Michigan Accessible Homes
A Division of Cornerstone Design Inc, Architects
Frequently Asked Questions: Aging In Place

what is Aging In Place?

This term has been gaining widespread use as the idea of designing a home that allows you to stay in your home as you age.  Aging, of course, can bring many challenges such as illness or disability, and they can be difficult enough to deal with, without being forced to move from your home as a result.

To allow you to age in place, you need a home which can accommodate the types of changes that might occur with your health, without major renovations.  This could go as far as making the house fully accessible, but it does not need to.

Wider doors, attention to door clearances, and turn spaces in small rooms like bathrooms, halls, and foyers, can go a long way toward minimizing the disruption in your life should you acquire a disability at some point in the future, without in any way making your home look unusual.  The only things people might notice are that the house feels more spacious, and it is easier to move furniture!

If at some point you do need more accessibility, you can always make minor changes, like replacing knobs with levers, removing cabinets to create knee spaces in the kitchen or bath, adding grab bars.  But you would not need major demolition that might force you out of your house temporarily or permanently.

What are the major challenges to designing to allow me to age in place?

The features needed are always easiest to add in to new construction.  Some existing homes have limited potential to accommodate modifications.  If your home is too small, you may not be able to add space to bathrooms and halls without making other rooms too small to be usable.  Homes with multiple levels are always difficult to make accessible, especially split-level types where each level is fairly modest in size and there may be three or four different levels to get to.

Any existing home is more difficult to make accessible from the exterior without a ramp that brands the house as "different."  With new construction, special framing techniques can allow a sidewalk to get right up to the front door, so nobody would even realize it's accessible unless they needed that feature.  But most existing homes are raised up above the ground a foot or more, and the framing often does not allow grading up to the floor level, so a ramp can be the only way to go.  In those cases, however, you can always add the ramp if and when you need it, with minimal disruption to your ability to live inside the house.

The other main challenge is deciding what to do for bathing options.  Large roll-in showers can be a nice feature for anybody, but you may not want to go to that extent right away.  Although more difficult and disruptive to add later, it can be done.  Or you may find that you can continue to use your existing tub/shower with some modest modifications like adding grab bars and a seat in the tub.  We can help you decide what options to include.

I don't need accessibility features yet; why should I think about aging in place now?

Consider the situation you could be in, at some point in the future (which, in fact, many of us will be in at some point in our lives).  You acquire a disability, as a result of an illness or accident.  You may be medicated due to pain, or need assistance for normal activities of daily living that before you could do independently.

Is that a situation where you want to tear your house apart to make it more usable for you?  Will you be in a condition to contribute to decisions about what your home will look or function like?  Will your finances allow you to pay for modifications?

Instead of addressing those difficult decisions later on, you can show the foresight to include some basic features into your home now, and live with the confidence that your home will work well for you, regardless of what life has in store.

Also, don't forget that even if you avoid disability for many years, you may well have a friend or family member with a disability that you would like to have visit you in your home.