All-Access? Matching Building Design to Elder Needs - Skip to content

All-Access? Matching Building Design to Elder Needs


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The building is a triumph of ADA-compliant design: a brand-new, two-story senior center with both an elevator and a staircase to the second floor, non-skid wood floors, and a coffee bar, oversized checker set and jigsaw puzzles in the main lobby. Well-lit, spacious activity rooms host every kind of class, from Pilates to Zumba, Bridge to book discussion, beginners’ ukulele to belly dance. Seniors can enjoy quiet time in the free lending library, which they themselves stock with previously loved books in genres from Mystery to History to Biography to popular fiction. A state-of-the-art computer-training lab offers instruction on twenty new machines. Of course, the various entrance ways (main, rear, and side doors) and interior doors are wheelchair and walker accessible.

ADA-compliant Home Design For SeniorsOne outstanding feature is four restrooms per gender: two on each floor, at opposite ends of the long corridors that house the multiple open-space activity rooms. There’s just one small problem. The architects didn’t take into account seniors’ diminished upper body strength and agility. The bathrooms’ exterior doors are solid wood (the stall doors are typical public restroom steel). Once an exterior bathroom door is closed, either accidentally or intentionally, someone using a walker, or simply lacking the arm strength to push it open, can become trapped inside.

This is precisely what happened to several older women recently, each of whom had to scream for help in order to be released from her unexpected prison. Even the best-laid Americans With Disabilities Act plans can fail to take into account seniors’ actual needs. Now the facilities coordinator has a new responsibility: making sure all eight outer restroom doors remain stoppered open each weekday from 9 to 5.

When you’re discussing aging in place with your reverse mortgage clients and prospects, seek to discover what areas may need special attention if they’re to remain safely in their long-term home — or, especially, if they’re considering relocating and choosing a HECM for Purchase. Whether there is a gerontechnology solution or something more basic needed, such as door stops or handrails, paying attention to changing physical needs sooner rather than later can make the difference between a home that’s a haven or a jail.

After all, if someone can’t get out of the bathroom in their own house — and there is no one else around, and no emergency response system in place — it won’t matter how esthetically beautiful the house is.



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  1. I hope you sent this to the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) below is a comment about their 2014 “Design Awards”, presumably to “meet the needs of the future”

    The National Association of Homebuilders 2014 trade show and awards program touts their vision of the future of housing by announcing the design award winner for 2014. Get this, the house is 6,750 square feet of living space. A sprawling behemoth that is supposed to represent housing of the future. You can’t get much farther off track than this. How are homes like this going to meet the lifestyle and shelter needs of our aging society?

  2. Jim,

    Thank you. Clearly, a lot of education is still needed! It’s interesting, because the NAHB offers contractors a certified aging in place specialist (CAPS) training program, which I discuss in this article on aging in place:

    Either most builders don’t know about it, or are not focused on the senior market. With the surge in aging Boomers, they’re going to need to adapt fairly soon.

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