Aging in Place
By Don Epp, SARC Facility Planner
What Does Aging in Place Mean?
Aging in place has become a catchphrase in the housing industry. It is a response to the need that people want to live in their home for as long as they can. More specifically, aging in place is the ability to live in one’s own home safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability. Although mobility may decline as a person ages, aging in place can occur in homes that have been retrofitted to be made more accessible for all levels of mobility.
Ease of moving around your home is crucial, especially if your mobility is decreasing. Barriers to mobility are often the cause of falls within a home. The Public Health Agency of Canada states that slips and falls are the leading cause of injury to older Canadians. In fact, half of the falls that cause hospitalization in older adults happen at home. However, it’s important to note that these falls can be prevented through modifying the home to include some Universal Design concepts, in order to ensure that the person can age in place safely.
Solutions to Make a Home Barrier-Free
Universal Design is a planning and design concept to create buildings (or products) that are accessible to all people, regardless of age or ability. Universal Design is also known as accessible design or barrier-free design, with the same objective of improving the quality of life of all citizens. Everybody is able to benefit from a home that’s built or retrofitted by following the concepts and principles of Universal Design.
Technology and smart home devices can also assist in removing barriers. Some current technology that’s available in a variety of choices and price points include voice or motion-activated interior lights, remote control window coverings, and programmable controls. These are just a few examples of types of technology that can make aging in place easier.
Home modifications can range from small “housekeeping” items to large renovations. Here are some examples of easily made changes to an existing home to improve mobility, safety, and reduce barriers:
- reduce clutter, make space to move around
- remove extension cords in paths of travel
- remove small rugs
- install grab bars, handrails or transfer poles
- install a bidet toilet seat with a cleansing spray
- adjust the anti-scald device on the shower controls
- increase the lighting throughout the house and switch to LED lights
- keep entrances free of ice and snow and include a bench or ledge to set things down on while opening the door
- install lever-style door handles and replace other knobs, buttons and pulls that cannot be opened with a closed hand.
Occupational therapists (OTs) are health professionals that can recommend home adaptations or assistive devices to help a person stay in their home longer. OTs can assess an individual’s mobility and home environment and prescribe devices or modifications to help a person navigate their home more safely. A useful service that can also be used to assess drawings before a new build or renovation.
Top Areas in a Home to Consider Making Barrier-Free
For large remodels or new builds, incorporating accessible features into every project can reduce the overall cost. If the existing home is in need of a renovation anyways, like a new kitchen or bathroom, it can be remodelled using barrier-free concepts. Home For Life suggests these essential features are key in creating a home where a person can age in place:
- A zero-step entrance
- An accessible kitchen
- An accessible 3-piece bathroom
- An accessible bedroom
- An accessible laundry area
- Doorways that are at least 36” wide
- Hallways that are ideally 42” wide
These 7 features can be enhanced by accounting for a 5’ turning radius where a wheelchair may need to turn around. Paths of travel between rooms can be minimized in open-concept home design. Handrails, appropriately placed grab bars, along with non-slip flooring, can help reduce the risk of falling in the house. A contrast of colours can also be used to indicate changes in levels or around the perimeter of rooms or halls to indicate door openings.
An accessible kitchen often has countertops at different levels, a wall-mounted oven, and a dishwasher raised 12-16” to make it easier to load and unload. Cabinets can incorporate a 9” high by 6” deep toe kick, to accommodate a wheelchair user’s feet. Pull-out drawers are another helpful feature.
Bathrooms with a roll-in shower or slide-in tub offer more barrier-free options than a conventional tub/shower combination. A higher toilet with open floor space at the front and sides will make it easier for use. Installing backing or plywood on the walls during construction will make it easier to add grab bars or move bathroom accessories when needed.
Solutions for the Future Make Everyday Living Barrier-Free
The key to designing a home that will help someone age in place is by incorporating adaptable design features. By anticipating accessible design features that may be needed in the future to any current plans, future projects can happen more easily. That way, if a person’s mobility decreases, accessible features can readily be incorporated into the home. Having the flexibility to make minor changes in a home will ensure that aging in place can happen. The home will be a safe, easy place to age in place comfortably.