The Resurgence of Aging in Place

December 18, 2013  
Filed under Aging Parents

By Clara Rose Thornton

Between the early 1980s and the Great Recession of 2008, caring for senior family members in the home statistically lowered in America in favor of paying for assisted living communities and nursing homes. The culture of multigenerational dwellings also declined in middle and upper class America, as healthy, energetic seniors opted for independent living communities.

But with personal finances hit hard in the last few years, aging in place has experienced resurgence. Seniors and their families who opt for home care should be well informed on the ways to make their environments as functional, safe, aesthetically pleasing, stimulating and enjoyable as possible. The process does not have to be maddening or a severe financial burden. With lessened stress due to educated choices, the experience of togetherness can move to the forefront.

There are new, ready-made developments to ease aging in place transitions, namely MEDCottages and purpose-built multigenerational homes.

On November 27, 2012, The Daily Mail reported on MEDCottages, the pre-fab, high-tech living units for aging family members created by the Virginia company N2Care, which fit easily into standard backyards. “The $125,000 dwelling is being marketed as an alternative arrangement for people struggling to provide adequate care for the aging relatives since assisted living communities have become stigmatized and inviting an elderly relative a spot in the home can prove a squeeze. … The structure, which has earned the unflattering name ‘granny pod’, measures 12 by 24 feet, which is the size of an average master bedroom. ‘The inside maintains a comfortable home, using the space efficiently to create sleeping, living and bathing areas, ‘ the website describing the MEDCottage facilities explained.” Find more information at medcottage.com.

Some people are against the ‘granny pod’ model, feeling it’s akin to putting a loved one in a shed in the backyard. Blogger Ann Pietrangelo writes, “There are some really great alternatives to the ‘granny pod’ on the market. All of the biggest builders in the country now offer multigenerational floor plans that are meant to accommodate people of all ages. In some respects, it is now up to cities and towns to change their zoning laws in order to allow this type of housing and make sure that more seniors are able to age in place and be surrounded by their family members.” (“The ‘Granny Pod’ Alternative,” Care2Causes.com, August 23, 2010)

What about those operating in a traditional setting? What are major factors to consider for a home’s aging-in-place readiness?

For a healthy, independent senior remaining at home, or for a family remodeling a home, here’s a checklist and concerns from Certified Aging in Place Specialist Larry Dean, of Burlington, and from Vermont aging-in-place builder Tom Moore of Underhill Center.

Larry Dean completed his CAPS training prior to joining Wiemann Lamphere Architects, a firm that designs independent living and assisted living facilities.

“As a Certified Aging in Place Specialist, I’ve consulted privately for individuals with disabilities interested in buying a particular house and wishing to know if the house could be made accessible for current and future needs. I’ve worked with retrofitting existing homes to accommodate aging and/or disabled family members,” said Dean.

Dean explained how he evaluates a home. “A consultation can include the existing layout, noting the position and condition of rooms, stairs, plumbing, width of corridors and doors, and elevation changes. Learning the current and future needs of the client is very important. It is essential to listen and learn from the client that which is most significant; for one it may be an accessible kitchen, for another it may be an accessible path to the back yard, or keeping the bedroom on the second floor. Once the existing conditions and needs are known, the design consultation can begin.”

Dean stressed the importance of aesthetic and function, so that these homes increase universal livability and enjoyment.

“Accessibility is universal; everyone can use a ramp. Lever knobs and thick-grip tools are easier for everyone to operate. Wider doors and turning spaces can be more comfortable and should be thought about during the initial design of the home. Depending on the budget, there are wonderful products that can be seamlessly integrated into a home, such as attractive towel racks that are also designed as grab bars. I like the new push-pull lever doorknobs from Brinks that allow one with limited use of the hands to easily open a door. This would include someone with hands full with bags of groceries.”

And what did Tom Moore, who started his company Tom Moore Builder, Inc. in 1974, choose as one of the biggest precursors to a rewarding and enjoyable aging in place experience?

Quite simply, “organization —  a place for everything and everything in its place.”

 

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