Aging in Place

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Aging in Place

You may already know that Universal design is the legacy of the late Ron Mace, FAIA, and founder of The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. His vision was of a world accessible to everyone regardless of abilities. Using some of the Universal Design principles when building a new home or doing a remodel allows a person to stay in their home longer and also increases the market for the home when it’s time to sell it.

Have you ever sprained your ankle and realized how hard it is to get around in your current home? Not enough room for you and your crutches in your hallways? Hard to get in and out of your shower? Your master suite is located on the second floor of your home? These are all issues addressed by Aging in Place and Universal Design.

Aging in Place and Universal design affect everyone, not just older adults. “This stay-at-home approach requires planning to accommodate the physical, mental, and psychological changes that may accompany aging,” says Sara Beth Warne of Aging in Place Transition Services. It involves interior design to make living space more accessible for family members and friends. A little planning will allow you to enjoy your home for many, much more year “Most American housings was built with families as the model client. Considerations for accessibility and planning for lifestyles of aging adults and the potential need for in-home services or caregivers are rarely addressed in the average floor plan,” says Warne. “Planning early for remaining in a home or relocating to a more suitable home is a difficult and emotional experience. Most aging adults and children of aging parents wait too long for the changes necessary to age in place. The decision is often made quickly and with a looming deadline predicated by illness or a death. This often means a relocation rather than a plan to age in place,” she adds.

An interior designer who specializes in Aging-in-Place (a Certified Aging in Place Specialist) can make a space beautiful, not something functionally ugly, says Ren’ee Hearn (CAPS) of RH Design. “You no longer have to settle for that obvious, ‘handicapped’ institutional look,” she says.
Jennifer Jones of Jennifer Jones Designs says the goal should be not to turn a home into a nursing home situation. “We still need to maintain the architectural integrity of the home. During the inevitable tear-out and rebuilding it may be easier to stay with a relative,” she says.

aging_in_place_shelf_genieWhen purchasing a home you need to decide how long you plan to live there. Will this be the home you’ll live in when you’re retired? Will your parents eventually move in with you? Will elderly relatives visit for the holidays? There are many factors involved in Universal Design that can make your current home more “user-friendly.”

Aging in Place has gained importance as homeowners are opting to keep their current homes rather than purchase a new one. With the renovation, clients want to get the most out of their investment should they wish to sell. “We’re finding more people leaning towards using a natural stone to update their spaces,” states Tiffany Peck of Materials Marketing. “We have found that many clients would like a durable stone floor for their large spaces,” she adds.

Melissa Sutherland, CKD, Allied ASID, of Hermitage Kitchen, says, “As I work with clients building or remodeling a kitchen or bath, I ask them how long they plan on living there so that I am aware of future needs. We all hope we will not need assistance, but as we age, everyday tasks may become more difficult. The important thing to remember is that good design, planning ahead, and other strategies may make the difference between relocating or staying independent as long as possible.”

To address mobility, accessibility, and visibility, Sutherland says there are some questions to ask. “Some important things to know are their height, physical limitations, are they left- or right-handed, can they stand for longer periods of time?” she says.

One story homes are the easiest in which to age in place, but today’s real estate market makes them difficult to find. So do you remodel your current home to make it more accessible or build a new one? There are a lot of things to consider with either.

“Smooth transitions between flooring surfaces and care in the selection of the pattern (to avoid a dizzying effect for older eyes) are important,” says Bohnne Jones of Decorating Den Interiors. “We talk about floor covering, carpet vs. hardwood, with carpet being warmer and more slip resistant. Area rugs do present a tripping or slipping issues, which become more important when people have mobility issues,” she adds.

Leslie Shankman-Cohn (ASID, CAPS, CGP) of Aging in Style says that while the mature market wants home modifications that increase efficiency, convenience, and comfort, they also want their homes to be more luxurious with the addition of state-of-the-art media, entertainment spaces, hot tubs, top-of-the-line appliances, and other features. ”We help make independent living a reality for everyone with features that are usable and accessible to all,” she says.

“Basic concerns are stairs inhibiting access to parts of a house, doorway and hallway widths, and the accessibility of the bathrooms, especially the bath and shower,” says Cara Highfield of Kenny & Company. “One’s life can change overnight, so it’s very important to consider these factors in advance.”

Offering a new solution to the inconvenient bathtub issue is Eric Stacy of Miracle Method. “A new process allows us to cut a lower access point into the tub that is cleanly finished and is aesthetically appealing. The cut-out can be replaced at a later date and you’ll never know the conversion has been made.”

Amanda Sweeney of Just Design This says, “Aging in place is part of everyone’s life. Homeowners who are in this category should consider a one level house, heights of working spaces that can be adjusted, a wide hallway, accessibility, and a zero entry shower. Aging in place means the biggest concern is accessibility.”

“Tall Cabinets with rollout shelves make reaching stored items convenient and safe. Making them adjustable assures that as your reach changes the drawers can be lowered or raised to fit your needs. Tall cabinets can also accommodate microwave ovens and other small appliances,” says Hearn.

Charlie Rose of Shelf Genie of Nashville says, “We work extensively with the aging population and we hear our customers constantly saying that as they age it has become harder to reach, access, bend, lift, push/pull, the many things they have around the house. It is the everyday activities we all take for granted that slowly become issues for us all. Quite often we hear ‘I used to be able to get down there and reach that pot in the back of the cabinet but I just can’t do that anymore.’ That’s where good design and thoughtful planning combined with practical solutions can really help those that want to remain in their homes.”

You can start by “changing out the handles, knobs, drawer and cabinet pulls, and switches so they are reachable and easy to grasp,” suggests Gail Adkins of Change Magic Interior Redesign. She adds that she can also ”help you arrange your furnishings for easy traffic flow, comfort, beauty, and simplicity.”

“Items that can make their bathroom accessible—decorative grab bars that don’t look institutional, ADA-height toilets, faucets with ADS handles, channel drains for a barrier-free shower—make the difference,” says Kenny & Company’s Highfield.

Mobility is the first thing to be addressed when working with clients to make their home more comfortable today and possibly for years to come, according to Jennifer Markanich (Allied ASID, NKBA) of Timeless Interiors. “This includes adequately sized passageways and doorways, level changes, addressing steps, ramps, and elevators,” she says.

“Stairs are the most obvious issue for the aged or disabled homeowner,” says Decorating Den Interior’s Jones. “Wider staircases can be outfitted with chair lifts. However, if the stairway isn’t wide enough, adding a chair lift can create a safety hazard for others using the stairs.”
Another issue with Aging in Place is deteriorating vision. “A good way to make sure there is plenty of light is to layer the lighting, says Hermitage Kitchen’s Sutherland. “At the ceiling use a white recessed light with an even spread, then add lightings such as under cabinets task lights and a light over the hood area.” She adds that contrasting colors define spaces better—for example, darker cabinets and lighter countertops. Lighting and surfaces should avoid glare and shadows.

Joe Swanson of Swanson Construction says, “Increasing lighting and energy efficient lighting, such as CFL’s, help with energy costs, while illuminated light switches help aging homeowners navigate their homes.” He adds, “Front controls on ranges, raised dishwashers, lowered microwaves, color separation in countertops, accessible showers, deadbolt doors, and so forth are important products that help homeowners age in place.”

”Technology is instrumental in increasing accessibility” according to Richard Friesen of Absolute AV Consulting. Technology can offer video communication with friends, relatives, or caregivers. It can also easily light a pathway to the bathroom or kitchen. Other possibilities include the remote reporting of medical status items such as glucose levels or blood pressure to care providers; medication reminders; or personal emergency notification.

Technology makes it possible to e-mailing a family member if a door is opened or not opened at a usual time or simplifies life by allowing someone to control a television without disturbing anyone else in the house, according to Frierson. He adds that home automation, lighting control, temperature control, shade/drapery control, pool/spa control, observation camera control, automated door lock control, whole house audio and video systems, and wiring infrastructures can be controlled by technology.


There are a number of sources for aging in place design in the Greater Nashville area including:

A Better Nest Nashville 615-624-0954

Aging in Place Transition Services Nashville 615-330-9918

Aging in Style Memphis 901/ 683-5598

Absolute AV Consulting Brentwood 615-394-9423

Change Magic Interior Redesign Nashville 615-275-9514

Decorating Den Int. Nashville 615-469-7334

Hermitage Kitchen Design Gallery Nashville 615-474-6206

Jennifer Jones Design Nashville 615/ 354-8907

Just Design This Auburntown 615-578-4738

Kenny & Company Nashville 615-782-8000

Materials Marketing Atlanta, GA 404-478-2770

Miracle Method Nashville 615-223-1768

RH Designs Nashville 61 5 -618-6884

Shelf Genie of Nashville Shelbyville 615-351-089

Swanson Companies Murfreesboro 615-896-0000

Timeless Interiors Old Hickory 615-406-1986

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