Thursday, November 29, 2007

Another note about attitude and planning ahead

I came across a couple of blog entries that spurred some thoughts related to the last post. The first opened as follows: "The accident that alters your life happens to you at the most unexpected moment in your life”. The author was primarily discussing issues for the disabled in public places, but notes that the aging population is also a large issue for design. What struck me about this statement was that it is true whether we are 40 or 80--few of us truly think that a disabling fall or other event is going to happen. And hopefully, it won't, but there is a difference between optimism and denial, between expecting the worst and actively looking for ways to avoid or mitigate the worst.

This ties into a statement by Elinor Ginzler, 55, AARP's director of livable communities: "We minimize risk in our financial investments. Why shouldn't we do it in our homes?" Elinor is quoted is a very good article that appeared in the Washington Post written by Annie Groer and available online at this blog (click here). She makes an excellent point--much of this is about risk management, just not risk management in a way we are used to thinking about it. AIP is about more of course--all the emotional benefits of staying independent--but perhaps it behooves us all to think of it more as risk management. That certainly puts a virtuous, non-indulgent tone on it. It helps convey that you have a range of options, all of which can help and deliver different benefits according to your needs and goals, just as you have different options for your financial portfolio. Most seniors would not invest in penny stocks, but not thinking about their aging-in-place needs is just as risky. and mitigating that risk can be as simple as just moving the coffee machine up to the bedroom, as one couple in the article did.

The first entry, author, by the way, is writing about Sri Lanka--another example of the global relevance of this issue. That blog is available here.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Positive Attitude

One of the things we often think about is that real success for Aging in Place will come when more of today's elders (and the boomers who will follow) develope a more positive attitude toward AIP modifications. I came across an article that put it well: "The key to aging in place, experts say, is to embrace rather than deny the need to adapt living spaces to meet physical changes as mobility, eyesight and hearing decline." This came from an article from the Washington Post, but I found it reprinted in the on-line version of the Hong Kong paper The Standard. Link to The Standard Article.

This article profiles the efforts of 90 year old Charlotte Goldstein to adapt her home to improve safety. The picture shows some basic handrails put up to complement the existing banister on her stairs. A very practical solution and a fairly common project for our company. But I am still more likely to encounter people who say they can make do without the second rail. I recently met with a woman who had already fallen and fractured a collarbone who refused either a second hand rail or any form of slip protection on her stairs because "it just wouldn't look right." However, I think that seldom are these reactions about cost or aesthetics--simple rails are not that expensive and I am as likely to get resistance from the well off as those who struggle on a fixed income. Plus they can be made made to fit in with decor and are easy to remove.

No, unfortunately it is the perceived weakness that such modifications are seen to represent that prevent "embracing" making changes to our homes. That and persistent denial even in the face of real need. Mindsets like these create the most resistance. Only when an increasing number of people see that the virtue is in preparing and that part of being able to keep your home is keeping it appropriate to your abilities and phase of life will a major barrier to successful aging in place fall to the wayside.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Aging in Place runner up for word of the year

I came across this snippet yesterday--Oxford University Press gave a nod to Aging in Place as a runner up for the 2007 word of the year.

"Locavore" got the top honor (that means someone who tries to eat foods grown/produced locally.) In the justification is was noted that the past year as seen a strong trend in that direction (which I can confirm, it's certainly at evidence in our home.)

So, can we assume that the nomination of Aging in Place for the honor is also supported by a strong trend? Certainly the phrase is not a new one, it was becoming well used six years ago when we began work on In Your Home. Is it now rising to the awareness of dictionary publishers everywhere because of the trend's momentum? Let's hope so.

OUP defines Aging in Place as "the process of growing older while living in one’s own residence, instead of having to move to a new home or community."

I'll leave it to them as to why it is considered a single word.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Making people whole again

Last summer a client threw one of the those "This Old House" parties to celebrate the end of a large project. This happened to be for a couple moving to town to be closer to family. One half of the couple needs to use a power chair to get around and we created a number of features and design elements with her needs in mind--smooth flooring throughout the home, a bathroom designed around her needs, some basic modification to make the kitchen more useful, modifications to exterior paths, etc. She expressed her gratitude to our team with the following words. "In my last house I increasingly felt like an invalid. In this home, I feel like a person again."

We are doing more projects these days that are not for seniors or related to aging or disability. There are two primary reasons for this. One is that we have a top notch rating on Angie's List and get a lot of calls from people outside of our target demographic (Angie List is a great resource, we even use it to find subs.) The other is word of mouth referrals--once you do a good job and show that you are a reliable resource, friends and family members come knocking.

We're business people so we're practical. And we have a great crew that we are committed to keeping employed and busy. So we happily take on projects matching our skill sets regardless of the age or ability of the customer. A kitchen remodel for a growing family, rebuilding a dilapidated garage for the daughter of a client, a bath remodel for an executive woman. Creating a space that someone enjoys, or helping to remove worry by fixing a maintenance problem, is always enjoyable.

And as we so often say, aging in place isn't about grab bars and ramps, its a much broader vision of home environments that support our stage in life, and at its core that is a vision that fits with people of all ages and abilities--young families, fit and vigorous seniors and folks with impairments. So we try to leverage our experience and common sense into all the projects we do.

But we have to admit, the greatest joys come from our projects where we can impact a life like we did for this woman. Our personal spaces should be refuges and havens, not daily struggles to accomplish simple tasks. That's a very attainable goal for homeowners and one that will pay back the homeowner in a variety of ways. And it pays us in spades when we get this sort of appreciation,well beyond the financial earnings.