Monday, August 18, 2014
A number of years ago I audited a very interesting course in a gerontology program with the title "Housing the Elderly." It occurred to me at the time, however, that the title was a bit unfortunate, as it implied "warehousing" old folks rather than truly accomodating potential needs. Fortunately, over time I have sensed a growing appreciation of the significance of the distinction.
I was reminded of this while reading "For an Aging Parent, an 'In-Law Suite' Can Provide a Home within a Home" in the Washington Post. The article describes the experience of one family's decision to add a bedroom suite on the first level of their home to meet the needs of a aging parent. According to housing experts quoted in the article "demand for in-law suites is growing."
The article contrasts "true in-law suites" -- defined as a "living space integrated into a house to accomodate an older or disabled reative" -- with "accessory dwelling units" or ADUs. ADUs "function as separate dwelling units and often are intenteded for rental." As I recall, a few years ago, prefabricated versions of ADUs were popular in the media and dubbed "granny pods." Does anyone know whether granny pods ever caught on? The article suggests that building codes and zoning codes may present barriers to certain types of supplemental construction. I suspect that it would also be easy to trigger homeowner association restrictions.
The article suggests practical considerations:
- The suite should be comfortable and private to foster a feeling of independence....
At the same time, it should be close and connected to the family living area.
Place the suite on the main floor so that it has access to shared living spaces without the barrier of stairs.
Incorporate wide hallways and doorways (at least 36 inches) in the suite and adjoining living spaces to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers and people walking side by side.
- Integrate features that are attractive but safe and accessible, such as smooth flooring, lever handles for doors and faucets, non-skid bathroom flooring, a large curbless shower, a shower bench, a hand-held shower head, a chair-height toilet and sturdy, good-looking grab bars.
Many of these are core principles for "Universal Design," a housing construction movement that can be traced back to the early 1960s.
Building or selecting a new house? Consideration of universal design features may make it possible to stay at home much longer as you age. AARP offers additional suggestions in a recent interview with Universal Design Specialist Richard Duncan. And more info is available at UniversalDesign.com including citations to local, state or federal laws that may mandate certain elements of universal design for new construction.