Sunday, September 28, 2008

Aging in Place - Universal Design

Your home is your refuge. A sanctuary that should be as comfortable as possible, for as long as possible.
People are remaining in their homes longer than ever before. The challenge is to design a home that will be open and usable throughout your and your family's lifetime, regardless of changing capabilities. This concept is called "universal design"-the craft of designing a home that is open to people of all capabilities, whether that includes children, elderly or those inconvenienced by a temporary or permanent disability.
It is also a fact that more homes are becoming multi-generational as Baby Boomers bring their aging parents home to live while still raising families of their own. It is not uncommon today to have small children and grandparents in the home at the same time. The challenge, therefore, is to ensure that the home is usable by each member of the family, today and in the future.
Where do you begin? First, analyze your lifestyle and your family's unique needs. Do you have someone in your family who needs to sit down while preparing meals in the kitchen or who may have balance problems stepping into a tub? Do you have small children who could help in meal preparation if they had a lower counter at which to work? Are you planning on having children in the future? What features would make your home more comfortable during the pregnancy and for the infant children?
Second, decide how long you want to stay in the home. If you plan on keeping your home into your golden years, you may want to consider some accessible features, such as digital displays which are easier to see; wider doorways that can accommodate walkers, crutches and wheelchairs; minimum thresholds on interior and exterior doorways for easy maneuvering; etc. There are thousands of ways to make a home more usable. The key is to look at the "universally designed" products and match them to your home, your capabilities and your anticipated future needs.
Third, if you are planning on selling your home in the near future, consider these facts that: Currently 49 million Americans have a disability, with the number of elderly persons expected to reach an all-time high at the end of this decade; experts predict that by the year 2000, fully one-third of the country's population will be either disabled, chronically ill or over the age of 65; and 84 percent of senior citizens prefer to remain in their home as they age (according to the "Understanding Senior Housing" survey conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons). If you want to sell, universal features may help. Until that time, the universal design features will only make your home more convenient for your family.
Fourth, talk to your remodeling professional about available options. There are a number of universal products available on the market that blend seamlessly with other popular products. There are also a variety of design ideas that can make the home easier to live in for everyone, including the new trend toward open living spaces and the great room.
Fifth, the most important step: Match your design to your family. Each family will have different challenges and anticipated needs. You may find that varying counter heights in the kitchen are a good idea for your family, while more floor space in the bath is not a viable option. The point of universal design is to make the home comfortable and convenient for its occupants throughout their lives. Your remodeling professional will be able to provide the best solution to meet your particular needs.

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