Universal Design for Aging in Place: The Secret to a Senior-Friendly Home?

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Universal design for aging in place living room

Universal design for aging in place is exploding in popularity as the older adult population grows rapidly. Most seniors prefer to continue living at home instead of moving into a retirement facility, a concept known as aging in place. But most houses do not have the features necessary to support the elderly as their needs change. But wait….there’s a solution.

Universal design for aging in place is the secret to creating an age-friendly home where seniors can live safely and independently for as long as possible. An added bonus? Universal design benefits everyone and makes a space comfortable and convenient for older adults, grandkids, guests, and neighbors too!

What is universal design?

The concept of universal design is simple: make things accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical limitations, age, or level of ability.

Universal design is a philosophy based on the idea of accessible design that everyone needs equal access to our built environment. This person-centered approach includes everything from physical accessibility, such as ramps and elevators, to social and emotional accessibility, including culturally appropriate communication and information.

Universal design eliminates barriers to enhance comfort, convenience, accessibility, safety, independence, and quality of life. It uses concepts that consider future adaptability as circumstances and needs change over time, so remodeling in the years to come is unnecessary or minimized.

While often seen in commercial buildings, universal design is just as valuable and practical in residences to support better living for all. 

There are seven universal design principles for new construction or home remodeling.

What is aging in place?

Aging-in-place is the idea that older adults can live independently for as long as possible, primarily by adapting their homes to meet their changing needs. Aging in place, sometimes referred to as age in place or living in place, was first introduced in the United States in the 1970s and has been gaining popularity since then.

According to a recent AARP survey, living at home is the preference for more than 75% of seniors. Moving into a nursing home or assisted living facility is unappealing and often unaffordable for many seniors.

A lot can change throughout the retirement years. Aging in place is a broad concept that includes home modifications, services, and strategies that allow seniors to continue living in a residence of their choice safely and independently.

What is aging in place design?

Aging-in-place design is an approach to creating accessible homes that accommodate the needs of older adults. It may involve changing a home’s layout, fixtures, and furnishings so people can use it as they age. 

As many seniors choose to remain in their own property as long as possible, they are making home modifications to ensure comfort, safety, and accessibility even as their abilities change over time.

 The concept of aging in place design is often associated with residential environments, but applies to commercial buildings as well.

How does universal design help older adults?

Universal design simply makes life easier for seniors. Problems that become more frequent with age, including mobility limitations, chronic diseases, illnesses, and injuries, make everyday tasks more challenging. Using universal design elements, moving around the house and completing activities of daily living will be safer and more manageable and promote independence for older adults. 

As Baby Boomers continue to live longer, it becomes increasingly important that their home fits their needs now and for the future. Universal design supports aging efforts and helps older adults live at home longer with better quality of life. 

Goals of accessible design

Universal design and aging-in-place home design both emphasize five main objectives: 

  • Comfort
  • Convenience
  • Efficiency
  • Accessibility
  • Safety

Building with universal design 

The best way to include universal design concepts in remodeling projects is to start early and plan well. Find ways to incorporate elements of these thoughtful design ideas into all building projects or renovations.

Since universal design improves the home environment for anyone at any age and through all stages of life, it’s a good investment that is beneficial today and in the future. 

For new construction, universal design principles should be the basis of the design process and plan. Some architects specialize in universal design. Many house plans incorporate universal design and aging in place design.

For accessible remodeling, consider future needs, even if they seem like small details or unlikely possibilities. Rather than preparing for the worst, as the saying goes, prepare for the expected and hope for the best. 

No one can imagine needing to use a wheelchair either temporarily or permanently. Still, it is a reality for many people at some time in their life especially as people are living longer with medical advances. Home accessibility is important for visitors as well as residents and universal design makes this possible.

It’s cheaper and easier to make all changes at once instead of doing multiple minor renovations. Construction is a stressful and messy process, especially if you’re living in the home during remodeling. Fewer renovations save considerable expense when you’re able to incorporate future-ready and forward-thinking home features sooner rather than later. Plus, you’ll reap the rewards of better design and functionality every day and into the future.

Research to find the best options to achieve the goals of universal design for your home. As universal design and aging in place are gaining popularity and smart technology is advancing rapidly, many more product and service options are becoming available. More contractors are also specializing in home modifications for aging in place. 

Steps for making home modifications

The first step is to assess what changes may be needed for the home to be aging in place ready as there are certain features that should be present in every home.

This home assessment should be completed with the help of a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) who has specialized knowledge of the best home modifications and products for seniors. If there are specific medical issues and concerns, recommendations from a Physical or Occupational Therapist should be included as well. 

Most people will use the findings of their home assessment to begin making changes necessary so their home continues to work well for them as they age.

After a home assessment, some people may find that moving to a different home is a better option than renovating their current home. Some will choose to construct a new home, others will purchase and renovate a different home, and some may move in with an adult child or relative. 

There are thousands of home modifications that can benefit older adults. Common renovations for aging in place include a walk in shower, installing grab bars and adding handrails, upgrading lighting, elevating toilets and doorway widening. It might also involve installing an elevator or new appliances, constructing an addition, or creating an in-law suite.

The second step toward aging in place design is to assess what additional home modifications could be helpful based upon more unique, individual needs. This assessment should include an evaluation of mobility, vision, hearing, cognitive function, continence (the ability to control urine), safety concerns, and social needs.

Key elements of universal design for aging in place

  • No step entry
  • Wider doorways & hallways
  • One floor living
  • Accessible bathroom
  • Convenient controls and switches

Where to find ideas for age in place design

One of the best places to find ideas for specialized home design for aging in place is by working with a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS). These consultants, like myself, are trained in the specific home needs of older adults. I am a Home Health Physical Therapist with professional expertise from decades of working with seniors to solve home challenges so they can live their best life. 

I invite you to subscribe to my email list. I provide insider information, updates, education, and special offers on all things aging in place design for older adults and those who care for and love them.

Conclusion

Universal design principles are integral to aging in place design. It creates a home environment that is accessible, comfortable and safe for everyone, but most importantly, older adults. Whether planning new construction or renovation of an existing home, consider universal design for aging in place as a good investment for your current lifestyle and an even better future.  

FAQ

Does universal design cost more than traditional design?

As with other home improvement projects, the cost will depend on the quality of materials used and the installation needed. Products and materials are available at various price points to fit variable budgets.

Does universal design require more space or additional square footage?

Universal design features do not necessarily require extra square footage in a home – it is simply a wiser use of the space. 

Does universal design add resale value?

When features are well-planned and stylish, accessible design elements can increase home resale value. For example, an elevator for home accessibility is a feature that home buyers desire. 

Do universal design features look obvious and institutional?

The beauty of universal design is that its features aren’t noticeable when incorporated well, and you don’t need to sacrifice style. What is apparent is how comfortable the home is to use and navigate.

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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?