3 Ways Architects Help Seniors Age in Place with Independence

Architects

Does anyone really want to live in a nursing home? More people are choosing to age in place, but that sometimes requires minor updates or extensive home redesign for accessibility.

Some things you can predict. If the homeowner already uses a wheelchair, for example, wider hallways and curbless showers help the homeowner use the whole house, not just one special part of it.

Some things you can’t predict. That’s why evergreen, barrier-free design is a smart approach. It improves accessibility without an institutional appearance.

As the baby boomer marches into retirement, fewer people want to leave the house they’ve loved for years. Here’s how an architect like you can help them live independently in the next stage of life.

Architecture

Clients don’t need to be in retirement to think about upgrading their home for the future.

#1: Educate Homeowners About the Scope of Possibilities in Accessible Renovation

Architects and designers have the ability to empower clients through knowledge. Some homeowners may never have thought about accessibility beyond a shower grab bar and possible a ramp over or beside the front steps. They’re in for a pleasant surprise.

Here are just a few things they might never have considered:

  • Converting an unused dining room into a first-floor master bedroom
  • Adding a new master bedroom onto the ground floor
  • Widening hallways to a minimum of 36 inches
  • Adding flexible kitchen work surfaces that raise and lower
  • Switching from doorknobs to levers
  • Removing a tub/shower combo and installing a wide, curbless shower
  • Redesigning the entryway to eliminate or minimize steps without the obvious look of a ramp
  • Installing entry and interior doors that are at least 36 inches wide
  • Installing non-slip, hard flooring throughout the home with no or minimal thresholds

Since it’s not a public building, they can include what they like and exclude what they don’t.

#2: Implement Evergreen, Barrier-Free Design 

The whole point of aging in place is retaining independence and a normal life. Just because your client is nearing retirement or already there doesn’t mean they want to act like it. But they might not know that a barrier-free home doesn’t have to look any different from another on the block.

Here are some of the high points that the National Association of Home Builders  (NAHB) recommends talking with clients about:

  • Low-maintenance materials such as siding, landscaping and windows
  • A complete home on the main floor; upper floors can still be used by visiting friends or family
  • A 5×5 turning area in kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms
  • Better lighting, including more or larger windows for natural light
  • Entry door sidelight or accessible peephole
  • Spacious front porch or entryway for setting down packages to open the door
  • Covered carport with no threshold or a garage with ramp to the interior door
  • Handrails
  • Lever-handle faucets
  • Varied-height countertops
  • Pull-down shelving
  • Glass-front cabinet doors
  • Open shelving within reach
  • Pull-out shelves in base cabinets
  • Front-loading laundry machines
  • Kitchen range with controls on the front, not the top or back
  • Built-in shower bench
  • Lighting inside the shower
  • New, efficient HVAC system

NAHB also recommends talking with clients about redesigning the second floor into a caregiver apartment or adding on.

Architecture

The Internet of Things gives homeowners more control with fewer steps.

#3: Incorporate Connected Home Technology

Technology isn’t just for Millennials and Generation Z. The Internet of Things (IoT) can help seniors live more independently and safely. A security system is probably high on the list. Sensitive smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are, too.

Techradar says these are some of the top products for safety, security, convenience and just for fun in 2017:

  • Wireless plant monitor sends an alert to your smartphone when the plant needs water.
  • Amazon Echo plays music, answers questions and can even read a book, turn off lights or order a pizza on command.
  • Samsung SmartThings automates lights and other electrical devices throughout the home.
  • Kohler’s Moxie showerhead that connects a smartphone with the shower. Homeowners can answer a call without grabbing a towel or place a call if they need help.
  • A learning thermostat such as Echo maintains a comfortable temperature without adjustments.
  • Connected door locks that let homeowners lock doors remotely and unlock them hands-free.
  • Connected appliances can send cooking alerts, laundry reminders and enable remote shutoff using a smartphone.

Aging in place is a far cry from retirement even a decade ago. People are living longer, healthier lives and many have no intention of moving into a hospital-like setting one day or a retirement community, not when they already have a home and community that they love. The role of an architect in this growing trend is both educator and designer. You can help people live happier, safer and more comfortably at every life stage.

Are your professional development credits coming due? PDH Academy can help with that. Check out our courses for architects today.

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