A Long Life

Today I want to talk about the delightful possibility of having lots and lots of birthdays.
As we age, it’s very possible it will be harder for us to perform heavy labor.  Our minds may even slow down, though not as a rule.  Yet as a culture, we have almost written off our elderly as irrelevant.  They are grumpy old men and cute old ladies, marginalized by their failure to drink from the fountain of youth.
Elderly People - sign on Warwick Road, Olton
Image courtesy of ell brown via Flickr
They are us in a few years.  I doubt I will feel as if my life is over just because my hair is gray or my children are grown.  I doubt I will stop having relevant opinions or fail to care whether the world is a better place.


Some people retire because they have made enough money and are done with the rat race.  Others retire because they have reached a certain age and society or their employer deems it’s time for a younger crowd to take over.  Some people never retire, working up until grand old ages, either through choice or necessity. Some people think retirement is an idea for ages past.

Retirement might sound to you like relaxing on the beach, or it might sound like the place where people go when they're no longer needed.  How do you picture your years on the other side of middle age?

What does it mean for they way you live?

"Assisted" Living with Multiple Generations

Even as the elderly begin to need daily assistance, 9 out of 10 would prefer to stay in their home, rather than moving to an assisted-living or nursing facility.
"Grandma, Mumsy, me, and my bellybutton"
Image courtesy of craigemorsels via Flickr

Some options include moving in with a grown child or having a grown child (perhaps with their family) move in with the older generation.
In these cases, privacy, acoustic privacy and designated zones help to keep the family peace. (I know neither my parents nor my parents-in-law would appreciate being exposed to small child commotion all the time.)

There are other options, like retirement communities, where transportation, community dining, and daily/occasional nursing assistance is readily available.  These foster independence while providing assistance.

I do often wish that hosting boardinghouses was still a viable option for widows and empty-nesters.  Many municipal ordinances disallow this option.  Young adults and other singles would benefit from these types of housing options as well.

For those who want to “age in place,” there are many remodeling options that facilitate this.  (There are even remodeling contractors who are certified specialists).  It’s not just a matter of a ramp at your front door!

The AARP found that multi-gen households desiring modifications to their homes do so for several reasons:

  • 70% want to make their homes safer for themselves  
  • 65% want to make the home easier to use for all family members
  • 60% want to increase their ability to live independently, and
  • 55% want to provide flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of family members.

According to the 2011 census, over 3.7M American households consist of three or more generations living together.

Universal Design

Me in the wheelchair holding my
youngest; the middle child sneaks
a peek from the beyond. 8/2009

Universal Design is a design approach that strives to create an beautiful space that everyone, regardless of age, size, or ability, can live in or visit. A home planned with the principles of Universal Design makes it easier for residents to live in, and for guests to visit now and in the future, even as everybody's needs and abilities change.

I often wonder why so many public restrooms don’t have handwashing faucets that children can reach.  Or why required entrance ramps are on the opposite side of a building from the main entrance.  Or why some doors are so impossibly heavy for younger and older people.  There’s just no reason for any of that other than that the designer didn’t think about anyone except some abstract-average user during the design.

When I broke my femur a few years ago, I was pretty surprised how easy it was to get around my 100 year old house in a compact wheelchair, except for two things: getting in & out of the house and using the shower/bath.

Universal design acknowledges that regardless of age, our physical limitations change throughout our lives.  And our homes are not only for us; they're for whomever we invite over.

In new construction, shouldn't we demand spaces that will accommodate us and our loved ones at every stage of life?



Related articles:

at CNN: Renovations for the Elderly on the Rise
at MSN Real Estate: Elegant Remodels allow Aging in Place

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