The term “Universal Design” and “Design for Aging” are commonly used in the design community, but what does it actually mean? According to MJ Lee, a recent Master’s graduate of San Francisco State University, Design for Aging is the desire to live in one’s home as long as possible – preferably to the end of life – and avoid institutionalization.
However, Universal Design applies to everyone. What may be a major barrier or danger when you are older or younger can still be a nuisance to everyone else. For example, two flights of stairs to get to your bedroom or laundry could be impossible when you are 90, a danger to a 2 year old and just a nuisance when you’re 40. Universal Design improves the design of your home for all ages – with the result being a nicer experience at one point in life and a life-changing experience at another point in the future.
The AIA (American Institute of Architects) San Francisco’s Design for Aging committee explored this topic at a recent meeting as Lee presented her Master’s research on baby boomers’ intentions for aging in place. This entailed a survey of 225 adults, ages 50+. When asked of the desire to age in place, 78% of respondents answered yes, which aligned closely with a 2003 AARP study at 80-90%. However, only 30% of survey respondents made modifications to their homes. The leading motivators are to maintain independence and stay in the community.
Home modifications are important in creating a comfortable and safe living space, and boomers should be more proactive in their approach to aging in place. Examples of such modifications include curb-less showers, handrails and zero threshold entrances. The most common home modification was the installation of grab bars. Although not many survey participants made modifications to their homes, a large sample did downsize in terms of footprint. 62% of non-boomers (ages 65+) and 68% of boomers (ages 50-64) lived in dwellings less than 2,500 square feet. A great example is Mona Cain, who now lives comfortably in a 610-square-foot home in her daughter’s backyard, thanks to New Avenue. A major implication of Lee’s findings is for designers to emphasize independent lifestyle when promoting home modifications and incorporating universal design. She would like to expand the cohort group for a further survey to increase the diversity of respondents. To learn more about this survey and her other research, visit her website.