For quite awhile prior to my dad’s hip replacement surgery, he managed the steps in my parents’ tri-level home with a lot of wincing and expressions of pain. It was a much loved family home filled with 48 years of memories, but it became very clear that the structure of the home just wasn’t working well for them.
Steps up from the entry and garage took you to the living room, dining room, kitchen, and the back room (aka family room), and then up again to the bedrooms and full bath. Where’s the laundry? You got it…all the way down three flights of stairs to the basement. It was a great family home and the divided spaces was terrific for a growing family, but as the seasons of life changed, it posed new challenges (i.e., the stairs). Modifications were considered, but they simply weren’t practical or affordable.
After surgery, Dad could not come home right away and he had to go to a rehab center to gain strength. There was no choice since he literally could not navigate all of the steps in their home. It was frustrating and exhausting for Mom trekking back and forth to the rehab center. That experience reinforced the need and wish to find a home that had all the essentials on one floor with no steps.
Mom and Dad are part of an ever increasing wave of older adults that are discovering a shift in their housing needs and wants. By 2035, more than 1 in 5 people in the US will be aged 65 and older. That means that as the baby boom generation ages, the 65 and over population will grow to a total of 79 million by 2035 (from 48 million in 2015).1 That’s not a wave; it is a silver tsunami.
With this increase, I expect that we will see greater demand for aging-in-place home modifications and new housing that applies the concepts of universal design to increase accessibility for people of all ages and abilities. There is a lot of opportunity, but we have a long way to go in meeting those future housing needs. Currently, only a small percentage of our housing (approx. 3.5%) has these three key universal design features.
Does your current home have these universal design features?
1. Zero-step entrances – all one level with no steps
2. Single-floor living – all of the essentials on one level
3. Wide halls and doorways – to give ample room to move freely with or without assistance
My parents’ home had ZERO of these key universal design features and it was not possible to modify the house without spending a fortune. Selling their home and finding a better living situation was their only option. The decision took time, soul-searching, research, and many honest conversations.
Mom and Dad celebrated one year in the condo on November 1st. It does have all three of the universal design features mentioned above, plus more. I can’t even count the number of times they’ve said how happy they are that they moved. Recently when more health challenges arose, they said several times that there was no way they could’ve gotten through it in the other house.
Having a home that truly serves your needs is not a luxury, it’s a necessity and the key to your Home Sweet Home in every season of life.
1 Harvard Center for Housing Studies Report – Projections and Implications for Housing a Growing Population: Older Households 2015-2035