit of being well constructed and available in highly durable, easy to clean, moisture resistant fabrics. Whether it's a chair, sofa, new tables, or dining chairs we have sources and options to meet your needs. Style does not have to be sacrificed to accommodate need.
Does it have to be ugly? No. Will it look like a hospital room? No. Will it be expensive? Not necessarily. I can't say yes to every situation because every situation is unique, but working with a CAPS team on your side can make all the difference. We can plan for all your needs whether immediate or in the future and work within your budget. Lastly, what should you plan for?
That's where a home evaluation is important. We can sit down with you, discuss your current and future needs, talk budget, and sources. Then a CAPS professional will walk through each area and evaluate your home using a check list, discuss all potential needs, create a report, and come up with a comprehensive plan to help you live your best life in a home that supports you and your families needs. Please rest assured that all communication is confidential.
Need a CAPS contractor? We have you covered! We can recommend licensed contractors and work together to create a comprehensive plan, schedule, and work within your budget, to meet all your needs.
Contact us today to schedule a socially distanced in person or virtual meeting to discuss all your needs. Interior design that works for you! No matter your age!