Aging in place approaches continue to be a hot topic in home design, yet special considerations have emerged in the last few years. The estimated 73 million Baby Boomers in America were especially impacted by the health challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Assisted living facilities adapted to the health crisis by upgrading technological advancements and sanitization practices. “Improvements such as extra ventilation, air purification systems and sanitization stations contribute to increased safety and reduced risk for seniors in institutional care,” according to Home Care Magazine. Still, many seniors would prefer to stay in their own homes with modifications made for improved healthcare. Let’s explore the latest trends in aging in place and the benefits those offer residents of all ages. In fact, many of these ideas are also appropriate for universal design, or the concept of designing buildings, products and environments that are accessible for everyone, regardless of age, disability or other factors.
Bathroom Design for Aging in Place
According to the National Institute on Aging, 80 percent of falls occur in the bathroom, bringing greater need for aging in place updates in this space. Here are a few design aspects to prioritize on your remodeling list.
Renovate to gain a roll-in shower that is wide enough to accommodate a walker or wheelchair. A curb-less or no-threshold entrance means there is no lip or step up into the shower, which is a trip hazard for those unsteady on their feet. Even for younger residents, the curb-less entrance is a clear winner. If you’ve ever experienced a knee injury and ended up on crutches for any length of time, you know how important it is to easily step into the shower. Additionally, the shower opening should be at least 36 inches wide to accommodate the width of walkers and wheelchairs.
For those who prefer a bath over a shower, there are walk-in tubs that lower the risks inherent with climbing over a traditional bathtub’s wall. Above, the KOHLER® Walk-In Bath has:
- the lowest (3-inch) safety step-in threshold on the market,
- multifunctional handshower,
- easy-to-grip handrails,
- extra-wide entry door and
- an accessible control panel.
Below is a view of this same walk-in tub with its dimensions noted.
Installing grab bars in areas of the bathroom that are either slippery or require more up and down motion (like sitting on a commode to standing up) is a smart investment. Homeowners often resist this because grab bars can seem institutional but there are some nice designs on the market like the one shown below. Of course, you should ensure your have the support infrastructure to withstand the weight of an adult holding onto a grab bar. During a bath remodel, block your walls and install grab bars where that extra support is. This helps ensure a grab bar won’t pull from the wall during a fall.
A beautiful bathroom setting with grab bars installed is shown below, courtesy of DecorSnob.com.
As I mentioned in the blog post “Aging in Place: Key Aspects to Address in a Residential Remodel”, keeping floors level with minimal grout makes minimizes trip hazards. While I love incorporating color into bathrooms with throw rugs, we can instead add accents with plush towels, art and accessories like drinkware and pretty containers on top of the counters.
Kitchen Design for Senior Citizens
A great addition to your kitchen renovation is a pull-out pantry like the one shown here. These allow you to pull the shelves toward you, rather than having to enter a small space that can be challenging when you’re dependent on a walker or wheelchair. It’s also a clever way to avoid those hard-to-reach spaces near the back of most shelves and drawers.
A hands-free faucet is also a good choice for all ages. The faucet turns on the water based on a wave of a hand (rather than turning a knob that can be difficult for arthritic hands). Hands-free faucets are also a smart choice for households with children since they turn off automatically. Also, read “The Latest in Kitchen and Bath Plumbing” on our blog.
Lower counters with microwaves placed below the counter simplify access from a wheelchair. We also appreciate the look of clutter-free counters.
Instead of over the stove cabinetry which can be hard to reach and present dangers for getting burned, opt for shelves and drawers below your counter. In fact, we recommend a free-standing island that allows you to move freely around all sides. Below is a more rustic-looking kitchen that combines loads of storage that’s easily accessible at lower heights and allows plenty of room to navigate all sides of the kitchen island, even in a wheelchair or when using a walker. Bonus: Kitchen islands on casters like the one below also allow you to move the island to make more room in a particular area of the kitchen when entertaining.
Shown below is one of our client’s kitchens that embraces more of a sophisticated yet still family-friendly approach to the kitchen. Note the under-counter storage and openess around the kitchen island.
General Aging in Place Considerations
When possible, plan a more open floor plan with wider doorways (at least 36 inches wide). This conflicts to some degree with the trend for more defined spaces to accommodate more people spending substantially more time at home due to COVID. However, we’ve found that we can easily accomplish both a floorplan that works well for the homeowners and that also has wide entryways.
Throughout the home, choose chairs with arms that offer extra support as people sit down and arise from the chair. Avoid deep chairs and sofas that can prove troublesome when it’s time to stand up.
Minimize elevation changes from room to room, which can cause tripping hazards (just like throw rugs can). There are so many great flooring options available. We love helping our clients find the flooring style that they really love and that suits their maintenance needs. As we grow older, most of us appreciate the lower maintenance solutions. The progress shot above shows how we suggested a porcelain plank wood tile would look, rather than using hardwood flooring for a ranch. With the client reaching retirement age and three active dogs who love to roam the 100+ acres with him, we didn’t think caring for hardwood floors would be his favorite past-time. This good looking, hard working tile is perfect for active homes and vacation properties.
While renovating a home to address aging in place needs is an investment in your health, it’s also an investment in your nest egg. When home renovations are professionally done, the home’s value is enhanced. That can be a solid differentiator when it comes time to sell. To update your home to uniquely address your needs and lifestyle, contact Pamela Hope Designs today.