Aging Professionals Avoid "It Won't Happen to Us" Syndrome

Event: Aging-In-Place…(Aren’t We All?)
Location: Center for Architecture, 06.28.11
Speakers: Eric Cohen, AIA, NCIDQ — Senior Associate Principal, Ethelind Coblin Architect & Faculty, New York School of Interior Design; Rosemary Bakker, MA, ASID — Research Associate in Gerontologic Design in Medicine, Weill Medical College of Cornell University
Moderator: Ellen Fisher, PhD, ASID — Interim Dean, New York School of Interior Design
Introduction: Elizabeth Murray — Interior Designer & Aging-in-Place Consultant
Organizer: AIANY Design for Aging Committee

Our aging population is increasing and will continue to become a higher proportion of our total population as more Baby Boomers reach senior status in the next two decades. It is said that every eight seconds an American turns 65. Thus, we need to plan to accommodate a large number of people with a range of limited physical capabilities so they can continue to lead productive, independent lives. Panelists emphasized that we must become more realistic, overcome the “it won’t happen to us” syndrome, and engage in planning for our own futures, as well as those of our clients.

Designing to make our environments more age-friendly is beneficial not only for seniors, but for people of all ages, including mothers with young children and individuals with a variety of physical disabilities. There are numerous ongoing efforts in the U.S. and in other countries to increase awareness of the needs of seniors, many of which are focused on incorporating amenities into living arrangements that allow seniors to remain in their own homes or neighborhoods, rather than relocating them to assisted living facilities or nursing homes. This makes economic sense for our society and fulfills the preferences of most seniors to stay in their familiar communities.

The aim is a combination of independence and interdependence, and is especially workable in an urban environment where many services are available in reasonable proximity to homes. Eric Cohen, AIA, NCIDQ, senior associate principal at Ethelind Coblin Architect, and Rosemary Bakker, MA, ASID, research associate in gerontologic design in medicine at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, presented several examples:

· Family-type Small Homes, permitted by recent legislation in NY State, where up to four unrelated individuals can live together, each in his/her own bedroom, with shared common spaces. A live-in caregiver, who may be of a similar age as the residents, provides necessary assistance. This mode of living promotes friendship among strangers, and eliminates feelings of isolation that often affect seniors.

· The “Greenhouse” Model, , a larger group home to accommodate about 10 residents plus staff.

· A 21st century version of the Granny Flat,, designed specifically for seniors, in close proximity to living quarters of others who can provide assistance when needed. Permission to allow this may require changes in local zoning regulations.

· Co-Housing, where a group of friends or strangers with a shared mission, often including several generations, design a living community consisting of private and shared spaces for themselves. Each individual performs services that result in the operation of a co-operative community. This approach can be applied to the renovation of an existing urban building or to totally new construction.

Existing apartments and houses can be made more convenient for everyone through the use of a number of strategies: color and appropriately-sized fonts and icons to highlight the controls of household appliances; textures to appeal to the sense of touch (certain textiles can incorporate bio-monitors to track residents’ vital signs and send data to their physicians); lighting from multiple sources to avoid glare, prevent falls, and emphasize grab bars and kitchen and bathroom facilities; daylighting and light-transmitting surfaces to foster a sense of orientation; patterns that are not confusing, especially on floors/carpets; magnetic cooking systems that heat only the food in the pan, not the pan itself or the stove; non-slippery surfaces in bathrooms and kitchens; roll-in showers without curbs; and lever faucets.

AARP and other organizations are currently conducting research to determine the effectiveness of some of these innovative solutions being developed and applied. A “Compendium of Community Aging Initiatives” was published in March 2010 by the Center for the Advanced Study of Aging Services at the School of Social Welfare, University of California at Berkeley.