Staying Home Longer

Lucile Guidry, Attaway, Denise  |  4/15/2009 11:45:48 PM

Gerald Brennan was 84 years old when he observed, “Old age takes away from us what we have inherited and gives us what we have earned.” He was referring to those physical capacities we are born with, but, if some of the things we have earned over time such as our unique identities and our homes, then circumstances and old age may well take those away from us also.

When we think of “home,” our memory often selects a vignette of our family in the kitchen. Perhaps everyone is gathered at breakfast, maybe at a game, children doing homework or another school project. The kitchen heads the list of special rooms in the home, followed by the bathroom and the laundry (or utility) room. All of these rooms require special features such as plumbing, additional power supplies and certain types of access adaptations. No rooms are used more frequently or remain in use longer (both per incidence and over time). Because of this, shouldn’t these rooms be accessible throughout our lives?

According to a United Nations study, people all over the world are living longer now. This means that older folks who might never have lived independently before, are doing so today. As a person’s age increases, so does the need to make his or her home more easily accessible. There are things you can do to help you stay in your home.

Kitchens, baths and laundry rooms are designed (as are most spaces) for use by and “average” person:

  • Average height
  • Average weight
  • Average health

In other words--a person hale and hearty, fully able-bodied and in the first 45 years of life.

Reality shows us a different story. We spend the largest amount of our waking hours in our home in these specially designed rooms. Not everyone is the same or “average.”

Many of these special rooms are not safe, much less fully-functional. In most cases, the overall design of these rooms is unchanged since Victorian times and the dawn of wide-scale indoor plumbing. Even the use of electrification did not significantly change the design used for kitchens, bathrooms or laundry rooms.

One of the main reasons people feel forced to move from their homes is perceived losses of function, independence or safety relate to these three home spaces.

To many of us, it just makes good common sense to adapt currently existing spaces to become more useable. In this way, we get better use of our—now more comfortable—homes, we can live longer and more safely in our own homes and the value of these dwellings increases.

Certain adaptations will require additional structural support, elbow grease and good planning. However, these changes do not have to be cost prohibitive and can be done over time.

It is also important to design new structures to either accommodate later adaptation, or to be built as accessible homes from the outset.

Another important reality to remember is that not only age can change the way we do things, but so can accident, illness and congenital conditions.

All of these aspects should be considered when identifying the purpose for living in an accessible home.

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