After working in the design profession for more than 30 years, aging in place is the most satisfying part of the practice for me and for my clients. Creating spaces that are supportive, secure and are also great to be in is very rewarding to me and staff.
But it's also great to see clients who appreciate what can be done with a space when we start applying the principles of universal design and specifying products that are great in appearance.
Just a while back, we were saddened to learn about the passing of one of our favorite clients. When his son called to share the sad news, he said, "You know that he loved his home, especially the bedroom where he spent much of his last few weeks but it was the independence you provided him in the design of his bath. He took pretty good care of himself,... and pretty much on his own but he continued to laugh about the "grab bar" in the shower which he said was his "ballet bar."
I can still see him holding on to his "ballet bar" and that memory will not fade for a long time. Many thanks for your help in creating such a special place so that we could care for him at home."
When John Wiley + Company first approached me about writing a book on the design of homes that would accommodate people as they age, my first thought was wow! Not in my wildest dreams had I ever thought I would write a book - or work with one of the largest publishing houses in the world. My second thought was "I can't do this all alone." And that's when I reached out to my colleague Drue Lawlor, FASID who I had come to know thru my volunteer work with ASID ( the American Society of Interior Designers.) We both served on the Society's aging in place council in its formative years. And while we only met for a face to face meeting once during the writing process, we somehow managed to assemble the words together, creating the manuscript, passing back and forth sections, sharing passages and reading each other's chapters of the book as it developed.
What I learned from the process and the research Drue and I did is that this trend many of us call aging-in-place has yet to be fully accepted by consumers. Certainly in my work as an interior designer, I have had clients that "went along with Michael" and did the right things,... things like agreeing to curbless showers, wider doors, brighter lighting and so forth. But if I pushed too hard on the "design for aging" piece,... what I got back was clear. Clients did not want to acknowledge that they might need those showers without curbs or brighter task lighting because it would indicate to others (and to themselves) how frail they had become. Instead of planning for future events, they would rather have a home without such universal design features no matter how good looking.
So what I learned as a designer is that you just "do it." The design professional has a duty and obligation to look out for their client's wellbeing. You plan the curbless shower with a good looking stainless steel, elongated floor drain, a bench with low voltage heating system and a beautiful balance bar that matches the stainless finishes of the plumbing fixtures. You do those things because clients will accept beauty with function every time but less likely if the interior designer makes it appear like they are being forced to accept "function without beauty."
Design for aging in place needs to be both form AND function for it to be accepted by the masses. And with 76 million baby boomers coming down the pike, there will be plenty of "need" as this class of people contemplate where and how they will live. So that lesson? Create safe great looking, well designed places that also are safe and secure spaces. It's not just desirable but look at it this way,.... It's the sugar that makes the medicine go down." And that is sweet.
Those are my thoughts and I'm sticking to them.
What's yours? Add your ideas on how to make aging in place "acceptable" by making a comment or two.
Michael A. Thomas of The Design Collective Group in Scottsdale AZ created this universal designed kitchen for a client's mother who has MS. The key is not to make it look institutional yet provide the accessible features that make the occupant independent as long as possible.
The media is finally starting to rally around the needs of the aging baby boomer and so are the manufacturers of products. And its about time with 76 million boomers now contemplating their elder years. In a recent article in the Miami Herald and a follow up post on the blog Modern Health Talk
showcased some of the ideas both manufacturers are doing and interior designers are using. Perhaps things that make homes safe and secure isn't such a bad thing. To Read the blog, click here.
If you didn't get to NeoCon in Chicago on June 14-16th to see all the new products, you missed a great show. Lots of brighter crisper colors in both commercial and residential materials, fixtures and furnishings.
One thing that did stand out was the use of LED lighting. Lots of new introductions using the latest and greatest illumination to come along in a long time including the use of LEDs along the bottom side of a grab bar. Its from Cooper Industries and because of the low energy use and expected lifetime, it should be making its appearance in CCRCs, as well as residences.... making it ideal for adding a measure of safety when getting out of bed in the middle of the night and now having to turn on a light. GREAT !
I have always enjoyed specifying, purchasing and providing Great Grabz grab bars to my clients because of their style of finish options. No one wants one of those ugly bars you can pick up at the local warehouse stores and no one would want one installed in a nice well designed bathroom. So GreatGrabz.com is the go-to place for such high-style grabs.
And now at the largest kitchen and bath show for the trade, KBIS, GreatGrabz.com introduced a couple of unique products. They are sleek and have a variety of finish options for the standoff brackets... making them a winner for thoughtful designs in bathrooms, perhaps in the spa... or in the exercise room. Check out their website: www.GreatGrabz.com
The Urban Institute published a story about the growing population of baby boomers a while back. Between 2010 and 2020, the senior population is expected to grow by some 36 percent. That certainly is an amazing number. And according to the Brookings Institution,these numbers will grow more rapidly in the southeast, the intermountain west and especially Texas. Here is another number that I find amazing: Boomers are turning 65 at the rate of 1,000 per day and that trend will continue for another 19 years.
But it appears that the challenges to the economy and the housing crisis have slowed retirement plans of baby boomers. Florida has experienced a loss of migration with people from places like New York and Chicago choosing to remain in place for the time being. Arizona is still getting out of its deep dark cave. And the verdict is still out on Nevada. It may be years fYet surveys continue to indicate that many boomers still have a desire to make a move. So where will are they likely to go??
Here are the places the Urban Institute predict to have the greatest boom in boomers.
Areas That Will Experience Senior Growth Due to the Aging of Baby Boomers
Metro area Growth rate
Raleigh-Cary, N.C. 31.6
Austin-Round Rock, Texas 30.1
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga. 29.8
Boise City-Nampa, Idaho 28.7
Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev. 27.8
Orlando-Kissimmee, Fla. 27.2
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas 23.7
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas 22.7
Colorado Springs, Colo. 22.6
McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas 21.5
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz. 21.0
Charleston-North Charleston, S.C. 20.8
Albuquerque, N.M. 19.5
Tucson, Ariz. 19.2
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Va. 19.1
Salt Lake City, Utah 19.0
Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord, N.C.-S.C. 18.2
Denver-Aurora, Colo. 18.1
Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tenn. 18.1
Ogden-Clearfield, Utah 18.0
No one wants to admit that they might be getting up in years. Hey,..its a fact of life. Get over it. The media reinforces that getting older is not a good thing with pictures of skimpy-clad, razor thin models with perfect skin. Builders skip around the negativity associated with the aging process by building "Active Adult Housing," ...what ever that means yet still add in low profile toilets and showers with curbs. And then there is science. These people keep figuring out ways to get rid of wrinkles and hold up sagging body parts.
But the concept of adding a grab bar in the shower that might help one maintain balance on a wet tile floor, a space considered to be the most dangerous part of the home would be like putting up a neon sign...I AM OLD. I AM FRAIL. I AM NOT WORTHY.
But "age denial" should not be the reason to keep the home from being an accessible and safe, friendly-living environment for anyone, at any age, with or without disability. It just makes good sense and cents. Age-friendly homes that have such features offer a unique value proposition to those who are looking for such an enhanced living environment. And since there are about 50 million people who identify in one way or another that they are "disabled," it can make the real estate appear more appealing to a much bigger audience.
Even the National Realtors Association is now contemplating the best way to market homes that have "universal" features built-in already,... that is residences that are more than just being a little age-friendly but fully accessible, adaptable, and barrier-free spaces, ... assisting their agents to identify homes with such features and help them target this rather significant segment of the population
Creating an interior that has few interior barriers will also result in a space that is age-friendly, welcoming family + friends of all ages who might need the use of wider doors, appreciate level thresholds or have need to use an accessible bathroom.
So what is the key to gaining acceptance? Its in the design. As long as the implementation of these universal features is transparent in execution, the personal space we call home can easily have the same design aesthetic that any "normal" person would expect from a residence and be a safe, suitable, accessible haven. Even with attempts to ignore the aging process, it shouldn't mean we can't add a measure of access and safety to spaces rather then deny we need to. Aging may be a part of life but so is living independently.
With so many baby boomers looking to their older years, wondering how physical disabilities might change their quality of life, the media is starting to take notice. In an article in a Wisconsin paper, the author talks about the features of universal design and how important this component is to not only baby boomers but anyone who might struggle with a disability. To read the entire article, CLICK HERE
No doubt continuing education continues to be an important component both in the design community and well as other professions. With things changing so quickly, if we don’t continue updating our skills and knowledge, we can fall behind.
For those of us in the design/build community, it is vitally important if we are to keep up with the changing nature and evolving trends of the profession. And one of those trends is the amazing cultural evolution known as Aging In Place. Just think about this, in a little more than a decade, those 76 million baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964 will all be over the age of 60. And at that point, this HUGE NUMBER will be in the middle of deciding how best to stay in their own homes and how to care for a parent who is living longer than expected. Here is what they are thinking….“Do we ship grandpa off to some nursing home environment or bring him into our home?”“What will be do when we are no longer able to climb the stairs?”“What changes can we make to the house so that we can remain independent right here?”“Is there someone or some service that I can turn to for help in discovering my options?”
So it is a great time to capture this opportunity. You can begin to acquire the skills necessary and learn how to become that “service provider” and design consultant for this tsunami of seniors. Check out my 5-part series “DESIGNS FOR INDEPENDENCY – Creating Spaces that Last a Lifetime”
and discover the skills, tools and techniques you will need to assist this group and adapt their residence into an environment that is safe, secure and comforting…. and a place,… according to several surveys
,… that Seniors have indicated they want to be:IN THEIR OWN HOMES.
So CLICK HERE
to register for this webinar series producted by Lifelines + Legacies. I think that you will find that each segment presents a compelling story why designers, OTs, PTs, Realtors, contractors and home remodelers can truly lead this cultural evolution and make life at home a home for a lifetime for 76 million Americans. Time will not wait. Will you?
PS. This Five-Part Series is IDCEC approved for continuing education for interior designers. And WOW….That’s Five Hours of great information plus FIVE CEU credits.
A number of statistics have been released by various sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau, Social Security Administration and AARP... and the numbers are amazing. Take a look at this one: Beginning on January 1 of this year, every single day more than 10,000 baby boomers will celebrate their 65th birthday. And that will continue happening for the next 19 years.
It appears that with the challenges to the economy, some boomers will continue to remain in the workforce well past their traditional age of retirement but also because they don't like what retirement means to them: sitting in a recliner for they rest of their years. They want and will remain active as long as their bodies will permit them to.
And yet despite those statistics, 3 out of 4 Americans start claiming Social Security benefits the moment they reach age 62. Most are doing out of necessity... even though they get locked into receiving a lower benefit package. Perhaps they just want to get what coming to them before the Social Security Administration runs out of cash.