Wednesday, July 5, 2017

"Creating Aging In Place Solutions Is More Art Than Science"

We like order and structure - some of us more than others. We like dependable results that we can count on regardless of where we are or how we do them. We like knowing that certain actions will always produce what we expect.

When it comes to assessing people's needs in order to apply aging in place solutions, it might seem that it's as easy as applying a standard formula or regimen of best practices or proven results to achieve the desired outcomes. This would be the scientific approach.

Nevertheless, what seems so easy and applicable at the outset begin to give way to individual needs and requirements. What seems like a textbook approach becomes anything but that. This is where the art comes into play.

There are many consistencies when it comes to creating a safe living environment. Universal design and visitability are the two best approaches for this. They truly offer the simplest expression of equipping a home to accommodate the needs of most people in a way that is not obvious to the casual observer. The treatments are well designed to blend into the surrounding area and provide a safe and accessible environment will looking as if nothing special has been done.

Many published checklists and recommendations for aging in place design actually are referencing universal design or visitability but labeling it as aging in place - giving people the impression that there is a set (or more than one depending on which one is being used) of design criteria that can be applied in every home to achieve aging in place solutions.

While universal design treatments (wider hallways, better lighting, non-slip flooring, lever door hardware, and rocker light switches, for instance) help anyone to age in place well and really can be recommended to be included in every dwelling regardless of its age, location, or price point, this is not the same as creating aging in place solutions. These are needs based and accommodate specific individuals. Again, this is where the artistic part comes in as we match observed needs with desired performance to suggest treatments that need to be implemented. Each case will be different.

If creating aging in place solutions was a science, every home would look exactly alike on the inside. Clearly this would rob people of their individuality and would fail to address the needs of everyone by overcompensating for some and not going far enough for others. 

The other main issues we face when we try to apply a set of one-size-fits-all aging in place design criteria to everyone are the age of the structure (not all of them will accommodate current designs without a lot of expensive renovation first), the budgetary demands (some people have very limited income with which to approach improvements even when they agree those are necessary or important), and personal tastes (people differ in the colors, finishes, brands, styles, decor, and overall look they will accept in their home).

If creating aging in place solutions was as easy as going to the store and buying a set of pre-determined fixes (singularly or as packages) that are widely recognized or endorsed, then we would have relinquished our importance as aging in place specialists. Anyone could be an expert just by visiting their local store or going online and buying the "approved" items to install and then adding them to their home. Only they wouldn't know how many to get. Should they get the entire list even though they might not need them, or should they just do a little at a time?

It's easy to see how approaching aging in place solutions as an absolute science is not the way to go to crate results that serve individuals in their specific situations. It takes an artistic approach to combine need with product, space, budget, and other elements to achieve the desired results rather than just doing something because it's supposed to be a certain way.

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Steve HoffackerCAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist-Master 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. Also check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.