Posted on June 25, 2019 by Jorie Helms

Construction for an Aging Population: The Influence of Shifting Demographics

Senior citizens are a fast-growing segment of the population. It is estimated that the number of people age 65 and older will nearly double before 2050. While many senior citizens eventually go on to live in an assisted living facility or nursing home, a growing portion of the senior population is focused on age-in-place strategies to stay in their own homes and remain independent for as long as possible.

Aging in place is possible under the right circumstances. Seniors need special accommodations that younger homeowners and home buyers rarely consider. This may affect many of the homes being built and remodeled today and into the future. Contractors who build or remodel homes can better serve this growing niche by remaining up to date with the latest changes and trends. If you're a contractor with a burgeoning business, here's what you need to know about constructing homes for an aging population.

Single Floor Living or Lift Installation Capabilities

In their golden years, many seniors lose the ability to walk safely up and down stairs. Some seniors will manage this problem by installing a stair lift or elevator. Others may simply seek out homes where they can live all on one floor. Single floor living can be accomplished in many ways. In some cases, homeowners install a master suite on the first floor, where they can sleep and go to the bathroom all without going upstairs. Sometimes this requires the homeowner to make an addition to the home. In other cases, homeowners move to homes without a second floor.

Ranch style homes are very practical for homeowners who are unable to go up and down stairs regularly. In some ranch style homes, facilities (like laundry) are placed in the basement. Builders in an area with high housing demand from seniors may opt to move these facilities to the ground floor. Those constructing homes with multiple floors might consider leaving enough room for a lift or elevator to be installed.

Safe Bathrooms

There are many ways that contractors can build senior-safe bathrooms. Existing bathrooms can also be modified to become senior-safe. Common age in place features found in bathrooms include:

  • Walk-in showers. These showers reduce the risk of a homeowner falling when stepping into and out of the shower.
  • Non-slip floors. Slips are a common problem in bathrooms, but non-slip floors can help prevent falls even when the floor is wet.
  • Grab bars. Grab bars give homeowners something to hold onto in the shower and when standing up or sitting down from the toilet.
  • Proper lighting. The bathroom is a place where lighting can be poor in areas over the shower; improving lighting can help prevent accidents.

In cases when the homeowner contacts a contractor to ask for an age in place remodel, contractors can help the homeowner identify areas where their existing bathroom can be improved.

Wheelchair/Mobility Accommodations

Many seniors eventually find themselves in a wheelchair or in need of some sort of mobility device. When this happens, navigating a standard home can be a challenge. Narrow doorways and hallways make it difficult or impossible to maneuver around the house independently. Those who wish to stay in their current home may need a contractor with the ability to widen hallways or doorways. Ramp installation/construction is also important for homeowners in wheelchairs.​ Those who choose to downsize/move will need to find or build a home with these accomodations. For this kind of project, it's important to become familiar with the local building codes. Contractors who are familiar with local regulations can help ensure the changes they make are safe.

Optimized Lighting

Good lighting is an important and desirable feature in any home, but it's even more important in a senior's home. Varied lighting and adequate controls can help seniors avoid accidents. When installing lighting, contractors must ensure that switches are available in all room entry ways, and must also ensure that lighting can reach all dark corners. Hallways in particular can be dim, so installing hallway lighting can prevent accidents.

Helping Seniors Achieve Their Goals

Builders and contractors can help home buyers and homeowners achieve a wide variety of goals and this - broadly speaking - is no different. Like many jobs they are faced with, building a home that is suitable for aging-in-place is not always a straightforward task and, as a result, creative problem-solvers will always be in demand. Looking forward to the future, learning how to address aging-in-place concerns in a home can make an individual or company an invaluable resource to a growing population of seniors wishing to maintain their independence.

John Quinn is the broker and owner of The John Quinn Team of RE/MAX Experts. With over 30 years of real estate experience and a commitment to personalized customer service, John helps buyers and sellers in the memphis area.

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