Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Practical mods—what makes them practical?

Last time we rambled on about some types of modifications that can be practical. But when in the course of one’s life does it make the most sense to worry about such things? In some research we did, nearly half of a 55+ sample didn’t disagree that retirement housing is something we don’t have to think about until much later. That’s why we commonly see the need appearing at specific, individual life events.

Life events are easier seen in others than in ourselves. We see the need to make things easier for children—our, or our grandkids. We see the need when someone else struggles to make do. But we tend to miss the need when it is ourselves—maybe we are too focused on our own emotional response to our changes. But life events—positive and negative—should be the natural triggers. Here are a few life events that should cause us to pause and think about our “built environment”:

  • Buying your retirement home. So many times, we’ve hear of someone who bought, built or remodeled the home they plan to live in for their retirement and they gave not a thought to accessibility, caregiving. No planning to put a grab in the shower or even considering if they could easily get out of that deep jetted tub or off the lowboy toilet they liked. Buying a home for your empty nester years and beyond is the time to ensure you have the basic provisions for the future. And, if the home does not have the basics, get them before you move in. Later, it will be a heck of a disruption to your life to retrofit them.

  • Early warning signs. Unfortunately, some of the most enlightened people we deal with are those who have assisted a loved one through a disability or degenerative condition. Being a caregiver can be a wake-up call that helps them to see that one’s home does not need to be such an unforgiving environment (the fifth principle of universal design is Tolerance for Error, which should be expanded to cover the “I wish I had thought this through before” type of error.) When you first get word that you have some issues, that is the time to modify so that your world is as forgiving as possible for as long as you have the ability to enjoy it.

  • Time for you. What is wrong with having what you want? A home you enjoy and can be proud of rather than curse and be frustrated with? As you look to spend more and more time in your home—or maybe a second home—you should look at what you want to do to make it yours. And while you consider the aesthetics, think of your future and what will make this home a haven for as long as you want it to be one. If you are smart, beauty and future function will merge wonderfully.

Often, it also just makes more financial—as well as emotional—sense to maintain and modify your home. Sounds like a good topic for next time.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Proactive or practical?

So, in the last entry we broached the topic of “what is practical” when it comes to home modifications for aging in place. Is “practical” creating an aging-in-place showplace that covers every contingency you might experience? We’d say that’s a demonstration home for ideas and technology, not a real life home for everyday people. Even when we created our two project homes here in Portland, we did not try to cover every possibility and contingency. Instead, we tried to ensure that the basics were covered, which we see including:

  • Good provisions for accessibility. We like the “visitable” rule that says someone in a power or wheel chair can get in to the front door, in to a bath, and through the kitchen. This will cover anyone who has friends who become dependent on a set of personal wheels, or themselves if they temporarily are in a wheelchair. That’s something that will happen to most of us if we live long enough.
  • Well thought out lighting. Most homes were built a) with mostly just switched plugs, which is economical b) with a single domed light fixture in the middle of each room or c) before electricity. Modern lighting designs apply to only a fraction of the available housing stock and mostly at the high end. Scene lighting is an excellent concept that we advocate if you can afford it, but most people benefit from some simple retrofits that include lighted switches, pathway lighting, task lighting and more indirect/reflective light. Oh, and don’t forget making the most of natural light where you can.
  • Reduction of effort. Eventually, even Jack LaLanne has lost some of his vigor (but what an inspiration he still is, eh?) For most of us, it happens long before—few of us will tow 70 people in 70 rowboats to celebrate our 70th birthday even without the shackles. Making it easier to reach, to get things stored down low, to go up and down stairs, even to open the windows can make life at home a bit more enjoyable and safer. Admire Jack, but be realistic about yourself.

  • Smarter bathrooms. We still say that the shower grab bar will be like the seat belt. In the early 60’s, they were an option. Now, try buying a car without them, much less ignoring those “click it or ticket” rules. Every shower should have well designed grabs for getting into and out of the shower—or for hanging on as we wash the bottoms of our feet. Think grabs are a sign of being an invalid? Just watch some 6 or 9 year olds—they’ll grab ‘em without care. As time goes by, more people will accept them as natural--even if they are just the plan jane stainless, public restroom type. But you should see the beautiful ones you can get these days. Of course, grabs are just the start--walk-in tubs, barrier free showers, doors wider than 28 inches, etc all contribute to having a bathroom that serves you well for a long time.

Oh, there’s more. Lot’s of simple things that can be done around the home to just make life a bit easier and to help preserve your independence. But how to decide what’s really needed? What’s practical?

Next time, we’ll talk about when (which situations) make it practical to be proactive.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Will boomers be more proactive about home mods?

I was chatting with an old friend yesterday and we got on to the topic of a long planned addition to his home. Among the several reasons he was questioning the wisdom of the expense was that part of his goal was to build an accessible bathroom. Being hale and hearty today, they may not need such a bath for many years, if ever. This got me thinking about the whole “Boomer revolution” as it applies to home modifications.

One of the conventional bits of wisdom about the home modifications is that the Baby Boomers will get more proactive and be more willing to make (demand?) changes to their environment. But how do we know this will occur? Will we really take a different path than our parents or will we struggle to retain youthful ways and delay addressing practical realities? It's hard to say what the effect of growing older will be on boomers, but we can be sure there will be conflicting forces. Sure, Boomers has a group are seen to have been less stoic and more focused on "self actualization." But prior generations have been just as concerned about maintaining their independence and being in control of their destiny. The problem is, as we age, too many of us lose some of the motivation and give up at the realization that our destiny is never fully in our control. Even if we avoid a crippling condition like ALS or Alzheimer's, we are going to age and it will affect our abilities. But are any of us going to be more receptive to kids harping "Dad, you shouldn't be climbing that ladder”? I suspect this is less an issue between generational classifications and more a reflection of individual personality and family dynamics.

Its probably a good bet that many boomers will fall victim to the same patterns--postponing making hard choices for too long, just like their parents did. Oh sure, modifications will be a lot more commonplace, just because a lot more of us aging into our 70's, 80's and 90's will create the demand. This demographic swell will create one big difference from today--more and more homes will have had the necessary modifications. Once that happens, the idea of adapting the home environment to our needs will be more commonplace and will swell demand further. And since more of us will have helped our parents make these decisions, it should be more natural to consider getting support to keep the home maintained and to make modifications--when we get to “that point.” But these changes are not because of an inherent difference in the Boomer mindset. It will be interesting to watch will be if boomers are really any more proactive in this regard than their parents.