It’s been called a “silver tsunami” — and, no, that’s not in reference to some off-colored tropical storm. The term actually refers to the vast numbers of aging baby boomers in the United States and around the world. According to Forbes, the number of people older than 65 will double in the next 25 years, and by the year 2020, the number of older people will outnumber children younger than age 5 for the first time in American history.
The impact on the healthcare industry of these soon-to-be seniors has been well-documented, as has the increased need for assisted care facilities. But there’s also a new trend developing: Many adults don’t want to spend their last years in a retirement home. They want to “age in place” — that is, remain in their current home for the entirety of their lives.
“According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), nearly 90 percent of seniors want to stay in their own homes, and it’s not just an aging population that is thinking about this topic,” says Ridley Wills, owner and design director of The Wills Company in Nashville. The home construction and remodeling company has seen an increased number of people who want to retrofit their homes to be more senior-friendly. “Many of our clients are children with aging parents who want their home to be accessible for their loved ones,” Wills adds. “And also according to AARP, 54 percent of adult children think that their parents will need such help.”
But regardless of whether older adults desire to remain in their own homes, or if adult children anticipate that their aging parents will be moving in in the coming years, there are typically at least some renovations that need to be made to accommodate the needs of the elderly. Like The Wills Company, many other design firms are beginning to specialize in these types of renovations. Here are some of the most common home updates being made:
“Bathrooms are most often where we find homeowners needing a bit of help,” says Wills. “Many bath adjustments are easy to achieve and not that expensive, such as installing grab bars and adding taller “comfort height” toilets (so seniors don’t have to bend down as far or have a difficult time standing back up) and lighted magnifying make-up mirrors.”
In addition to those easy fixes, Wills also notes that the company does sometimes field requests for more extensive remodeling projects, including shower rebuilds that have no thresholds. When mobility is an issue, even stepping over a short bathtub wall can be problematic. No-threshold showers have entrances that are flat on the ground, making entry and exit a breeze.
Doing laundry is never really fun for anyone — especially older adults, who may have to go up and down flights of stairs in order to reach a laundry room, which may be located in the basement or on another floor of the house that is separate from the main living area. Moving the laundry room to the same floor as the master bedroom is a standard “aging in place” update, as is relocating the master bedroom to the main floor of the house (again, to avoid stairs).
And speaking of stairs, these frequently used pathways almost always need to be addressed in the homes of aging adults. They are a common problem for obvious reasons, and, says Wills, “The ‘fix’ can range from building a ramp, to installing an elevator, to completely rethinking the design.” Ultimately, he adds, “Just like each home and each client, the solutions differ depending upon the needs of the individual situation at hand.”
Hallway & Doorway Expansion
Another common issue for aging adults is wheelchair and/or walker accessibility. For seniors who rely on these tools for mobility, it is imperative that hallways and doorways are wide enough to accommodate them. According to Wills, this is typically already the case in most instances, as these are generally the areas requiring updates least often. But, if not, a contractor may need to knock down walls to expand entryways accordingly.
Outside Entry Updates
Like the main walkways and entryways inside the home, the pathways inside or outside of the home will need to be updated for adults who plan on exiting and reentering on a regular basis. Sometimes these updates do involve design or construction work, as in the case when building an outdoor wheelchair ramp or adding a railing to a flight of steps. Other times, though, the adjustments are much more simple. “Occasionally, someone needing additional room to enter and exit their car while in the garage will need shelves relocated or some no longer needed items hauled off to provide that additional space,” says Wills.