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Blowing Through the Challenges and Embracing the “Whole” of Aging in Place

| Owen Barclay |

Aging in place is certainly about creating efficient, safe and accessible spaces that enhance senior living. But even though we’re planners and builders, we know that aging in place goes beyond structure and design; it’s also about having successful aging in place experiences. And that means adapting to and dealing with all the issues of aging: the so-called “stressors” that are an inevitable part of aging, illness, social loss, physical limitation. 

There’s been a sea change in how experts think about getting older. Years ago, folks who study these things used to define successful aging as being free from disease and disability with a high level of physical and mental functioning. If only aging were that simple.

The truth is most of us will not meet the above definition of “successful aging”. We now take a far more realistic approach to aging. Sure, the “lucky agers” may hit the mark, but many, if not most of us, end of coping with chronic illness and other age-related problems. After all, if aging wasn’t a thing, then “successful aging” would be no different from successful living at any age.

So, we and most aging in place specialists use a very different and more holistic model of success. It’s an approach that embraces notions of self-worth, positive emotional states, and valued lifestyles. In bullet point form, it looks like this:

  • Self-evaluation of success
  • Life satisfaction
  • Meaning in life
  • Positive emotional state
  • Valued activities

Did you notice what’s missing? We’ve ditched the idea that successful aging means being free of disability or disease. And that’s a critical point. Successful aging is about how we overcome infirmity, loss, and illness and take on the challenges of discovering all the new things that aging has to offer.

This is a model that celebrates engagement and the willingness to be resilient and proactive; to step through the obstacles of aging. It more accurately describes seniors as people who refuse to be passive actors when decreased function and mobility make their inevitable appearance.  But most importantly, it’s a model that honors the power that each person brings to the aging process. And it recognizes the important role that outside resources like social services, communities and yes, aging in place specialists, play in meeting the goals of successful aging in place.

How do we translate this model of aging to our core business of designing and constructing aging in place environments? Simply put, we focus on creating living spaces that support the bullet points outlined above. We eliminate or minimize hazards and obstacles and maximize features of living space that ease the path to successful aging in place. Here’s a sampling of what we mean:

  • Replace bathtubs with curbless showers or walk-in tubs
  • Build master bedroom on ground floors and build or expand first floor bathrooms.
  • Install pullout kitchen cabinets, shelves and drawers
  • Replace doors knobs with levers.
  • Widen doorways for walkers, wheelchairs or mobility scooters.
  • Install stairlifts or elevators
  • Install bathroom grab bars; remove area rugs and install floor treads on stairways to prevent falls.

Aging in place design and construction supports this idea by creating adaptive responses to the challenges of growing older. Our mission is helping clients build their own road to successful aging. If you want to learn more about our process, give us a call at 604-259-9774 or email us at [email protected]. We welcome your questions, thoughts and comments.