Monday, August 18, 2014

Housing the Elderly vs. Housing FOR the Elderly

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 including citations to local, state or federal laws that may mandate certain elements of universal design for new construction.

Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Housing | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Housing the Elderly vs. Housing FOR the Elderly:


Here's a piece from the NYT earlier this summer about how zoning in Portland, OR, has made ADUs easy and popular:

Posted by: Andrea | Aug 18, 2014 6:01:39 AM

This new concept of housing for the aging parents in the family home setting of an adult child should also recognize the commitment required over and above food and shelter. As long as everything has been thought out, then this might be a win-win. Statistically, I think it’s the adult daughter or the adult daughter-in-law who becomes the primary caretaker. This adult child may find herself faced with dilemmas about leaving the family compound for her own life’s outside activities and appointments, or even work. What if outside Adult Day Care just doesn’t work – because of inappropriate behavior or dislike? For an absentee caretaker, unanswered telephone calls to check on the parent(s) create concern. This may be because of an inability to hear a ringing phone. A cell phone that vibrates might work, except it’s often left in the charger on the nightstand. What about the elderly mother who wants to “help” by starting meal preparation before everyone gets home …. but absently lets the food scorch in the pan which sets off the smoke alarm? What if the parent requires a TV to be set on extra high volume to hear, but refuses any kind of headphone option? The parent will need transportation to doctor, hair, and other appointments. The non-custodial siblings have to be supportive, or else there may be accusations of manipulation of bank accounts and assets (although admittedly this can happen even if the elderly parent were residing in a retirement home). Do I mention all this from my own experience? No, but I heard from a friend. It was very tough and somewhat “politically incorrect” to openly admit that the arrangement wasn’t working, and she confided in me. All I can say is “beware, and have a safety hatch.”

Posted by: Jennifer Young | Aug 18, 2014 2:08:56 PM

Post a comment