Most of my boomer friends claim that they want to age in place and not move to a senior community or an assisted living home. That is all well and good – but is it feasible and realistic?

To find out, I interviewed Dr. Rosemarie Rossetti, President of Rossetti Enterprises Inc. and an internationally known speaker, author, and consultant in this area.

Rossetti is the author of the Universal Design Toolkit, and she and her husband, Mark Leder, led the team that designed and built their home, the nationally-acclaimed Universal Design Living Laboratory, in Columbus, Ohio.

It was designed to accommodate Rosemarie’s wheelchair accessibility following a tragic accident when a 7,000-pound tree landed on top of her while bicycling.

Universal Design Key

Universal Design is a framework that looks at living and working spaces, as well as products, so that we are creating products and services and spaces to accommodate people of all abilities not segmenting design by age, medical condition or another factor.

No matter what your age, no matter what your size, no matter what your ability, Universal Design is good design, and it accommodates everyone.

Not all Universal Design Homes are alike and not all builders are including Universal Design to the extent that they should, so there are a lot of variations in the 50-plus community homes.

Clues to Universal Design

Your first clue will be, can you get into the home if you were in a wheelchair? The entrance should not be very steep. Having no steps and a very low threshold at the door is key as well. The door should be at least 36 inches wide.

And consider this – can a person in a wheelchair come to visit or come to live in that home?

See Universal Design in Action

The Universal Design Living Laboratory is an award-winning prototype that showcases nearly every conceivable Universal Design feature; has three national Universal Design certifications and the prestigious silver-level LEED green certification from the U.S. Green Building Council and the gold-level National Green Building Standard certification.

There is a virtual tour available where you can see over 700 photos of the home edited together room by room.

Here are some of the things incorporated into the home that you should keep in mind too:

  • Step-free entrance
  • All doors are without thresholds and are wide enough for a wheelchair or walker (36”)
  • Wider hallways (46 “)
  • Lever handles on doors and faucets
  • Various heights of kitchen counters
  • Full extension drawers and shelves in kitchen base cabinets
  • Cooktop set into a counter with open knee space
  • Side hinged microwave and oven doors at countertop height
  • Side by side refrigerator
  • Casement windows
  • An elevator to the basement
  • Lower rocker style light switches (36” above the floor)
  • Higher electrical outlets (25” above the floor)
  • Large bathroom with decorative grab bars
  • Wood, non-slip tile and a dense weave, low pile (< ½”) carpet floors
  • Large bathtubs with plenty of grab bars
  • Curbless roll-in showers with plenty of grab bars
  • Slide bar for shower head
  • Hand-held, flexible shower fixture
  • 17-19” high toilet seats
  • Adjustable hanging closet rods and shelves
  • Front loading washer and dryer
  • Open knee space under all sinks

If you are intrepid, you can also check out the Universal Design tool kit for a complete picture of how to design your home for aging in place.

Aging-in-Place vs the Alternative

Oftentimes, people get accustomed to being in a home for 30 or 40 years. It was their family home and they’ve established all the connections and networks, and they don’t want to leave.

Rosemarie says you have to look at the budget and realistically figure out what it would really take to make the home livable for a lifetime.

Is the house going to be too much to maintain over a longer period of time as your ability to maintain it diminishes? It may just be too large for practicality and too expensive for operational costs, insurance and taxes.

So, every family has to make a lot of decisions and considerations if they’re going to stay in that home or if they’re going to move to a community that has been set up for senior living.

And with that, you still have to understand how the community is laid out and if it will truly accommodate your needs. Likewise, you may decide to build a ranch house from scratch and will need to know how to work with architects and builders, how to read floor plans, and how to advocate for your needs.

What is your experience with rebuilding a house for aging in place? Have you redesigned your home using these principles, started from scratch in a new home, or moved to a senior community? Please tell us your story, including the ups and downs!

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