What home modifications are needed most and how much are they needed? Mary Ann Jackson analysed 50 home modification reports in Victoria to get an answer. She found that when it comes to ageing in place we are not there yet.
The homes visited all had a doorsill or step at the front door and tight spaces. A screen door complicated matters, and meter boxes also intruded on entry space. Many of the fittings, such as taps and handles were poorly designed to suit ageing in place.
Jackson advises that accessibility issues are endemic to Australia’s existing housing stock. This is a big problem when 39.5% of households include a person with disability.
Architect and Planner Jackson says, “Cooperation, collaboration, and a clear recognition of the emotional, physical, and economic cost-benefit of ageing in place will be needed to rebuild Australia’s housing stock to better accommodate all inhabitants throughout life.” The title of the newsletter article is Ageing in place – are we there yet?
The picture above is famous for its technical compliance, but not usability, and definitely not aesthetics.
Older people and perception of home
Within the findings of an AHURI report is a section on the qualitative research on older people and the perceptions of their homes in terms of ageing in place. The reportis titled, “The role of home maintenance and modification services in achieving health community care and housing outcomes in later life”, and is by Andrew Jones, Desleigh de Jonge and Rhonda Phillips for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, 2008.
Although older people are keen to avoid residential aged care, they seem slow to make any home adaptations to make this possible. The concept of ageing is put down to luck and genes. People aren’t aware of the ways they can control their own destinies and experience of ageing. As much as we might like to put off the inevitable, it will happen sooner or later.
Western cultures extol the virtues of youth and beauty so it is little wonder that anything related to ageing is viewed negatively. That includes making adaptations to the home when it’s time for renovations. Remodelling or modifications are usually done as a result of a major health event. By then good solutions are lost in favour of the quickest way to solve the problem. This often results in poor outcomes and low-quality construction. And this gives modifications a bad name because they are rarely aesthetically pleasing.
“Discharge planning is a quick process at the end of treatment. Remodeling takes time. Designing good solutions is iterative, and unless drawings, permitting, procurement, and scheduling are performed in an orderly process, the results may be chaos, poor problem-solving, and low-quality construction. Home modifications are then seen as a health solution, rather than as a proactive, forward-thinking policy.”
“The researchers uncovered deeply rooted skepticism throughout the general population regarding the idea that individuals could control the course of their aging experience. People tend to assume that whatever happens—good or bad—is a matter of luck or genetics. This mindset creates a paradox: the more professionals in the field of aging urge folks to take action, the less likely consumers are to trust such professionals, because they are making recommendations contrary to consumers’ sense of what is possible.”
Abstract: Three quarters of older adults in the United States would prefer to age in place, but our current housing stock is not suited for older adults with mobility issues and chronic disease. Modifying one’s current home, prior to onset of advanced aging, can prevent falls and illnesses common in late life. Confusion on how to motivate older adults to remodel remains, but there are bright spots in policy regarding home modifications. This article details home modification programs and policy going forward to solve this challenge.
What about a post-pandemic social housing stimulus project? Not a new idea, but such ideas usually relate to new housing. So what about modifying existing social housing? This is so that people can stay in their community for longer as they age. Lisa King argues the case in a research paper with a focus on older women.
King’s paper begins with a literature review of the issues related to older women and housing. The case study takes the floor plans of existing dwellings and makes changes to show how to make them more accessible. The case study includes studio units and two bedroom units. There is also a site plan, a demolition plan and costings too.
King summarises the research by giving a rationale for choosing 1960s dwellings, and says the project is scaleable, modular and cost effective. In addition, this type of work provides employment for small and medium businesses. And of course, it optimises existing stock while improving the lives of residents. King sums up with, “The result would be universally accessible housing and an asset which would assist meet the growing demand for residents to age-in-place with dignity.”
Scope Home Access has developed a Home Modification Assessment Tool, which is mainly for specialised home adaptations, but there are some useful mainstream ideas, particularly for ageing in place. For older people who are thinking ahead about how to stay put as they age, the checklist, although long, does give some good things to think about. However, not everyone wants to think ahead to a time when they might need these designs. That’s the problem.
The tool is good for builders who want to know what to think about in their designs for client renovations. There is also a health and ability checklist at the end. It is the kind of tool best used in conjunction with an occupational therapist.
Because the majority of our homes are designed as if we are never going to grow old, most of us will need to modify our home as we age. That’s if you want to stay put, which is what most older people say is their preference. An easy to read and nicely presented report from Centre for Ageing Better in the UK gives an excellent overview of how home modification improves quality of life, mental health and overall independence. All good reasons for universally designing our homes from the start for the whole of our lives so modifications aren’t needed or are at least easier to do. Dwellings might be a “product” to property developers but for the rest of us a “home” is the pivot point for living our lives.
A great quote from a study participant to reflect upon, “You don’t get taught, at any point in your life, how to become an older person. It just sort of happens, you know…”. So waiting for consumers to ask for universal design isn’t going to work.