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Winter Safety + Home Improvement

How to Design Your Home for the Future

Rodney Harrell

Vice President, Livable Communities and Long-Term Services and Supports, AARP

Many of us are living with a version of the “Peter Pan syndrome.” We do not think we will ever grow old and when it comes to our homes, we are not thinking about the options and features that will meet our future needs. This is a big mistake.

Ten thousand people turn 65 each day in America and roughly one-third of households have someone with a disability living in them. Despite this, only 1 percent of our homes have the features that are conducive to aging-in-place. Many of us will experience difficulty doing things and getting around the house as we age, such as trouble with bending, reaching, and seeing or climbing stairs (younger family members may deal with these issues as well). 

With a little bit of forward thinking and smart planning, we can prepare for many of these potential challenges in the home. Planning ahead means we can integrate these needs into our home design and avoid crisis-based design decisions after we (or a family member) have an incident that reduces our ability to get around.

Imagining a livable home

While some people think of institutional grab bars and linoleum flooring when they think of an age-friendly home, there are a wide range of features that can be both attractive and useful to us at any age. 

For example, a wall-mounted oven makes it easier to transition food from the oven to the countertop, but is also helpful for someone in a wheelchair or with trouble bending. Lever-style door handles are helpful for those with arthritis, but also provide better grip than knob-style door handles for people of any age. Pullout storage makes it easier to organize your kitchen or bathroom sinks, and is helpful for those who have trouble reaching items in tall or low cabinets.

Renovations can be pricey and time consuming, but you can keep costs down by incorporating universal design elements in your current remodeling plans. For instance, popular kitchen remodels can include features such as multilevel countertops, layered lighting, easy-to-reach outlets and switches, and easy-to-open cabinet hardware. 

Similarly, while renovating a bathroom, consider a curbless walk-in shower, room to navigate, and non-slip tiles. By incorporating these types of features into existing renovation plans, you save the expense of redoing it in the future.

The truth is, we plan for many things in the home, whether it’s baby-proofing the nursery, installing security systems, or even creating the perfect entertainment center. Why not plan for your future now, regardless of your age?

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