As aging in place professionals, we could step in and do our assessment of what we think might need to be done in their space to enhance their quality of life and the way they use their space, but let's give people who are aging in place in their homes some credit for spotting improvements that would help them.
This could a change related to the home itself - flooring, lighting, doorways, hallway width, cabinet height or style, countertop height, window size or style, tub or shower, faucets, sinks, or appliances - or it could be related to a particular physical need or limitation they are facing in their home - vision, hearing, or mobility (getting around, reach, standing, sitting, squatting, bending, lifting, holding, grasping, or range of motion).
Regardless of how much the change might appear to be obvious to us, or how simple or extensive it might be to install and complete, let's pose a question to the actual homeowners who are aging in place.
Let's ask them what one item - if they could only pick one item and someone else would pay for it and have it installed - they would choose to have added to their home or would choose to eliminate. We are asking them what single change they would like to see made to their homes to make them more livable, friendly, safe, accessible, usable, or enjoyable as they continue forward in living there.
They might have dozens of items that are on their wish list of changes they want to make. That's fine, and that shows that they are constructively looking at the living environment and planning on ways to make it better and stronger for them to live and get along within their space.
The challenge is not in finding how many items need to be added, fixed, eliminated, or changed. It's the opposite of this. It's to find that one area or item that would make the biggest difference for the way they use their home right now. It a priority setting. It translates into finding the most important item that can be added or subtracted from their home that they feel would make the most or largest difference in how they use their home and remain living in it.
What would people choose to have done if it was going to be done for them - but it had to be the highest priority item for them? This wouldn't necessarily be the most expensive improvement they could think of or the most elaborate. It also wouldn't be a project but a single item. A kitchen or bathroom remodel is a project. A new refrigerator or roll-in (curbless) shower is an improvement. Similarly, removing worn out flooring or removing a wall that is restricting passage or shrinking usable space might be such an item - a subtraction instead on an addition.
This is an interesting question to pose in a simulation like this, but the lesson is real. When we meet with people, we need to get them to focus on the area of their home - one item or a few - that would have the most dramatic impact on their ability to continue living in their home. Then we can build our proposal around it. This doesn't have to be limited to one item, but in using this approach, we get people to prioritize what they would like to have done and think of what the most important thing is to work on - undoubtedly they have considered this before we even pose the question.
Steve Hoffacker, CAPS, 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.