Aging-in-Place

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In 2011 I earned the title Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). The primary motivation for creating the CAPS designation was the fact that our population of elders is growing. The Baby Boomers began turning 65 in 2011, and there is a strong cultural preference to stay in the familiar surroundings of one’s home and community as we age.

In partnership with AARP and the NAHB Research Center, NAHB developed the CAPS training and title to equip designers, remodelers, and others with the tools to help people modify their homes to maximize comfort, independence, and safety as their needs change.

Universal Design benefits everyone

Though the target beneficiary of aging-in-place modifications are older adults, of course, the wider population can benefit from homes that are designed to be accessible and safe for people of all ages and abilities. This concept of designing for people with the widest range of abilities is often referred to as “Inclusive Design,” “Universal Design,” or “Design-for-All.” All these terms indicate a certain approach and framework that embrace the diversity of the human experience when creating places, products, information, services, and communication processes.

In the past, much of the challenge of designing for people with changing needs or for universal accessibility involved trying to creatively avoid an “institutional” aesthetic that drained the personality, beauty, and comfort from a space. Today, however, there are many more resources and tools to create pleasant –and even elegant — design solutions that enable independence and enhance quality of life.

Eliminating barriers 

Eliminating barriers to safe, independent living should be a goal of all design. Increasingly, policy makers and organizations concerned with human rights and dignity are identifying the importance of an orientation to design that allows and supports use by a variety of people, activities, and abilities. The World Health Organization points out that one’s ability or disability is a dynamic variable that depends on the situation.

In the kitchen and bath context, sometimes relatively small modifications can remove barriers for people with evolving physical challenges, thus allowing more autonomy and a better quality of life. For example, for someone who is unsteady stepping over the side of a bathtub, a helpful solution would be to remove the tub and replace it with a shower. A more economical approach would be to cut away a portion of the side of the tub and install properly anchored grab bars to help with the smaller step that remains. It is a rewarding challenge to coordinate the functional purpose of a space and the aesthetic preferences and personalities of its users; when successful, overall utility is enhanced, as well as the self-esteem of the users.

The conventional and traditional ways of designing spaces are being transformed. We know there is a broad range of human abilities across a lifespan, so we must apply this understanding to produce products and spaces that can be used by this diverse population. We need to create better design traditions that allow people to graciously age-in-place. I look forward to doing my part!

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