HOW AGING IMPACTS DESIGN: Living Gracefully and Happily to 100

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Above: The face of aging has improved markedly over the past 25 years to one of health and sustained energy

According to the newest research at the Longevity Center at Stanford, you will live a lot longer than you may think that you will. The Baby Boomer generation is redefining the limits of aging and have been called, The Zoomers! According to an article in The Economist, you may also become happier as you age. When many young people think about aging, they fear and dread it. New scientific research surprisingly suggests that the reality of aging is the total opposite: increasing happiness. The most unhappy people identified by the study were in their late 40s. After age 50, with careful planning and design, many people enter into renewed serenity and joy.

We all want to age gracefully. It is a belief at our architectural firm that good design in your home can be your best ally in achieving a healthy and graceful lifestyle from age 65 and beyond. The factors that impact design for aging are the same ones that impact all good design. Truly great design provides beautiful, functional, practical, accessible spaces on a human scale that relate to the way we live, while continuing to contribute to enhanced psycho-social well-being.

Below are some of the factors in aging, which need to be considered in Aging-in-Place (stay in your home and community) design. Some of the things that can occur are not particularly pleasant to consider. But, the earlier we understand these factors, the better we can mitigate their effects. The solutions to these factors help people of all ages and physical abilities and comprise the concept called Universal Design. Our firm also believes that universal design plays a part in sustainable design. And by extension of this thinking, sustainable design contributes to sustainable relationships and an increased quality of life. A more complete discussion of some solutions will be the content of the third article in our series on Aging:

Today’s seniors enjoy more years of shared and increased quality of life experiences than in previous generations

Functional Decline
Changes in the body due to age can result in loss of muscle mass, changes in balance and other factors that impact day-to-day function. Overcoming these changes requires solid strategy, preventative measures and a good bit of common sense. Recognize how your body is changing and start modifying your environment earlier rather than later to prevent these changes from becoming impediments to a high quality of life.

The elderly may be the group most impacted by depression. Isolation, changes in the body and loss of relationships contribute to older people feeling sad and depressed. The good news is that many types of depression can be treated. Changes in mood are often bio-chemical. The stigma of mental illness has been reduced, as evidenced by recent dissemination of information. Know the warning signs of depression and seek immediate help. Besides accurate diagnosis and medications, access to stimulation, cheerful people of various ages, and exercise are a few keys to elevated mood and high cognitive functioning. Daylighting, simply allowing more sunlight into a home, is a feature of sustainable design that has been shown to improve learning and mood.

Diseases can build up over time. Many older people are dealing with multiple diseases and multiple medications. The symptoms of age-related disease can affect daily life and decrease the quality of life. Managing diseases carefully by seeking the care of well-integrated medical services can minimize the impact of the diseases and medications on your life. Develop an attitude of ‘pushing through’ and hopefulness, regardless of what is being lost as a result of aging. Rearrange/redesign your home to maximize accessibility, accommodate for limited mobility, and limit falls are all important to remaining encouraged and curious about the world. Specific design ideas will follow in the third installment of this series.

Abuse and Neglect
Often, older persons must rely on others for care and support. Abuse and neglect is far too common. Older persons may even, sometimes due to depression, neglect themselves or become unpleasant people to be around. Assist the older people in your life to find the best caregivers possible, rotating them often so that no one person ‘burns out’ in high maintenance tasks. Provide places in your home design where caregivers can reside and entertain themselves with the least amount of interruption in the normal conduction of your family’s daily life.

Seniors are maintaining active lifestyles and healthier practices to enjoy extended life expectancy

Caregiver Burnout
As discussed above, caregivers are essential to help people stay independent as they age and be sure that medical and other needs are taken care of. The problem is that caregiving is hard work. A challenge of aging is making sure that caregivers stay healthy and avoid burnout. Here again, there are simple home design solutions that help caregivers stay strong, healthy and upbeat. These will be discussed in the last installment of this series.

Today’s seniors look at this dour stoic agricultural snapshot of what used to be considered “the average Americans” in a rear view mirror!

Financial Exploitation
Older people are trusting and need more help keeping track of finances — the perfect storm for exploitation. Pay attention to strange and unexpected financial changes and charges. Treat any financial “help” with a healthy dose of skepticism. Set up scheduled payments through trusted bank officers, accountants, and advisors who possess current technical skills. Thinking ahead by integrating universal design elements can allow for smoother transitions to products and technologies that mitigate problems in the organization of finances.

Polypharmacy is a term that refers to the fact that many seniors find themselves seeing multiple doctors for different health problems. Often, these doctors will prescribe medication without fully knowing all the medications and other supplements that their patient is taking. Medications can cancel each other out or interact and produce unwanted and even dangerous side effects. Living in close proximity to medical providers, like university hospitals, that employ integrated services treating the whole patient is most desirable. Designing a home to be simple, accessible, and less confusing aids immensely, when pharmaceuticals may diminsh cognition and mobility.

Vision problems, combined with weakness and a loss of balance create the perfect storm for falls. Add to this a loss of bone density and falls become very serious. Every older person (and every person taking care of them) should assess home and other places for ways to reduce clutter, obstacles, and uneven or slippery surfaces to prevent falls. Design that emphasize wide ranges of motion and safety are part of the universal standards.

Next Article: Great Design For Aging-in-Place!

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