You Can Plan to Choose, But Choose to Plan Wisely

­­­­­I’m talking to the leading edge of the silver tsunami, boomers in their fifties and sixties.{{more}} We may not all have Peter Pan personalities, but most of us live in Peter Pan houses. Our houses were not designed for us to grow old in them. Our depression era parents held their experiences close to the vest and coped with conditions, the choice to stay at home was a default option.

Moving meant upheaval and separation, changing the scenery and personal routines that had become so familiar. So, until forced out by physical disabilities and mental impairments, some of our parents stayed at home and coped. We have different perceptions and expectations of aging and life beyond retirement age.

What has changed the script around dealing with aging is the increased and growing realization that there are so many of us who will need to modify our environments to continue our lives in comfort and safety.

Despite this, building codes do not approach the issue beyond accommodating persons with major disabilities in public places and certain multi-family housing cases. Recognizing that a decrease in physical abilities and the likelihood of disease come with age is rational, but there is no certainty about where, when or how we will be affected. Aging is not tantamount to becoming disabled.

Take advantage of the advances in technology, product design and the principles of Universal Design to modify your home and environment to fit your lifestyle instead of just getting along. We can plan to choose – stay in our homes or relocate to a community or facility with the features that will contribute to our safety and comfort.

But first we must choose to plan. We must choose to examine our needs and resources: like we plan financially for our futures. Ask yourself, “What will I need in my home to be safe and comfortable? What are the resources my home affords? What is technology or assistive devices are readily available to meet foreseeable needs? and How will I cope with an emergency?”

Too much to think about? Begin with reducing the biggest threats to your well being. One fall can take away your independence. Start by eliminating trip hazards. Some non-structural things to do are:

De-clutter your home

Remove or firmly affix area rugs.

Make sure there is space around your furniture large enough to easily navigate through  

Check all lighting and increase brightness if necessary. Good lighting in hallways, bathrooms, kitchens, garages, entrances, sidewalks and driveways and on stairs will illuminate walkways making it easier to see.

Install motion lights throughout the house or make sure you always turn lights on as you enter a room.

Keep items in reach without the need of a stool or ladder.

Use raised toilet seats.

Install additional stair railings to fit your height and reach.

Common sense, right?

But if you commit to thinking about these things, you can expand to planning to stay in your home. There are home accessibility and safety checklists all over the internet and in magazines and books. You can consult with a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist and plan the features you want to incorporate into your home and establish budgets and schedules to put them in place. Good planning and good design will increase the value of your home and make it invaluable to your well being and happiness.

ANDREW ROBINSON AIA Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist, is an architect and founder of Designs for Independent Living. He ­­presently chairs the Woodbridge Architectural Review Board. He is a member of the board of the Orange Economic Develop Commission and is assisting the Home Haven Village on the Household Services Committee and in forming the Amity Village. Contact him by phone (203) 795-0665 or at