Aging in Place: Living Longer at Home

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A dear friend of mine, an architect by profession, recently remodeled her mid-century styled home in a suburb of Chicago and laughingly refers to her little home as her coffin. Aside from the shock factor of the statement, there's a bit of truth to what she says. An increasing number of people wish to live out their lives in their own home and ultimately die in their own bed.

This concept, called Aging in Place, is being planned for throughout the country by the many baby-boomers who are recognizing that they are not immortal. According to the AARP, by the year 2020 (only 7 short years from now), over 20% of the U.S. population will be over 65 years old. Most of us want to be able to continue to function in our daily lives without having to ask for help; to feel independent and not become a burden on others.

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My friend determined in her remodel that her ranch home would suit her needs in many ways as she grows older and needs more support, especially physical. For potential mobility impairment, it has only a short step into the house as it is on one level. This step could be easily modified to become a sloped ramped entry if needed. The front door (and all of the other doors in the house) is wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair - minimum 32” wide.

In her remodeled kitchen area, the island was designed at a lower height and is open on all sides, so as to not box in a wheelchair-bound person. She put in a side-by-side fridge/freezer so that she could access all items on the shelves; the same concept ruled in the open pantry. Her sink area has doors (for now) but behind them there was no floor to the base cabinet so that she could pull up in a wheelchair as needed. The dishwasher is a drawer-style design which can be loaded while sitting down. The sink faucet has a lever and a pull-out spray, although she says she wants to replace it one day with a touch-less version.

The house has an abundance of windows so the lighting is mostly natural daylight, supplemented by task lighting and dimmable, directed down-lights and a limited number of table lamps to minimize cords and potential hazards. Most of the floors are tile or wood, so that maintenance is easy and no scatter rugs can trip her up. All doorknobs were replaced by lever handles, so that arthritic hands can grasp them.

Other accommodations created in the remodel include a washer and dryer at a height reachable by a person in a wheelchair. The shower in the main bathroom is a curbless roll-in, with a tiled bench on one side, grab-bars and the lever faucet easily accessed near the door instead of the usual place right under the shower head, so as to not get wet turning it on.

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These details will make it doable for her to easily age in place. One that makes me laugh and is simply ingenious is in the den, where small closets flank either side of a 48” wide alcove that has a larger number of outlets in the wall. When asked what this was designed for (perhaps a big screen TV?) she replied that this was for her future hospital bed, where she could be β€œhooked up" to machines and tubes and still look out her window to her backyard and bird-watch.

I suspect she will be very comfortable in this house as she ages, and will be able to watch out for the Robins of spring for years to come!

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