My Name is Laurie and I am an Empty-Nester
The day every parent both dreads and anticipates arrived for me in late August of last year.
I became an empty-nester: my youngest left for college.
When my oldest of three children left nine years ago, I remember how glad I was to have three children spaced nine years apart. It would be that much longer before I became an empty-nester.
Now that my baby is in college, the notion that I can change my residence has started to percolate. The winter of 2015 in New England was enough to make anyone move especially to someplace warm year-round. But I find myself wrestling with so many issues. Where will I go? What will I do with a house full of furniture that is still very dear to me, many of the pieces I took from my parents’ house and painstakingly refinished?
I discovered that I'm not alone. The baby-boom generation will be the largest population to approach retirement age at one time. For many of us, down-sizing is not an option. For one, based on housing values, it may cost more to downsize. This is definitely true where I live, just outside of Boston. For another, we may not want to uproot ourselves from the lives we've cultivated in our present abodes – the friends, hobbies and cultural pursuits that ground us and give meaning to where we live. This is why aging-in-place is the hot topic for us boomers.
How do we adapt our living situation to the physical realities of aging? Luckily, many manufacturers now recognize the increasing demand for furnishings that are both functional and aesthetically-appealing to help transition to these realities.
What adaptations will we need to make? Here is a list with some resources that will make our aging-in-place homes both look good and function well.
1. Easily maneuverable hardware
Lever handles and rocker switches make turning faucets and light switches on and off and opening and closing doors easier to manage.
Moving shower controls to the wall nearest the entry point will let us control water temperature from outside the shower. Hand-held sprayers also make bathing easier. Adding a seat to the shower is recommended.
Motorized window shades and draperies let elders control natural light with a touch of a button on a remote control device.
2. Hard-surface flooring and/or low pile carpeting with no thresholds
For elders requiring a wheelchair or walker, smooth, hard surface flooring like hardwood floors make maneuvering easier.
Nonslip surfacing is especially necessary for wet areas given that falls account for more injuries and hospitalizations among the aging than any other known cause. Taking away thresholds between rooms is important for elders who are visually impaired.
3. Widening doorways to at least 32 inches is essential for those confined to wheelchairs
4. Adaptive seating
To aid sitting and standing, seating with seat heights between 19 and 22 inches high is important. Seat depth should also be comfortable. Chairs with arms and firm seats assist with sitting and standing. So do motorized lift chairs which look like typical recliners.
Comfort-height toilets that are two inches taller than the standard 17-inch high toilets also make sitting down and standing up easier.
5. Appliances and work surfaces within reach
Lowering the height of everyday appliances like microwaves and adding front-loading washers and dryers foster self-care. Similarly does lowering some or all of the kitchen counter surfaces.
6. Room sensors
Motion controlled light switches help with energy conservation for elders who forget to turn off lights.
7. Color palettes.
As we age, our color perception changes. Bright colors with high contrast are more suitable than monochromatic palettes. For the memory impaired, color coding assists wayfinding (for example, keeping hallways all one color, bathrooms another).
Eliminating the use of stairs is obviously preferable for safety's sake. That may mean adding a bedroom and full bath to the main living floor. If that is not possible, there are chair lifts. But chair lifts may require having double sets of walkers or wheel chairs on both floors.