Designing for an Aging Population

The growth in the number of adults aged 65 years and older will double over the next 25 years. The landscape of our cities is changing fast. What are the consequences of this growing situation as cities grow and the population ages? Architects have found themselves in a whole new role designing for this new demographic and they require a new set of unique living standards. We must now create more “age-inclusive” spaces and designs with more sensitivity to the needs of the aging population.

An increased senior presence creates many design challenges for the Architect. Getting first-hand knowledge of their living struggles is a must. What we have learned is most of the aging population is choosing to “age in place.” They are unwilling to give up their homes and independence.  Remodeling the current home into a safer, more functional one can be the answer.

Different construction details must be considered in the design phase to ensure the home is suitable for the needs of the aging individual. It is said that older people spend as much as 80 percent of their time in their homes, frequently alone and with fewer social contacts. Sometimes the architect must work within the confines of current home plans. Elderly remodeling may necessitate tearing down of walls in order to create a more open floor plan with fewer obstructions.  It may also require new lighting systems and new larger windows in order to optimize home lighting.  We have become aware that mobility seems to be one of the bigger challenges seniors face. Because of this, today’s architects are creating designs that are stair-free, with larger hallways and/or more open floor plans. Designs with wider doorways, no-step entries, lower sinks, safety showers, and bathtubs create a safer, more comfortable environment. Wireless video monitoring can also help. As soon as it is installed worried relatives can oversee the daily lives of their family members without meddling or interference.

Here are a few more examples of innovative design for the elderly living at home:

  • Use mechanisms that are easier to operate; choose door levers over doorknobs.
  • Replace light switches with a rocker panel that is preferable to a toggle switch.
  • Add awning-type window units because they are the easiest to open and close.
  • When building a new shower, choose a no-threshold or walk-in shower and consider incorporating a seat into the design.
  • Manufacturers now offer grab bars specifically designed to replicate the appearance of a tower bar and aid mobility.
  • Installing thermostatic shower controls and anti-scald water devices can help protect against injury.
  • If you have a bathtub and shower combo, a shower curtain is preferable to sliding shower doors. Shower door tracks should not be installed on the bathtub rim as they can be unsafe.

We must keep in mind the main objective: for seniors to be able to live in their homes as independently as possible. How best to meet these circumstances can be an issue and Architects and Designers are working hard to understand how best to help them so do. The aging individual requires a different approach to design and it applies to where they live, work and play. Innovation is needed in order to allow the elderly to enjoy many years to come in their current residence.

Globally, the demographics of our population are constantly shifting and growing older, a change that is being powered by more access to the right resources and education on health and well-being. This being the case, choosing to age in place requires thoughtful consideration of the changes your home requires in order to make it safe and enjoyable. Addressing these issues in your own life can help you and your aging family to cope with day-to-day life.  The smallest design retrofits can have potentially life-saving impacts. Even if you are in excellent health, homeowners in their 50s and 60s should begin to consider aging-in-principles when renovating.  Nobody likes to think about it but subtle design choices can have a profound impact on how long you can comfortably live in your own home, without compromising your aesthetic aims.  From preventing falls through something as simple as choosing the right type of carpet to design welcoming shared spaces to help address social isolation, architects have the chance to improve, and even extend the lives of seniors. Keep in mind that a little pre-planning can go a long way to keeping you and your aging family safe and happy for many years to come.


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