Aging In Place

By Tim Torres

March 21, 2008 5 min read


Baby boomers find the best is yet to be ? at home

By Tim Torres

Copley News Service

Go west young man and grow with the nation, it was once said. But where do we go when our pioneer days are behind us and we start thinking of the trail's end? Enough of all this moving around, it's better to age in place.

To some extent, and not a big surprise, that's true in today's home market: people - mostly baby boomers - are trading in their "McMansions" for smaller, single-level homes to grow old in. That's something to consider if you're going to be selling your home soon or are thinking about buying a new one.

According to an AARP survey, more than 80 percent of respondents age 45 and older said they would like to stay where they are for as long as possible, and 70 percent of those able to make changes have made at least one modification to make their homes easier to live in.

If you take a look at most senior communities around the nation, most of these upscale planned communities primarily offer single-family homes that either incorporate "universal design" or are ready to have it brought in, says Victor Regnier, professor of architecture and gerontology at University of Southern California. People are thinking about safety and accessibility: "That is probably the first thing they think about, and they don't want a two-story house."

Research varies in all of this, he says. Some baby boomers are keeping their large homes and are ready to install elevators, for instance. "This generation has the resources and they are willing to pay for what they want," Regnier says. Others are ready to trade down and take it easy.

One thing for certain is that universal design, or accessible design, makes life a lot easier for seniors and the wheelchair-bound by incorporating design elements such as grab bars in the bathroom, non-slip floors in the kitchen or "eye level" stoves and microwaves.

"In the age 50-plus segment of home buyers, there is more demand for universal design," says Richard Duncan, executive director of housing works of the Universal Design Institute in Florida.

But think a bit before you tear out your custom shower for a roll-in, wheelchair-accessible type. "Universal design can be a two-edged sword," Regnier says. It can make your home look "institutional." It might be better to add some elements, such as a non-slip floor, but point out where other elements can be installed quickly, such as identifying anchor points for a grab bar in the bathroom. "You could spend a lot of money and it might not really be that helpful."

Or even better, advises Duncan, is to wait until a home remodeling comes around so you can incorporate universal design into it. "Then, you can then add these features for little or no cost."

Both experts say universal design is the smart way to go no matter your age. "It's good for everyone," says Regnier, "I don't care if you're 12 or 82."

Two schools of thought are going on with the aging baby boomers, he says. The younger segment, say from early 50s to late 60s, "think they will never get old." They are determined to stay in their home until the end and are embracing accessible design.

The older segment, "those north of 75, often recognize how vulnerable they are," Regnier says. This group realizes no matter what they do, they may need to move one day to get personal care in assisted living or a nursing environment.

Maybe one day America will copy the European model, where housing is not only built for aging in place, but also incorporates "care and repair" programs that allow older people to stay in their homes until they die, he says.

These programs combine home assessment and repair with home delivered personal and health care. Thus residents can truly age in place without worrying about moving as they become more frail and unable to take care of themselves.


Some areas to look at if you want to add universal design to your home:

- The bathroom, called the most dangerous room in the house for seniors, needs grab-bar anchor points, a curbless shower and maybe a "step-in" tub.

- The house needs at least one entrance that is step-free.

- The microwave should be counter level.

- Think pocket doors wherever practical, and make sure they have a high quality double-roller suspension.

- A front-loading and front-control washer and dryer make clothes transfer easy.

- Doorknobs and faucet handles should be lever type.

- Non-slip flooring where possible.

- Light switches and thermostat should be easily reached.

- Add lots of lighting, especially in stairways.

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