Aging experts recommend boomers consider the concept of Universal Design as an easy and simple way to plan for their housing future. Universal Design is an approach to design that makes living easy for people of all ages, sizes, and abilities.

Anticipating the change

As people grow older, it becomes clear that many American homes were not universally designed, and things like stairs, narrow doorways and high countertops become quality of life barriers. “Experts tell us that America’s housing stock could be described as ‘Peter Pan’ housing, designed for people who never grow old.” says Cynthia Hellyar, a gerontologist with The Hartford. “As people age, reduced strength, dexterity and mobility can make navigating in their homes difficult and dangerous.”

Facing the change

Though most people want to stay in their homes as long as possible, Hellyar says few make the changes necessary to make it a safe and comfortable place. “Over time, when normal age related changes such as vision catch up with us, everyday activities that were quick and easy can become more difficult and take longer, particularly in a home that is not universally designed.

But she says, older adults can make simple changes to improve accessibility and quality of life. “Replacing round door knobs with a lever style handle can remove a frustrating obstacle and make life easier for someone with arthritis. While stairs can’t be removed, replacing carpeting with treads, increasing lighting at the top and bottom,and installing a second hand- rail can make them much safer.” Hellyar also suggests removing thresholds between rooms and increasing lighting throughout the home.