At 72 and 65, Tom and Susie McSweeny love to ballroom dance. “Tom does a mean samba,” Susie says.
Still, Tom has arthritis. So, despite their active lifestyle, when the McSweenys built their Edgewater, Md., house in 2013, they asked their architect to incorporate “aging-in-place” features — including an elevator, wide doorways to accommodate a wheelchair and a flat, no-step entryway — into the design.
“You have to be realistic,” says Susie, who has a background in nursing. You don’t know what health issues you may develop as you get older, but “you try to plan for it so that you can enjoy your later years.”
The McSweenys said they wanted to prepare their home now so that those accessibility features would be ready and waiting.
Aging-in-place design choices are gaining a higher profile as baby boomers become a larger and larger segment of the population. According to AARP, the majority of older Americans want to stay in their homes permanently and live independently. This demographic change translates into demand for residential designs that anticipate changes in health, vision or mobility, and ensures that homes stay safe, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing.
Related to aging in place is “universal design,” which emphasizes accessibility for all, with no sacrifice in style. Components may be as simple as abundant lighting, lever-style door handles, well-located storage, chair-height toilets, slip-resistant flooring and open plans with plenty of circulation space. The most visible result of aging-in-place design is living space that simply “feels roomier and more open,” says Russ Glickman, whose North Potomac company, Glickman Design/Build, specializes in accessible multi-generational and universal design homes.