What is Aging in Place?
Generally speaking, aging in place is when older persons stay home instead of moving into senior housing units.
As people age, the tasks that used to be second nature become very tedious. These symptoms often occur when you start having serious medical issues. This might involve running errands and keeping clean, and doing yard maintenance.
Grab bars, light switches, electrical outlets, and more.
Aging in place design anticipates this problem by changing your house according to the limitations you have. This might include adding grab bars, a shower seat, chair rails, lowering light switches, electrical outlets, towel bars, and door locks, potentially making it friendly for wheelchair users, or converting to a no-step entry, depending on your needs. This should help you live independently for as long as possible.
Benefits of aging in place.
The choice of staying in your own home can help you increase your freedom. Aging in place is about keeping or improving your overall health and well-being. Remaining close to family members positively influences the way you feel.
“Where do you think you’ll be in 20 years?”
This is something typically asked during graduations, job interviews, farewell parties, and retirements. There is no right answer to the question. Simply a projected idea of where people would like to be in their life.
However, most wouldn’t necessarily answer regarding the functionality of their home, especially in twenty years.
Let’s answer this question from the perspective of Betsy.
First things first: She just had her 65th birthday last week and is on the cusp of retiring from her accounting firm. During her retirement party, she is asked this very question.
She may tell her peers she wishes to spend even more time with her grandchildren and maybe take them along in her RV for a cross-country trip.
Betsy’s friends, Edna and Sally also convinced her to join their baking club shortly after her final day at work. However, the kitchen in her home of forty years is in desperate need of renovation if she wants to keep up with the baking club.
Keep in mind, even if she renovates her kitchen now and then stays in the same house after twenty years, Betsy will be celebrating her 85th birthday. The thing is, will Betsy still be able to use her kitchen at 85 as she could at 65?
This is where the idea of Aging in Place becomes a factor in redesigning and renovating the house to help Betsy age safely by upgrading all the home features and creating her forever home.
When to make the decision?
The basic premise for Aging in Place is to look into the ergonomics, adaptability, usability, and practicality of the home and how it will eventually be used down the road. The context of the resident’s lifestyle, the surrounding community, and the length of potential time spent living in the same home also becomes very important.
Things to consider would be installing cabinets that are a little lower, adding more task lighting than accent lighting, lowering your light switches, plugs, etc., and potentially switching your stove to have front controls, just to name a few.
By the year 2036, it is estimated that more than half of all Canadian households will be headed by someone who is approximately 55 years of age or older. This demographic largely consists of Canada’s Baby Boomer generation, which is heading towards retirement with more time on their hands.
So, Betsy’s final day at work comes and goes. After spending a few weeks trying to perfect her various confections of baked goods, Betsy realizes just how difficult her arthritic elbow is making it to mix the dough. Following Edna’s advice, Betsy finally decides to visit her local Decor Cabinets showroom.
The functionality and ergonomics of her home now become the largest factor for Betsy to incorporate into the design. Recognizing how each section of the kitchen and bathroom is going to be used is important when focusing on who will be using the space decades down the road.
Betsy learns that Decor already offers highly custom kitchens and bathrooms for any specific preferences in style and functionality. So, there is not much of a shift in designing a custom kitchen or bathroom and designing one with ease of performance in mind.
This is where the interior designers come in to work with the patrons of the home.
The Design process for your existing space
The designers have to take in a wide variety of specific needs when incorporating any possible uses. The Kitchen Work Triangle is a design premise split between three major points of the kitchen: the stove, storage (including the fridge), and the sink. The Work Triangle takes into account how the rest of the space functions within this area of movement between these three areas.
The focus on these three spaces comes down to the fact that they are the most used sections in the kitchen. Once the stove, fridge, and sink locations are set within the design, the orientation of the workflow can then be integrated into the rest of the design.
This is an innate process used for any kitchen design yet is particularly useful when looking into the future of the space.
Lately, more and more home builders are considering this approach when drawing out their initial plans to avoid any later aging-in-place issues.
Modifications to consider
Aging in place means the entire design should be geared towards minimizing the unknown elements and reducing the number of standard cabinet heights dispersed throughout the design, focusing on the person.
Since the designer knows Betsy will be hosting plenty of friends over for the baking club, there are going to be some unknown ergonomic requirements. This is where the typical standard cabinet heights can be used in a small portion of the kitchen design, distinguishing it from the areas that Betsy will use every day.
The central island is a good place to accommodate the unknowns. Since Betsy will use this feature every day, one section will be lowered to allow for tasks such as the mixing of any ingredients, another section will be a little higher for any cutting and chopping, and the barnyard-style sink in the island will be at a height to avoid slouching when washing the dirty dishes. One section can then be at the 36” standard height for those who don’t need the specific requirements that Betsy needs.
Having these baking-focused areas in the central island also allows minimal movement throughout the kitchen, as the designer would present the layout to be near the stacked dual oven combo.
The rest of the kitchen will also have a similar multi-tiered design geared towards further everyday use. One or two sections will accommodate the preparation of the food, while the stovetop will be mounted a little lower. This allows Betsy to have easier access to the pots and pans regardless of which element is being used.
Splitting the stovetop from the oven would help with the overall ergonomics of the space. Because Betsy likes to bake, the two stacked ovens will be mounted higher, making it easier to place and remove any baked goods. The typical bottom-hinged door would be changed out to a side hinged or a central split French door for even easier access. These variant door styles can be used to eliminate the need to reach over the open bottom-hinged door.
The Master Bath
The bathroom also has an important role to play in designing your house for home safety when speaking about ergonomics and functionality.
When modifying your bathroom, whether you have a shower or a tub & shower combo, possible things to consider are adding a handheld wand in your shower, a shower seat, and an adjustable height showerhead as well.
Light considerations for aging in place
Natural light is your best friend. Adding lots of natural light in the home will help you avoid having to reach for light switches unnecessarily.
Lower the height
With most wall-mounted cabinets for someone like Betsy, they will be installed at a lower, easier-to-reach height. An alternate option is to have them mounted at the typical standard height but have the extra shelving integrated into the bottom for easier access to the most commonly used items.
Instead of having the usual full-height, floor-to-ceiling tall cabinetry, these can be replaced with medium-height cabinets. This helps people like Betsy so they don’t need to reach as much for things on the upper shelves. Pullout hardware can also be used to bring the necessary items out of the cabinet box in a similar fashion to a drawer. This minimizes having to reach and move items if something is stored towards the back of the cabinet box.
By the time Betsy reaches her 80th birthday, however, her general health may not be what it had been. So, she may need her son, Dave, and his family to move in with her for extra assistance around the house. Despite her arthritic elbow and waning health limiting her ability to bake, Betsy can still perform daily tasks within her home because of how it is designed for her specific needs.
If Betsy’s young grandchildren want to be a part of the cooking process, the lower base countertops would fit their range of motion and shortness of stature. However, when Dave joins in, there’s a six-inch gap in height between himself and the next tallest person in the house, so the lowered base cabinet height would be too low for him.
As the cabinets that Betsy uses the least were kept at a standard height to incorporate her baking club, her family doesn’t need to adapt as much to the layout.
Whether it is anticipated or pre-planned, designing for a multi-generational home gives a great cross-section into the various needs of who would need what type of ergonomic function.
Why is this Important?
Even though multi-generational homes are becoming a commonality, Baby Boomers who still have their independence will now have their homes become a multi-generational space. Similar to how Betsy uses her kitchen for the baking club, this means sharing the space with friends, family, and possibly the surrounding community.
In recent years, more people are preferring to live in their own homes for longer periods instead of moving towards an assisted living facility. Planning toward the future of well-being and the overall betterment of health gives greater control over independence and quality of life as time goes on.
Aging in Place Study
The University of Manitoba (UofM) has an ongoing study on aging in place, looking into the ergonomics of the entire home. Decor has teamed up with the UofM to learn about how to apply this premise specifically to the kitchen and bathroom.
Within the Health Science Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a small one-bedroom and one-full-bath apartment has been constructed to physically see how the ergonomics of everyday living are affected by various body types, physical abilities, and age ranges.
Nearly every part of the model apartment can be adjusted from the industry standard heights to fit the aging-in-place mentality. In the kitchen specifically, it is divided up into the most commonly used spaces where each cabinet section has a 16” adjustable range in height. All of the appliances can also be adjusted to showcase the ease of ergonomics for any body type, ailment, or distinct requirement needed by the person using the kitchen.
A Statistics Canada Aging Demographics study found that the typical Canadian aged 15-65 fell from 4.9 percent in 2010 to 3.7 percent in 2020. This is mainly due to the large Baby Boomer generation shifting into the older age brackets.
As this generation keeps aging, they may not be as sprightly as they used to be, raising the risk of injury while performing simple tasks within the kitchen, such as retrieving items from higher shelves. This retrieval may involve a step ladder or stool to reach the item, exponentially raising the risk of falling and/or further injury. With the model apartment, however, we can see exactly what height each cabinet type needs to be to fit the range of motion for each user.
Decor can learn where and how to specifically apply the proper ergonomic adjustments in all aspects of the kitchen. Furthermore, we can learn about where the highest points of risk are throughout the kitchen, design the space to reduce these factors, and retain a functionality specific to the person.
By looking towards the future of innovation, Decor wishes to learn as much as possible to leave behind more than we take.