Aging in place is becoming a big deal in our country. “Aging in place”(AIP) is actually an official term, defined by the CDC as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” This means more than the comforts of home — it means retaining a sense of independence and ownership well into retirement. It also saves the expense of a long-term care facility.

I recently had the pleasure of working with a client on her kitchen that needed to incorporate several aspects of this aging in place phenomena. She was transitioning from a multi-level home to a classic one level rambler. Several design factors I came across when considering how she would use her home had to do with door clearances, lighting, hardware and flooring.

Did you know that an aging in place residence should have additional clearance around all doorways and thoroughfares? In most homes these passageways are only 24 inches, which do not allow access for a walker. Proper access for wheelchairs requires 42 to 48 inches of clearance for all pathways. Doorways should be at least 36 inches wide for the same reasons.If your client wants to keep their existing doors, you can invest in a special hinge that will move the edge of the door out of the passageway. This will give you an extra few inches on any doorway.

No matter what your client’s budget is, make the flooring in their kitchen a top priority. Spills that are not easily cleaned can lead to slips and falls. Any floor covering that you choose should be non-glare. Non-slip tile is easy to maintain and clean. Cork floor coverings may also help to prevent slipping accidents, while maintaining a level of comfort for the feet. However, you need not completely replace your clients existing stone or tile if you apply a slip prevention texture to it. This would not be my first choice, but sometimes you need to work with what your client’s budget will allow.

Also, keep in mind that tile can be difficult to stand on for extended periods of time, especially for people who have hip or lower back pain. Tiles or stones should be kept very small. The less distance that you have between tiles, the lower chance of a slip and fall accident. That said, choices like vinyl, wood or linoleum flooring are usually the best options for an aging in place resident. This is especially true if the resident is confined to a wheelchair. Hardwood is much easier to roll a wheelchair over than tile or carpet.

One other factor to consider is cabinet hardware. Traditional hardware is usually not very convenient for aging homeowners. A D-shaped handle, known as a d handle or loop shaped handle gives a better grip and should be used on all doors in the kitchen, including cabinet doors, appliance doors and doors leading into the room itself.

Get rid of any door curbs that separate the kitchen from the rest of the house. Ideally, the entrance to the kitchen should be flat with no “speed bumps” between rooms. If your budget won’t allow removing door curbs within the infrastructure of the home, you can install a slope that will ease the transition from room to room and reduce the possibility of slips and falls.

I’ve only scratched the surface on the aging in place lifestyle. I’m sure that with more clients needing AIP help, my knowledge will broaden, and lifestyle materials will become increasing readily available. It’s our responsibility as designers to educate ourselves on all factors of this every expanding demographic.

All the best,

Jennifer