Born for Baby Boomers: How “Aging-In-Place” Can Help You Live in your Home as you Grow Older

The Lake Oconee Boomers Team

Updated on:

scanned picture of meBy Bonnie Joy Flamm, CAPS

The statistics are simply staggering. The “Baby Boomer” generation – those born from 1946 to 1964 – currently account for fully one-third of the American population. That means there are about 77 million Baby Boomers! And two-thirds of those Boomers are now over the age of 50, which means they are starting to experience age-related issues in their homes.

In fact, what some Boomers once strived for – bigger homes with sweeping staircases, polished floors and large sunken tubs – is now coming back to haunt them, as the dawn of middle age and its physical changes is no longer a possibility, it’s a reality. Luckily for them, a concept has been invented which addresses the problems that Boomers are going to have as they grow older in their homes.

“Aging-In-Place” is a term that some Boomers may have heard of, but it is frequently confused with “Universal Design,” and most of them are still unfamiliar with it. All that is about to change. Very soon, Aging-in-Place will no longer be just the latest catchphrase – it will be synonymous with how the Baby Boomer generation is going to be able to continue living in their homes as they age.

The concept was conceived as a result of a study that was conducted by the AARP in 2000, which came to two remarkable conclusions:

  • Americans want to remain in their homes as they mature, rather than seeking assisted living or other arrangements;
  • Older consumers want reliable professionals they can trust to remodel and modify their homes as they begin to face the challenges of aging.

Not only was Aging-In-Place invented, but in order to address the need for professionals to help accomplish it, a training program was developed by the AARP in conjunction with the National Association of Home Builders. This curriculum teaches contractors, remodelers, architects, interior designers and health care consultants the strategies and techniques used to achieve aging-in-place. These experts are called Certified Aging-In-Place Specialists (shortened to the acronym CAPS), and their professional help is exactly what the Baby Boomers need to successfully age in place.

Ironically, there is one huge obstacle to that success, and that’s convincing the Baby Boomers themselves! This is because the entire generation is characteristically loathe to admit that they are aging, and will reject any suggestion to modify their homes with anything that sounds old school or institutional-like. As a result of this inherent resistance, it may take something drastic to convince a Boomer that they need the advice of a CAPS professional.

For example, a Baby Boomer who has just experienced their first “slip and fall” would just accept it and would never even think about changing their floor unless it happened again, and they were seriously injured. Another scenario might involve a Boomer who has previously experienced leg or back pain, which now has become chronic and seriously affects them as they get into or out of the shower or bath tub.  Often the realization that something must change for an aging woman is that she can no longer easily bend over and pick up the dishwasher’s front loading door; indeed, that relatively simple movement has now become a difficult chore!

For the female homemaker – or even for a taller man who now lives alone – a CAPS professional would suggest elevating the dishwasher off the floor to a height that is comfortable for them. But the crucial factor is that a CAPS professional will not just suggest raising the height of the dishwasher — he or she will recommend a way of doing it which will be consistent with the overall design of the kitchen, and not be obvious. That is where a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist who is also an interior designer can be especially helpful, because they know that a Baby Boomer wants to modify their homes in such a way that guests will never know that changes were done to accommodate their aging owners, rather than just to look good.

With regard to the Boomer who has finally come to grips with the fact that they have chronic leg or back pain, a Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist can redesign a bathroom using “barrier-free” shower entrances and adding – gasp! a Baby Boomers biggest fear – yes, grab bars. To deal with that institutional-sounding dilemma, CAPS professionals only recommend the newest, ADA compliant grab bars which are specifically designed with the Baby Boomers in mind. These new grab-bars are incredibly stylish and will never be confused with old-styled grab bars or akin to what public accommodations now use.

For the Boomer that has experienced one-too-many slip and falls, a CAPS expert will recommend various kinds of non-skid flooring.  Once again, due to the demand of the Baby Boomers, there are now a number of new flooring options that are not only great looking, they are essential for the continued safety of homeowner.

Whatever kinds of issues the over-50 Baby Boomers are now being faced with, the time has come for all Boomers to admit that they are getting older and will need to modify their homes if they want to continue to live in them. Luckily for them, they can now “age in style” as they “age-in-place.”

Aging-In-Place vs. Universal Design

There is frequent confusion with regard to the terms Aging-In-Place and Universal Design. And with good reason, since all of the modifications used in Aging-in-Place are also the same ones used in Universal Design, yet the opposite is not true. .

“Universal Design” of a home means that it has been designed and built so that it can be lived in by anyone – regardless of their size, age or disability. 

“Aging-In-Place” is the process of making specific, targeted modifications to the home as a person ages so that they can safely and comfortably remain living there – hopefully for the rest of their lives. 

The difference between the two concepts can actually be quite remarkable. For example, in a Universally Designed house, all rooms must be designed to accommodate a person who is confined to a wheelchair. The modifications done for an Aging-in-Place home do not necessarily have to have wheelchair accommodations; although it could become one of the modifications that is eventually done as the homeowner ages.

Tips for Aging-In-Place

The concept of Aging-In-Place means modifying the parts of your home that are no longer safe for you as you age. Typically, these involve the kitchen, bathroom and entrance ways. Here are some examples of modifications you should consider doing to your home.

In the kitchen:

  • For someone with a bad back or who now finds it uncomfortable to reach up or bend down, consider elevating the dishwasher or using top-drawer types of appliances.
  • If you are in an older home and are experiencing diminished eyesight, a very economical addition to the kitchen is “task lighting,” which are strips of lights that are attached to the underside of the upper cabinetry and then hidden from view with an edge detail.
  • For a homeowner who has had a slip and fall or even a bad back, replace a hard, slippery surface with back-friendly, non-skid flooring that is consistent with the style of the home.

In the bathroom:

  • For someone who is now having trouble bending or turning, consider replacing an old toilet with one that is at “comfort height,” which is typically at 15 or 16 inches tall.
  • If you are starting to have problems using your hands, replace the standard toilet tissue holder with one that can easily be switched out using only one hand.
  • For those who now requires some kind of help getting in or out of the bath tub, consider installing grab bars. Whatever your resistance is to grab bars, get over it! Due to the Baby Boomers demands, grab bars are no longer depressing and institutional reminders that they are aging. Rather, all of the new kitchen and bathroom products that are designed and made for Aging-In-Place are extremely stylish.

At the Entry way:

  • Install an automatic sensor light which shines directly onto the front door’s locking mechanism.
  • Buy a table or build a sturdy surface directly in side the foyer so that you can immediately place packages on it after opening the front door.
  • Consider installing a ramp to one entrance of your home if you are starting to have trouble going up or down steps.