June 2010 marked a beginning for the firm Andrew Robinson Architect- Designs for Independent Living; I published my first article trying to make the point that we can enjoy living our homes through our retirements if we take advantage of good design and technology. In one article I tried to make that point and offer some practical, constructible features and tell the readers where to get professional advice.
With time, ideas, like us, mature. First, not only home renovations, but most homes need to be designed to be used by the widest practical range of people. We are plagued with outmoded housing stock. The term “Peter Pan Housing” has been used to describe homes built for young families and which haven’t changed as those families grew older. We should not equate disability with advancing age. But, we do have to recognize that there is an increased likelihood of reduced abilities through accident, illness or degeneration with age. How many of us know people who are abandoning their second floors? How many of us know people who are unnecessarily homebound because they cannot get up and down the stairs to the front door? Or, have to spend for home aides because they are not able to navigate and use the bathroom? Designing our homes to be practical for a wider range of abilities when they are built will decrease the need for renovations and re-building. This benefits the homeowner with a long term saving and benefits us all because it is a more sustainable practice.
Second, one size does not fit all. This applies to the design of single family residences and assisted living facilities. The term “environmental press” is used to express the role of challenges presented by performing tasks when viewed together with how it affects one’s behavior. Continuing to cope with typical everyday demands keeps us engaged and active. A well designed home will reduce the physical and mental stress of activities. In our own homes we can adjust the physical needs to our abilities and maintain a level of activity that is appropriate. Because a group facility has to address the needs of many, the required efforts are reduced to a low common denominator. The alternative of moving to an assisted living facility often reduces the environmental press. Less demand and less response, and the healthy impacts of meeting life’s challenges are erased.
Third, living with independence does not mean living alone. Social contact and community involvement have been shown to be contributing factors to longevity and quality of life. It may sound oxymoronic, but to be independent we need help from others. We need the resources to maintain our health and our homes in order to do the things we choose. The growing village movement is creating this necessary support system. Our aging demographic will continue to increase, overburden and overwhelm the established assisted living and nursing home infrastructure. The creation of member organized and supported “virtual villages” is reducing the need for government tax payer funded services. A recent U.S. News and World Report article reported how Beacon Hill Village, considered to be the first intentionally organized virtual village, sees the benefits to the individual of community involvement and activity. I have been encouraging our neighbors to learn about villages and particularly our own evolving Amity Village forming from Home Haven Villages.
At the outset, Designs for Independent Living recognized the need to a team with professionals in health care, elder-law, finance, and construction, not only to provide good design, but to help clients with effective services. Hearing often, “That’s a good idea, but I don’t need it, yet” has made me look at the larger picture. Grab bars and ramps are helpful hardware, but it will be our adaptation to a re-forming stage of life that will remodel our world and make our older years safer, healthier and more rewarding.