It’s all about staying comfortable and safe

Approximately 37 million Baby Boomers will turn 65 over the next decade, according to www.seniorcare.com. In Colorado, the number of people aged 65 and over is projected to rise 52 percent over the next 15 years, reaching a total of nearly 1 million individuals.

It’s estimated that more than 200,000 of those people will live in NoCo. According to the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization, by 2030 one-fourth of the region’s households will be headed by an adult aged 65 or older. A similar study by the Larimer County Partnership for Age-Friendly Communities concluded that about one-third of the county’s population will be age 60 or older by 2030.

While much has been written about the effects of this demographic shift on the health care industry, many other industries are also making plans to meet the needs of the aging population. My own industry, interior design, is no exception. This topic is actually near and dear to my heart, because I managed a renovation for my 96-year-old father and 80-year-old mother last summer. Our objective for their renovation was very simple: Create a beautiful home that is both functional and safe. But achieving this straightforward objective wasn’t as easy as it seemed.

My parents didn’t know all the questions to ask, but they were very good at explaining their needs. And although I had the advantage of knowing them very well, we still had to have in-depth conversations and consider many, many details to design a home that met all of their requirements.
If you’re assisting your parents or other aging relatives, try to get ahead of the curve and address these issues before they become emergencies. And if you’re 55 or over, it’s not too early to start asking these questions about your own home.

Open, uncluttered spaces are best for residents who use a walker or wheelchair.
Stepping into a bathtub can be a challenge for seniors with limited mobility. Opt for a curbless shower instead.

Older and Wiser

When you’re seeking to modify an existing home for aging residents, what questions should you explore with your design professional? That depends in part on the specific home and the residents’ habits and needs. At a minimum, you should always consider the following topics as you evaluate the property.

Lighting: Does the home have large windows? If not, is there an opportunity to add them? What kind of lighting exists in the home, and where are the gaps? Upgrading lighting to LED, and making sure that there aren’t any dark areas, such as unlit hallways will help prevent falls.

Maneuverability: Is the floor plan open enough to easily accommodate a wheelchair or a walker? Are all hallways and doorways wide enough, or could they be widened if needed? (The current ADA standard for doorway width is 32 inches.) Work with your designer to scrutinize the entire floor plan, identify the bottlenecks and reconfigure the areas that loom as potential impediments.

Obstacles: Does the home have a lot of steps around the entrances? Are there stairs inside? Are the showers freestanding or do they require stepping into a bathtub? These may not seem like obstacles now, but they might limit mobility as the residents age. Get ahead of the curve by making modifications to lessen these obstacles or eliminate them entirely.

 

Smart technology: Even for technologically averse people, there are a myriad of smart home technologies that can help aging adults live more independent lives. They range from smart doorbells that let you see who’s at the door, to voice-activated controls for lighting and other electronics, to monitors that send text alerts if a loved one wanders out the door in the middle of the night. These devices aren’t hard to set up, and most have user-friendly interfaces that are no more complex than a TV remote.

Clutter: You can make a home much safer with simple interventions to eliminate minor hazards. Examples of these include securing loose electronic cords with zip-ties, removing area rugs and creating storage to keep loose items, such as toys for the grandchildren, off the floor.

 

No Time Like the Present

“The desire to age at home has always been there,” says Brandi Rodgers, a certified occupational therapist with Banner Health. “The ability to age at home is what is growing. Affordability, design and ease-of-use of home equipment is driving that ability.”

Advances in home equipment have made aging in place more practical than ever. Lifts have become more compact and can fold and fit into closets and under beds. Ceiling-mounted mobility tracks can help residents transfer safely from bed to bathroom to living room. Grab bars for walls and showers are available in more shapes and sizes than ever before, allowing for

more stylish design while retaining functionality. Oxygen tubes are now available in green, making them more visible to lower-vision patients. Brightly colored tape can also be placed along the tube to increase visibility.

“There also are programs in place now to help with the costs of making necessary home modifications for aging in place,” Rodgers says. For example, she notes, home and community-based services can access federal funds to help residents install chairlifts, widen doors, install ramps, modify bathrooms and make other improvements.

 

Today’s smart home technology is easy to operate and increases security.
In hindsight, I wish my parents and I had begun making plans about 15 years ago. My father was very active right into his early 90s, but when his mobility started to decrease, it decreased rapidly. We ultimately made modifications because they were already needed, instead of being prepared ahead of time. It’s best to think about aging in place before you really feel you need to.

For many Baby Boomers, preparing to age in place isn’t a matter of modifying their existing homes. They’re purchasing homes that are designed to age into.

“Our population of Baby Boomers is becoming more aware of how they want to live as they age,” Rodgers says, “and they are making homebuying decisions with aging in mind.

“Architects and builders are paying attention, offering single-level floor plans with wide hallways and doorways, large windows, LED lighting, curbless showers and other features that support aging in place. These same designs also appeal to many younger buyers for different reasons – their clean lines and modern appearance are appealing in their own right.

In other words, they’re homes that feel young even as you age. That’s yet another benefit of aging at home.

Aging Gracefully

 

Aging in place doesn’t have to mean compromising on esthetics. Clean, modern lines in inviting colors and finishes lend themselves beautifully to a home equipped for older residents. Here are a few design ideas for homes that are equipped for seniors:

1.  Incorporate modern, warm-toned finishes. Performance fabrics that are rich in texture will help create a cozy welcoming environment and avoid a sterile look.

2.  To keep furniture from sliding on tile and hardwood floors, add adhesive rubber pads to the feet.

3.  Because area rugs are a tripping hazard, they’re not recommended for age-optimized homes. But you can create the same look with carpet tiles.  They’re low profile (from quarter-inch to half-inch thickness) and engineered to hug almost any clean, dry, hard floor. They also adhere to each other, which keeps them from gapping and moving. Learn more at www.flor.com.

4.   You can soften the look of grab bars, railings, and other metal fixtures by working with the flow and function of the room. For example, you might disguise a grab bar in the bathroom as a towel bar by orienting it horizontally and neatly hanging a towel from it.

For more information about aging in place, visit:

http://homementors.com/independent-living-know-smart-homes-can-help-aging-adults-part-4

www.colorado.gov/pacific/hcpf/home-modification-benefit

https://freshome.com/2014/09/24/how-architects-design-for-an-aging-population

www.hgtv.com/remodel/mechanical-systems/aging-in-place-home-technologies