Americans are getting older. (I feel it — don’t you?) In fact, the Population Reference Bureau estimates that the number of Americans age 65 and older will nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060.
Our aging population means that more solutions are needed to help seniors live well. Enter universal design, a concept that strives to make products and structures usable by everyone regardless of age, ability or other factors.
Many aspects of universal design complement “aging in place” — the idea that quality of life improves for seniors when they’re allowed to live safely and independently in their own homes.
But aging in place requires homes that accommodate our needs as we age. Here’s a list of eight design features buyers focused on accessibility are looking for based on survey data from the National Association of Home Builders’ 2021 “What Home Buyers Really Want” report.
8. Lower countertops
Respondents who consider this feature essential or desirable: 43%
The kitchen is the hub of the home and an important part of universal design. Countertops that are a few inches lower than the standard height allow seniors and those with limited mobility to fully participate in meal prep.
Speaking of kitchen counters, Houzz recommends rounding all countertop edges and corners. Fewer 90-degree angles may reduce bumping and bruising and minimize injury in the event of a fall.
7. Lower kitchen cabinets
Respondents who consider this feature essential or desirable: 59%
Small modifications can have a big impact. According to Aging In Place, upper kitchen cabinets that are 3 inches lower than standard height reduces the tendency to overreach and potentially lose balance.
Lower cabinets that feature pull-out shelves, “lazy Susan” corner cabinets and easy-pull handles offer additional convenience for seniors and those who rely on a wheelchair or mobility scooter.
6. Bathroom aids
Respondents who consider this feature essential or desirable: 61%
The bathroom: It’s the one space in every home that gets used daily, multiple times a day. But for seniors, using the bathroom safely can be challenging.
Aging-in-place design can help. These features make bathrooms more practical and convenient:
- Walk-in tub or a shower with non-slip seating
- Adjustable or hand-held showerhead
- Comfort-height toilet
- Ground-fault interrupter (GFI) outlets that reduce the risk of shock
- Grab bars near the toilet and shower
5. Entrance without steps
Respondents who consider this feature essential or desirable: 64%
Universal design extends to the exterior of homes, too. To age in place safely, AgingCare recommends that a home’s main entrance should not have steps and should have a threshold height of no more than half an inch.
Here are few ways an entryway without steps can make life better for seniors:
- It facilitates smooth entrance/exit by wheelchair, scooter or walker.
- It reduces the risk of falls, particularly in snowy or icy conditions.
- It makes it easier to retrieve deliveries and enter with groceries in-hand.
4. Non-slip floors
Respondents who consider this feature essential or desirable: 65%
According to statistics from the CDC, more than 35 million older adults fell at least once in 2018, and 32,000 died from fall-related injuries.
Although it’s impossible to prevent every fall, non-slip surfaces such as low-pile carpet, cork and slip-resistant vinyl can minimize the risk. If you’re considering adding non-slip flooring to your home, keep these tips in mind:
- Choose a versatile surface that’s easy to walk on and works well with a wheelchair or scooter.
- Eliminate the need for thresholds by installing the same flooring throughout the home.
- Avoid area rugs; they can easily become a trip or slip hazard.
3. Wide hallways
Respondents who consider this feature essential or desirable: 73%
Wide hallways — defined as at least 4 feet wide in the survey — allow aging residents to access every space in their home with a walker, wheelchair or scooter, or with the assistance of a home health aide.
For easiest maneuvering, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recommends a minimum hallway width of 36 inches, or 3 feet.
2. Wide doorways
Respondents who consider this feature essential or desirable: 77%
Standard doorways can be as narrow as 24 inches. That’s a tight fit for seniors who rely on wheelchairs, scooters or walkers. Respondents to the survey said they want wide doorways, defined as at least 3 feet wide.
According to the ADA, doorways should have at least 32 inches of clear width. And to ensure easy transitioning from room to room, thresholds should be as flush to the floor as possible.
1. Full bath on main level
Respondents who consider this feature essential or desirable: 80%
A full bath on the main level of a home isn’t only convenient, it’s a crucial safety feature for seniors. Besides eliminating the need to navigate stairs several times a day, main floor bathrooms also allow the elderly to:
- Respond to incontinence issues more quickly.
- Practice regular self-care.
- Access a private space when needed.