According to a study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard, older adults have the highest percent of home ownership in the country — 80 percent. However, the majority of these homeowners live in single family homes ill-equipped to accomodate the needs of aging adults, and according to the New York Times, without modifications, "the design of most older Americans’ homes could eventually thwart their owners’ desire to stay in them."
But universal design can help.
Universal design helps you incorporate design tips and ideas that will help you remain safe and healthy in your home, no matter your age. It could be as simple as having a bench outside your door so you can put your bags of groceries down while you unlock the door. Or it could be as dramatic as designing a new home so that, when the time comes, you could live entirely on one floor if necessary. You could even design your home so that you can use a room on the ground level as a living area or a library, but convert it to a master bedroom when you need to.
Safety in the home is imperative, especially for older adults who want to remain living independently in their homes. If the laundry machines are in the basement and older adults are still going down to wash clothes, I want to make sure that basement steps are solid and well lit, Maggie Calkins, a leader in the field of environments for the elderly, says. Maybe we can find a way to get clothing up and down the steps without having to carry it. It's about helping to maintain functional activities but make it easier.
For individuals with dementia, Maggie and her team have taken favorite recipes and wrote them out with an extremely detailed set of instructions: At 8a.m., take chicken out of freezer and put in fridge, or Spices are located in the cabinet to the left of the stove. Pages are then laminated so when directions are completed, they can be crossed off with a marker. When the recipe is finished, the card can be wiped off for the next time. We look at how to understand the deficits or changes in abilities, Maggie says, and know how to facilitate ways that they can continue to do the things that are important to them.
Tips for Older Adults Living in Their Own Homes
Maggie shares her top tips for aging in place:
- Look at the lighting in your home. A lot of houses are under-lit, and, as we age, our eyes need more light to get the same input.
- Look at floor surfaces, rugs, and steps because falls can be so debilitating when they happen. They really cause functional decline. Get rid of throw rugs, too.
- Make sure any steps are in good shape and there are good handrails. Make sure you can see the edge of the steps as you are stepping.
- Look at the bathroom and make sure it is safe: Install grab bars if necessary. Make sure there are no sharp edges that you may fall into.