Thursday, March 29, 2007

Trouble in Snowbird country.

So, I’m down in Palm Desert with my family for Spring Break. We’re renting a very nice condo in a very nice community where the typical income and age of the homeowners are well above average. It’s snowbird country for sure. Driving around the neighborhoods you see some of the advantages of desert living—minimal yardwork, lots of homes with accessible front entrances and no stairs, the ability to drive your golf cart to the store. Why then, are the bathrooms so atrocious?

This condo has two beds/two baths. Ideal for empty nesters who might want their kids or friends to come visit. But both bathrooms have:
  • Fixed shower nozzles that are mounted about 5 1/2 feet high—requiring an over 6 foot person like myself to do back bends or contortions to get my head under the shower. (Okay, I’ll admit that this is a pet peeve of mine and puts me in a dark mood about the bathroom altogether.)
  • Tubs that have to be stepped into for a shower but are hardly big enough for a bath.
  • Push/pull knob style shower valves that require tons of finger strength to turn them on and a great deal of dexterity and persistence to get them to a comfortable setting.
  • No grab bars—though I can see from the caulked holes in the shower tile there once were some. Looks like they were installed with plastic anchors.
  • Sliding glass shower doors that further make it difficult to climb into or out of the tub.

There are other things I'm not fond of, like having to walk through the master bedroom closet area to get to the bath or having toilets tucked into alcoves. Even without the fact the doors conflict and bang in to each other, these designs just complicate accessibility. But that's not the big issue--a bathroom serves two primarily purpose and design like this makes one of them difficult for many people.

The bathroom actually has some good features—like a place to sit at the counter and natural lighting over the tub. Someone was thinking about livability when they put in those touches. All the more amazing then to see such poor design in homes that are ostensibly built with senior residents in mind—and which are used as rentals where a wide variety of people with differing abilities will visit.

There is little that universal about this design, other than universally bad. Lots and lots of progress to be made in this regard, even down here in Snowbird country.

And I’d like to have a choice word or two with the contractor who saved 50 cents worth of pipe on the supply to the shower nozzle.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The emotional benefits of home modifications

Something people often wonder is “are home modifications effective.” This is usually asked in the context of do they help stop people from falling. But I sat in on a presentation at the recent ASA/NCOA joint conference in Chicago and it reminded me of the wider benefits that home mods can have. The presentation was based on a study focused on the value of home mods in helping people who are aging with a disability to stay in community. But a lot of the findings addressed the emotional benefits of home modifications. In a nutshell, their research showed that modifications helped the homeowners feel more freedom and empowerment—they got out and did more on their own time schedules than those people who had not had needed modifications.

Particularly memorable was the power of bathing independence, which we see regularly in our business. Study participants who could sit in an accessible shower and “let the water wash over me” noted its restorative powers—they not only felt better about their hygiene, but since showering was easier, they actually had more energy to get out and do things. Our clients tell us the same thing all the time—rather than a struggle or an event fraught with worry, an accessible shower or walk-in tub makes bathing comfortable and enjoyable again. It just makes you feel good all over. The researchers noted that other modifications can have a similar effect.

The research was conducted by Andrea Gossett and Joy Hammel from the University of Illinois at Chicago.