Style & Design Editor Cindy Trimble Considers Aging in Place and How we Can Begin to Prepare
The Baby Boomers are at it again! With the bulk of them hitting retirement age, they find themselves healthy and in good shape. Their prospects are that they will live longer than their parents. And they will live on a fixed retirement income longer than any previous generation. We have spent years working hard for what we have and are mostly comfortable in our own homes. Surveys of all sorts show that most seniors would prefer to spend their golden years in their own home. Retirement homes and communities are great but are less personal and very expensive. According to a survey AARP conducted in 2014, 87 percent of adults over the age of 65 want to age in place, we want to stay in our own home that is comfortable and familiar.
Our design studio has focused on this trend and requirements needed for a supportive and well-designed retirement home for the past 15 years. With the large number of retirees moving into the southern Appalachians, we wanted to get familiar with all aspects of how to help our clients prepare. There is so much that retirees can do to make sure that their homes are ready to support them as they age. Even though you may be very healthy now with no limitations, that day may come where you need a ramp (zero step entry) or a shower with no curb. If you are building from scratch, regardless of your age, we are now recommending including some of these features in the event someone in your family becomes disabled in some way.
The Fallout of Falls:
Per the CDC, the number one reason a person’s life begins to deteriorate, regardless of where they are living is a serious fall. Older people do not heal as well and as fast as younger. Preventing falls is the most critical action you can do. The number one place people slip is the bathroom. Make bathrooms safe! Install plenty of stabile elements to grab when someone. Today, towel bars and Toilet Paper holders are made to perform like grab bars. Make sure all tile meets the strictest of slip resistance tests in a wet condition. Do not use tile on a shower floor that is larger than 2” X 2”. Every grout joint is a speed bump when slipping! In kitchens, (the 2nd most dangerous room) avoid sharp corners on countertops – curved edges and corners are best when falling. Same as bathrooms, avoid any slippery floors. In fact, installing softer floors are better than hard tile. Cushioned vinyl or wood is best.
Doors and Pathways:
It is best to make all doors and hallways at least 36” wide. Avoid thresholds whenever possible. Doors to the outside should be step free, including front doors and doors to decks and patios. There are drains and weather protection tricks you can use to keep water from coming in while having a zero step. Kitchen Design: First, retrain your brain to reverse everything you knew about kitchen storage. Change all lower cabinets to drawers or pull out inserts rather than cabinets with shelves. You want to install all heavy items (plates, glassware, casseroles, etc.) below the countertop to make it easy for you to get to. Placing heavy items overhead is dangerous – they will fall out on someone and hurt them. Same with the placement of microwaves, place them below your countertop or on a countertop in your pantry. Do not place them over a stove or in the upper cabinets. This placement has caused many elderly to get burned when they pull something out and it falls on them.
The specific hue of colors is not important. What is important is that there is a visible / dramatic contrast or change in color at all level changes (ie: steps or stairs). The aging eye can see a contrast in the lightness or darkness of a color.
As we age, the more light we need to have to see! Our eyes fill with debris, floaters, cataracts, etc. making clear vision more challenging. Identify all task areas and make sure they have ample lighting for doing your work, whether reading, cooking or doing a hobby.
The trend for the past 10 years has been to place the TV over the mantle. This is coming back to haunt us. What happens is that the height of the TV is so high that we angle our necks in a way that is creating more work for the local chiropractors! Don’t do it if you can avoid this. Ideally, TV’s should be placed where you head and neck are straight when seated – about 36”of the floor.
Photos by Tom Harper
Article written for FEBRUARY/MARCH 2020 APPALACHIAN COUNTRY LIVING