Monday, February 29, 2016

"Little Things Can Make Huge Differences For Aging-In-Place Design"

In many places in life, it's the little details that make a substantial difference in the outcome of larger events. Many sporting contests have been won by just a fraction of extra effort - a horse race won by a nearly imperceptible amount that had to be determined by a photograph at the finish, a 500-mile auto race that is won by just a few inches, a player catching a pass with the narrowest of space between him and the boundary, or a goal being attempted as time runs out and actually counting after the expiration of the contest.

The difference between getting a perfect score on a test, making the cut, or achieving a passing mark might be just doing one thing more than someone else or just obtaining one more point.

So it is also in design, and especially aging-in-place design or solutions. There are so many little things that can - and should - be done to improve the quality of life of people as they age that may go entirely unnoticed or viewed as acceptable by the general population because they are relatively common or are not seen as important concerns.

Sometimes it the size of something - making or using something just a little bit shorter or smaller than customarily is the case, or going the other direction and having it be larger. It could be the color - using a more contrasting color so that aging eyescan distinguish between two items more easily or differentiate between surfaces. It could be the height or physical location of switches, countertops, windows, or other functional items where just a little lower installation would be more accessible and convenient to for someone to use. It could be the width, size, or swing of doors that facilitates rather than hindering access and ease of movement.

When two flooring surfaces or two different materials meet in a home, there is a height difference with one surface being thicker than the other and thus slightly higher than the adjacent surface. It could be where ceramic tile and hardwoood meet, carpeting and tile, carpeting and vinyl, hardwood and vinyl, or any other two types of surfaces. They might just butt up against one another, or there might be a metal, wooden, vinyl, or marble molding strip used to separate the two and create a transition. This transition - whether a molding strip is used or not - is a little thing that can cause a person to catch the heel or toe of their shoe or foot, have difficulty moving a walker or wheelchair over the seam, or affect someone's balance and sense of equilibrium.

Small cabinet and drawer pulls and handles - especially the round ones - may look nice yet but hard for older hands to access and grasp easily. Faucets with small handles or ones that operate rather stiffly compared to others also present challenges for people to use easily and effectively.

Light switches and other controls that are located at easy to access heights or those that require little physical effort or maybe no physical touch at all (such as motion sensors) again are little details that can make a big difference in aging-in-place environments.

Keep these and other little, but important details, in mind when striving for safe, comfortable, convenient, and accessible aging-in-place living spaces.

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Steve HoffackerCAPS, MCSP, MIRM, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555.