Because the overwhelming number of people are in the no urgent medical needs category as they age, they largely don't identify with any perceived issues with using their homes. They either don't have physical mobility or sensory issues themselves negotiating stairways, using narrow hallways and doorways, grasping small or hard to use cabinet and door hardware, and living in homes that possibly don't provide as much lighting or safe footing as they could, or they just don't want to focus on the change such improvements might mean because that would mean admitting that age is catching up with them or that their homes are in need of updating.
In a few cases, accessibility home modifications might already have been made. We will see this more and more as we (aging-in-place providers) get involved in the marketplace, but we are in the early stages of gaining consumer acceptance and being able to offer and implement such improvements.
Even when people don't have perceptible needs that require home modifications to facilitate their use of their homes, the structures themselves may the ones requiring attention. Of course, people with progressive or traumatic conditions will likely have identified areas of their homes that can be improved or will be more open to addressing shortcomings of their homes because their daily routines are affected by not having such changes completed.
So, let's look at the homes that may not be serving their occupants very well. Many of those homes were built more than a half-century ago and could not have foreseen or accounted for the way people use their homes today. Some have been modified or renovated over the years, but many have not. Even with those that have seen some upgrades, the work has focused more on finishes (flooring, wall coverings, cabinet and appliance fronts, or hardware) than on major access improvements.
Because many homes were built when the demand for electricity was considerably less than it is today - not having microwave ovens, hair dryers, computers, printers, toaster ovens, spas, pool heaters, and a myriad of other appliances - upgrading electrical service and circuits within a home should be at the top of the list of any planned renovations regardless of anything else that might be desired.
Hallways typically have been much narrower than what is considered to be functional today. Many older homes still have just a single hall bathroom that serves the entire home.
Lighting - even if it's just replacing older incandescent or CFL bulbs with LED bulbs - needs to be addressed. Adding more lighting and having it provide more uniform coverage and eliminate darkened areas within a home is quite important.
Replacing older windows and doors, and especially widening doorways to provide safer, easier access, is something that many homes could benefit from having done.
Regardless of any specific needs that someone might have - or no particular needs at all - upgrading and updating the homes themselves rather than appealing to a particular need that someone is a huge opportunity for us as aging in place professionals. There are so many aspects of a home that affect the general safety and well-being of the occupants that anything we can do to improve those homes will make the lives of the people we serve easier and more pleasant for them.
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.