The number of individuals over the age of 60 has doubled since 1980 (World Health Organization). As the global population ages, the concept of “aging in place” has gained prominence as a viable and preferred option for many seniors. Aging in place refers to the ability to live independently and comfortably in your own home as you grow older, rather than relocating to assisted living facilities or a nursing home. This means having the health and social supports and services you need to live safely and independently in your home for as long as you desire and are able.
To facilitate the principles of aging in place, architects and designers have embraced the principles of universal design, which aims to create spaces that are accessible, safe, and convenient for people of all ages and abilities. When planning for independence it’s important to assess your home to determine if it can meet your changing needs as you age.
In this article, we will explore how aging in place design principles can be integrated into the construction of a new custom home or the remodelling of your existing one to promote independent living.
Understanding aging in place design
Aging in place principles promote independence by creating a home that is accessible and convenient, allowing you to maintain your autonomy and carry out daily activities with ease. It enhances your safety by incorporating features such as slip-resistant flooring, grab bars, and adequate lighting, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries. These principles will improve your overall quality of life by considering the physical and cognitive changes that come with aging, ensuring that your home is both comfortable and supportive.
3 key considerations when designing aging in place spaces
Aging in place design centres around the principles of accessibility, safety, and convenience. It acknowledges the physical and cognitive changes that occur as we age and seeks to create living environments that accommodate these changes.
- Accessibility: Accessibility is a fundamental aging in place principle. Homes should be designed to provide barrier-free access to all areas, including entrances, hallways, bathrooms, and bedrooms. This can involve the installation of ramps or elevators, wider doorways, and the elimination of steps or level changes. Lever handles and rocker switches often replace traditional knobs and switches for easier operation, particularly for those with arthritis or limited dexterity.
- Safety: Safety considerations are paramount with aging in place planning. It includes the prevention of accidents and injuries through the incorporation of features such as slip-resistant flooring, grab bars, and handrails. Bathrooms, in particular, can be equipped with roll-in showers, non-slip surfaces, and raised toilets to enhance safety. Adequate lighting throughout the home is also crucial to reduce the risk of falls, especially in areas with stairs or transitions.
- Convenience: The design of aging in place spaces aims to make daily activities and tasks more convenient for older adults. This can be achieved by incorporating features such as adjustable-height countertops, pull-out shelves, and easily accessible storage. Lever faucets, touchless technology, and motion sensor lighting can also contribute to a more user-friendly and intuitive living environment. By minimizing physical exertion and reducing the need for reaching, bending, or stretching, these design elements promote independent living.
Aging in place design for new custom homes
Designing a new custom home on aging in place principles provides the best opportunity to create a space that seamlessly integrates accessibility and comfort. Here are some considerations for incorporating aging in place design into new custom home construction:
Single-level living: A single-level floor plan eliminates the need for navigating stairs, making it easier for you to move freely throughout your living space. All essential amenities and living areas, including the master bedroom, kitchen, and laundry room, should ideally be located on the main level. Two-story buildings can offer some advantages. Initially, you would utilize the whole house, with the idea of living only on the main floor as mobility became more of a challenge, offering the suite upstairs to family members or a caregiver so you’ll always have support nearby.
Open floor plans: Open floor plans enhance the flow of movement and improve visibility within the home. Removing unnecessary walls and creating wide, unobstructed pathways facilitates wheelchair or walker use and also allows for greater flexibility in furniture arrangement.
Wide Doorways and hallways: Doorways and hallways should be wide enough to accommodate wheelchair or walker access. The minimum recommended width for doorways is 0.9 metres (36 inches), while hallways should be at least 1 metre (42 inches) wide to ensure unrestricted passage.
Bathroom(s): Bathrooms present unique challenges for elderly residents. Designing a spacious, wheelchair-accessible bathroom with a roll-in shower, grab bars, and a comfort-height toilet can greatly enhance your safety and convenience. Non-slip flooring, lever faucets, and ample lighting are also important considerations.
The kitchen: Kitchens should be designed to facilitate ease of use, to counter limited mobility or dexterity. Design adaptations include lower countertops, pull-out shelves, and appliances placed at accessible heights. Lever-handled faucets and touchless technology for appliances and lighting can make your kitchen more convenient.
Aging in place design for remodelling projects
For an existing home, incorporating aging in place design principles in a remodel can significantly improve its livability and functionality. Here are some areas to focus on when remodelling to support aging in place:
Bathroom modifications: Adapting your bathroom is often a top priority in an aging in place remodel. Adding grab bars, installing walk-in or roll-in showers, and replacing traditional bathtubs with walk-in tubs will enhance both safety and accessibility. Installing non-slip flooring and comfort-height toilets are also considered essential modifications.
Entrance accessibility: Making the entrance to your home more accessible is crucial when planning your aging in place upgrades. This can involve installing ramps or elevators, widening doorways, ensuring well-lit pathways to enhance visibility, or heating walkways during winter to reduce the risk of falls.
Lighting and electrical considerations: Adequate lighting is essential for seniors, as it improves visibility and reduces the risk of accidents. Remodels should focus on increasing natural light through the addition of windows or skylights, as well as installing energy-efficient lighting fixtures with adjustable brightness levels.
Flooring and surface materials: Slip-resistant flooring, such as textured tiles or non-slip vinyl, is essential to reduce the risk of falls. Smooth transitions between different flooring materials should be achieved to minimize tripping hazards. Using contrasting colours for flooring and surfaces can help individuals with visual impairments understand and navigate the space more easily.
Lever handles and touchless technology: Swapping out traditional doorknobs and light switches for lever handles and rocker switches makes their operation easier for those with limited dexterity. Incorporating touchless technology for faucets, appliances, and lighting fixtures also adds convenience and reduces physical strain.
Smart technology for independent living
The use of smart technology in aging in place homes has revolutionized the way you can receive assistance and maintain your independence. Smart technology refers to the integration of devices and systems that are interconnected and can be controlled remotely, providing convenience, safety, and support. Here are several key areas where smart technology can improve your quality of life:
Home automation: Smart technology systems allow for the control and monitoring of various aspects of your home, such as lighting, heating, and security, through voice commands or mobile applications. This technology enables you to manage your living environment effortlessly, adjusting settings to your preferences and needs. For example, automated lighting systems can be programmed to turn on and off at specific times, or in response to motion, providing enhanced safety and convenience. ie: Home automation can turn your lights on when you enter a room and off when you leave, or reduce the temperature when you go to bed at night, then warm the home up again a half hour before you rise.
Personal safety: Smart technology offers a range of personal safety devices that can be worn or installed in the home. These devices include fall detection sensors, panic buttons, and wearable health monitors. Fall detection sensors can automatically detect falls and send alerts to designated contacts or emergency services, ensuring prompt assistance. Panic buttons provide a quick and easy way for you to call for help in case of emergencies. Wearable health monitors can track vital signs and send alerts to caregivers or medical professionals if any abnormalities are detected, allowing for proactive intervention and care.
Medication management: Smart technology can assist in medication management, which is a crucial aspect of aging in place. Smart pill dispensers can be programmed to dispense medications at scheduled times, along with reminders and notifications to ensure timely adherence. Some devices can even connect to mobile apps or caregiver portals, enabling remote monitoring and oversight of medication compliance. This technology could help you maintain medication routines and reduces the risk of missed doses or medication errors.
Remote monitoring and Telehealth: Remote monitoring systems and Telehealth platforms enable healthcare professionals to remotely monitor and assess the health status of their patients in aging in place homes. This can include vital sign monitoring, video consultations, and medication management. With the use of smart devices and connected sensors, healthcare providers can gather real-time data on health parameters and proactively address any concerns. Telehealth platforms also facilitate virtual doctor visits, reducing the need for in-person appointments, particularly for routine check-ups or follow-ups.
Voice-activated assistants: Voice-activated assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant, offer hands-free interaction with smart devices and systems throughout the home. These assistants can provide answers to questions, play music, set reminders, order items from Amazon and even control connected devices. If you have mobility or dexterity limitations, voice-activated assistants offer a convenient and intuitive way to access information and control your environment without the need for physical interaction.
The importance of an age-friendly community
The community you live in will influence your ability to live independently. Proximity to an age-friendly community provides access to a wide range of support services, amenities, activities and social opportunities specifically tailored to the needs of older adults. These may include healthcare facilities, senior centres, organized recreational activities, places to walk and enjoy the outdoors and transportation services. Living close to such resources enhances convenience, promotes social engagement, and reduces the need for long-distance travel.
An age-friendly community can provide a sense of belonging and community, offering opportunities for interaction, support, and social connections among peers. This can combat feelings of isolation and contribute to your overall well-being. Being part of an age-friendly community means you’ll be surrounded by like-minded individuals and neighbours who share similar life experiences and challenges, building a supportive and understanding environment that can provide a sense of security and companionship.
Aging in place is a critical design consideration when constructing a new custom home or remodelling an existing one for disabled and/or aging residents. The principles of universal design address common barriers to participation, ensuring that everyone, regardless of age or ability, can navigate and utilize the living environment comfortably and safely. Aging in place design is an investment in the future, enabling you as a homeowner, inhabitant or tenant to maintain your autonomy and enjoy your home for years to come.
Reid Madiuk's been putting on a toolbelt since he was twelve years old, alongside his father, one of Whistler's first residential builders. As a third-generation Whistler and Squamish builder, Reid brings over 20 years of carpentry expertise to designing and constructing exceptional homes.