Aging in Place Architecture: The Basics

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Housing needs are changing, and aging in place architecture is quickly becoming a hot trend. It's not going to slow down anytime soon, as the population of those 50-plus will double by 2030. There is enormous demand for products and services that help people stay safe and independent as they age at home, whether for themselves or to have elderly parents move in.

Aging in place is a growing trend among seniors who want to remain in their homes as they age. As such, there is an increasing need for aging in place specialists and design professionals who thoroughly understand the aging population's unique needs. Aging-in-place architecture that can accommodate changes that occur with aging and help provide greater flexibility, comfort and safety for seniors living in the home for an extended period of time is also in demand.

Architectural home plans with a blue house model

Design Your Home With Aging in Place Architecture

At the heart of age in place architecture is universal design which seeks to create spaces and products accessible and usable by people of all ages, abilities, and preferences. Aging in place architecture is specialized universal design focused on the unique housing needs of older adults.

Universal design is aesthetically pleasing which helps to create a beautiful and functional home for retirement. Although useful for anyone, universal design makes life easier and is highly impactful for aging-in-place home design.

Aging in place architecture is not a design style but a layer of functionality and flexibility that creates home accessibility, comfort, convenience, efficiency, and safety. It can be used in combination with any design style, such as traditional, modern, transitional, minimalist, or eclectic. Many people believe that by embracing age in place design, they'll need to forgo their personal design style, but that's not the case. Age in place architecture simply takes your home style to another and better level. 

Of course, there are many details when designing a house or completing a home renovation, but here are some key features and home modifications that will increase the likelihood of successful age in place residential design.

Easy Access Entry

A zero-step entrance makes it easier for someone with limited mobility to enter and exit the home. Wheelchair ramps are a common accessible design solution for entrance steps allowing safer access for mobility devices. A no-step entrance will help seniors maintain community connections and encourage a more active lifestyle since it’s easier to come and go from their home with ease.

First-Floor Living

First-floor bedroom and bathroom accommodations eliminate the need to negotiate stairs. Going up and down steps is challenging for many older adults, either temporarily or permanently. Some architectural designs incorporate stair alternatives such as residential elevators or lifts for accessibility between floors in multi-story homes.

Accessible Bathroom

The main bathroom should be fully accessible with a curbless shower stall, open vanity sink, and a higher toilet. Good aging in place bathroom design is vital for convenience and safety for older adults and requires adequate planning for the best results.

Two age in place architectural features are a first floor bedroom and roll-in shower for accessibility
Open Living Spaces

Other features, such as an open floor plan with wider doorways and hallways, make it easier to maneuver assistive devices such as wheelchairs and walkers. Fewer barriers in the home mean greater convenience, especially for scooter and wheelchair access, which may encourage seniors to be more active at home.

Safety Considerations

When designing a home for aging in place, it is crucial to consider the safety and comfort of the user. Aging eyes have different needs. Therefore proper lighting, including artificial and natural light, is essential to ensure that seniors can see clearly and avoid falls or other accidents.

Safety features such as grab rails are other critical senior-friendly home design elements. Install grab bars near areas where people are more likely to lose their balance, such as the shower and toilet. The selection of non-slip flooring is another important safety feature that requires careful consideration for aging in place design.

Space Planning and Storage Solutions For Aging In Place

When it comes to organizing for aging in place, look into home modifications such as adjustable shelves and cabinets that bring items closer. This will enable seniors to be more independent by easily accessing clothing, dishes, medications, and such without stretching too much, using a step stool, or needing help from someone else.

Here are some other things to consider:

  1. Position electrical outlets, light switches, and controls where they can be reached easily.

  2. Keep transitions between types of flooring as low as possible to reduce trips and fall hazards.

  3. When arranging furniture, keep pathways open and clear to avoid trips and falls. Likewise, eliminate clutter in or near pathways for improved safety.

Cabinets that bring items closer is a helpful feature of an age in place kitchen design

Low-Maintenance Exterior and Accessibility Features

Don't forget about the exterior environment when designing your home or remodeling with aging in place architecture. Consider aspects such as low-maintenance exterior features that make it easier to take care of the home and to live alone without assistance. Additionally, include outdoor elements that can significantly improve well-being and quality of life.

From a balcony to a patio to a swimming pool with a spa, the outdoor environment plays a significant role in quality of life for those aging in place.

An attached garage is an excellent feature for aging in place architecture. It offers convenience, security, and protection from the elements. With an attached garage, seniors can easily access their homes without walking outside in inclement weather or at night. It also provides a secure place to store vehicles and other items that must be kept safe from theft or damage.

Attached garages are convenient and increase security for seniors aging in place

Consider adding automatic door openers so wheelchair users or those with limited arm strength and coordination can move around the home with ease. Furthermore, installing roll-in showers and stairlifts are two simple yet effective ways of ensuring safe accessibility for elderly individuals living on their own.

Space for Hobbies in an Age in Place Home

Many people look forward to having more time during their retirement to pursue hobbies, exercise, and learn new skills. As such, the architectural design should include plenty of recreation and activity space. This could include a dedicated craft room or woodworking shop, an outdoor garden area, a music room, or even a library or reading nook.

In Law Suites for Aging in Place

The same accessible home features discussed earlier should be considered when adding or renovating an in-law suite. Multi-generational living is growing as families live together to reap the benefits of living with older relatives. Many living arrangements keep aging parents close by, including in-law additions, guest suites, attic or basement apartments, granny pods, and even tiny houses.

Smart Home Technology

Smart home technology is being incorporated into age-friendly design plans, and for good reason. Tech devices can provide an enormous range of benefits for a retirement-ready home, from increased safety and security to convenience and comfort.

A programmable thermostat is an example of smart home technology to enhance convenience, comfort and safety in a senior-friendly home

Innovative home technology is revolutionizing the way we live and age in place. From basic to highly sophisticated, it is changing home automation and making it easier for seniors to remain independent and safe at home. Automatic door openers, sensor lighting, voice-activated assistants, remote temperature control, and other ingenious home technologies can help seniors live at home successfully while also staying connected with family members and caregivers.

Home Modifications for Specific Needs

The design ideas discussed thus far are general home modifications that are beneficial for everyone and are basic helpful guidelines when building or renovating. Many people have more specific needs though such as those related to chronic illness, physical disabilities, and visual deficits. There are an endless selection of other home modifications and solutions that specifically address limitations that can take aging in place architecture to the next level.   

Final Thoughts On Aging In Place Architecture

The key elements behind successful aging in place architecture are safety, convenience, comfort, efficiency, and accessibility – all of which are significant factors when it comes to senior-friendly home design features. The challenge is often how to keep the design both stylish and functional. Luckily, universal design concepts help to achieve both goals. By keeping these considerations and accessibility in mind when making any changes, you can ensure home safety, comfort and flexibility while promoting independence and quality of life for years to come.

Do you want to see how aging in place architecture can transform your home and your future? The Retirement Independence Home Design Road Map will help you successfully start that journey. 

About the Author

As a home health Physical Therapist for over 20 years, I help clients solve home dilemmas so they can live their best life.

I'm here to use that same problem-solving expertise and training as a Certified Aging in Place Specialist to help you create an optimized home that's forward-thinking and future-ready to support you and your loved ones well for a lifetime.

Ready to discover your Golden Girl strategy for a retirement-ready home?