Aging in Place Comfortably and Stylishly
They never wanted to call it retirement, but for Susan Farnsworth, Leigh Hough and Jean-Philippe Jomini, a throuple — a romantic partnership of three people — that has lived together as an intentional family for over 15 years, it felt important to get a head start on finding a home that would accommodate future needs for aging in place.
Three consultants in their mid-60s, they share a home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but decided a few years ago to look for a second home in southern New England, where they have friends and family.
A string of open houses and home tours turned up nothing truly satisfactory. So on a whim, they checked out a “land for sale” sign during a day of driving around Guilford, Conn., and there it was: an unimproved 1.7 acre lot of restored tidal marsh that had the allure of ever-changing scenery, natural light and an array of wildlife.
They purchased the land for $320,000 in the summer of 2016. When it came to design, a few things were nonnegotiable: enough privacy to allow for plenty of windows, tidal marsh views, and an easily maintained home and yard that would also be eco-friendly.
Their individual wishes became diplomatic discussions — was there room for a putter-worthy workshop for woodworking and gardening needs? How about a kitchen garden? These made the cut, as did a small salt-chlorinated pool. But being able to live comfortably there as they grew older together was their primary concern.
“This is the first time we have worked for a three-person couple for whom gracious aging — of materials and occupants — was part of the discussion from the outset,” said Rustam Mehta, a founding partner of GRT Architects, the Brooklyn firm that designed the 3,300-square-foot house.
The one-story house embodies universal design principles that are also senior-friendly, like versatile open spaces, minimal stairs, and wider doorways and hallways. The three-bedroom home is also wheelchair accessible and barrier free — there are no steps or thresholds across the entire principal floor. And there’s not a tub in sight: all three bathrooms feature zero-threshold showers.
For the country’s swiftly growing older population, this safety-focused attention to detail is essential to healthy home life. More often than not, changes are hurriedly made in response to a fall, accident or medical diagnosis. The website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that for adults 65 years and older, $50 billion is spent annually on medical costs related to nonfatal fall injuries and $754 million is spent related to fatal falls.
As baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 continue to age, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that people over the age of 65 will outnumber those under the age of 18 as soon as 2034. To address the needs of this rapidly growing population, AARP encourages its members to carefully consider ways to make their homes places where they can comfortably and safely age in place.
These kinds of upgrades can start with simple things like installing task lighting in kitchens to accommodate fading eyesight and multi-height countertops to allow people of all abilities to both stand and sit while working in the kitchen, investing in nonslip tiles and grab bars in bathrooms, and relocating select electrical outlets to be 18-inches to 24-inches high, up from the more typical 12 inches off the floor to make them more accessible. Bigger changes can include enlarged doorways to allow for wheelchair access or a walker and adding ramps to eliminate stairs.
Dr. Rodney Harrell, the vice president for Family, Home and Community at AARP, says intentional planning to create an ideal space to age in place can be started at any time.
“When we’re not planning ahead we need to react quickly,” said Dr. Harrell, who added that the best homes integrate universal design elements that can accommodate Click here to find out more life for aging, but also unexpected illness, injury or disability. “The vast majority of people want to stay in their homes as they age, and most homes in this country aren’t designed to allow that to happen.”
There are a growing number of resources that can help in this planning process.
AARP recently introduced HomeFit, a free augmented reality app on iOS that can scan a room and suggest improvements to help turn a house into a “lifelong home,” free from safety and mobility risks. It is an extension of the organization’s extensive HomeFit Guide, which is available online.
There are also certified aging-in-place specialists, a wide range of professionals including remodelers, designers, architects and occupational therapists, who can recommend modifications to help people live independently in their home. This designation was developed in 2002 by the National Association of Home Builders in collaboration with AARP and other experts. Specialists can be searched by state at nahb.org, which offers a three-day certification program.
Even the smallest safety updates can potentially be lifesaving.
Ted Porter, a co-chair for the Design for Aging Committee for the New York City chapter of the American Institute of Architects says the process of making an apartment or home aging-friendly can be relatively easy, inexpensive and done gradually over time.