And for many of us even what we want for ourselves and our loved ones.
Which is why I’d like to share with you what a lot of what people are thinking about — where they will live in their retirement years. What’s changed since the pandemic are feelings about nursing homes and assisted living.
Now, I get this is a topic most of us don’t want to dig into or think about. It can feel uncomfortable because it’s not something we openly talk about with our friends, family or communities until something tragic has happened and a decision has to be made BUT… I want to encourage you to at least consider how and where you will live before something steals your freedom to choose and your independence is compromised.
Let’s take a moment and look at the stats…
While nearly 90% of all individuals want to stay in their home as they age, 99% of all U.S. homes are NOT ready for aging in place, according to a 2017 report from Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. This means that at a critical time, you or your loved one may not be able to stay in your home, or a hospital or medical rehab facility may not be able to release you to your home for safety reasons. That’s right, the hospital or medical rehab must ensure your home is safe in order for you to be released, and that includes having a wheelchair accessible bathroom – this is often unknown and overlooked until it’s too late. That’s how many people end up in assisted living when they really want to stay in the home they love.
We never think about things happening to us, but they do. As William Strohman, M.D. of Lifescape in Scottsdale, AZ, says: “As a family practice physician, I see abrupt episodes occur with patients every day, and life can change in a moment.” Things such as a fall or injury, surgery, neuropathy, mobility issues, impaired vision, stroke, heart attack, illness, diabetes complications, or dementia change your needs. If your home is not ready to accommodate those changing needs, you may only have two choices. Have it designed and remodeled or move to assisted living.
And here’s the thing… design and remodeling doesn’t happen in a day.
Now, there are a lot of great senior living communities and even smaller assisted living care homes you could move to. However, if your heart’s desire is to stay in the home you love, to and through retirement, or if you’re planning to have your parents move in with you, you need to prepare your home to have at minimum one bathroom that is wheelchair accessible and safe.
So, while you may be feeling great about your life and your health it may make sense on the economic front to consider an update to your home to take you to and through retirement.
Updates and remodels that support aging in place don’t have to be ugly and sterile. In fact, I am nationally recognized as an innovator and leader for my design work that dispels that very myth.
Gone are the days of industrial grab bars (if you have the right designer), that are highly ineffective without proper installation. I have been ushering in beautiful, elegant, and functional designs that have a positive impact on homeowner finances while keeping them living safer in the home they love.
Did you know that your return on investment for the design and remodeling, when properly and beautifully done, will cost less than a year of assisted living rent and increase the overall value of your home?
I often think of an investment in design and remodeling as the missing link to retirement planning. Experts often talk about your 401K or your IRA accounts and other investments, but rarely do we talk about housing costs, like reserves for Aging in Place design and remodeling or assisted living and long-term care until we’re right up against it. Then we’re blindsided by the cost of living in an assisted living community or care home, memory care, or skilled nursing, which can range between $3,500 and $12,000 per month depending on level of care needed. And with COVID giving us a glimpse of what the future could look like, better to prepare for your future. Now is the perfect time, as you may already be planning post-COVID home renovations.
Plan for long healthy and happy lives, living where you choose.
If you have any questions about what’s next for you or home renovations please reply to this email. I’d be happy to hop on a call and do a virtual assessment of your home. Also, please share this newsletter with anyone that may be planning a home renovation and/or wants to stay in their home through retirement.
A vibrant, healthy couple in their upper 50s, who recently became empty nesters, was excited to renovate their living and formal dining areas to better fit their lifestyle. They invited me to design one large warm, enticing, beautiful space for entertaining. They were tired of the cold, commercial-like feeling of their space and wanted to retire their furniture. The couple loved their slate flooring and wanted to keep it. They also wanted nature to be incorporated in the décor.
Like many adults, they were not aware that at their age they
should be proactively having their home designed for successful aging. A great
time to begin is when you’re already planning renovations. Since my expertise
is design for Boomers and Seniors, and that there are very few residential interior
designers trained in highly specialized design for older adults, this couple was
in good hands.
Aging in Place design makes homes safer, makes daily
activities easier, prepares the home to accommodate changing needs throughout
the aging process, and helps avoid assisted living.
It’s wise to have your home ready BEFORE YOU NEED IT so
that it will prevent falls and accidents, preserve your independence and enable
you to stay there and not be forced into assisted living when a health or life
changing event occurs and it’s a crisis. So, even if you have no plans to
renovate, don’t wait.
My Aging in Place design is transparent, which is
important because no one wants to be reminded that they’re not as young as they
used to be. I also employ Evidenced-Based design, which has been proven to reduce
stress, improve mood and speed up healing.
The design concept I created for the clients was
infused with Biophilic Design (which mimics nature). A new wheelchair
accessible furniture plan and electrical plan was also designed. Elegant
chandeliers and accent lighting were designed in to provide an abundance of
lighting to help prevent falls, make reading or other activities easier, and
create warmth and interest. The amount of lighting needed was calculated specifically
for aging eyes and the size of the space.
design included removing a built-in cabinet and the niche above it from the
dining area to create a focal point wall featuring an organic planter with real
birch tree poles. Another niche above a large window was closed off as an
update. Window treatment was added to create warmth and drama and soften
The new furniture plan included two separate seating areas
with custom furniture I designed and had fabricated, tables and very
low-profile, secured area rugs, which make the room inviting and able to seat
What makes the seating invisibly unique, is that it’s designed
specifically for older adults by way of size, construction and materials. While
it’s better for adults 55+, it’s good for any age. Conversely, standard
furniture does not work well for older adults. It hinders them, whereas
furniture designed for older adults actually helps them.
This furniture was designed and constructed for better fit, comfort and to be easier to get in and out of, which becomes routinely more difficult with aging. It’s a problem you wouldn’t think about until you’re dealing with it. Perhaps you’ve seen your parents or grandparents struggle as they try to get up and out of a sofa or chair, even a dining chair. That is not something that is isolated to them, it happens to nearly all older adults. It’s sad and dangerous.
Moreover, frustration and falls can be avoided by having the proper furniture. I’ve had many clients that either thought their sofa or chairs had just worn out or weren’t made well, because they no longer supported them. But that wasn’t the case. Their bodies had gradually changed with aging and they needed furniture that supported those changes. Once I provided them with the right furniture, they were comfortable once again and the difficulty of getting up and out was significantly reduced.
I’ll let you in on a secret. You or your loved ones don’t
have to settle for furniture that doesn’t fit and/or is unsafe for older adults.
Here’s how to access proper seating for adults 55+ (that’s also attractive): 1)
live in a large senior living community that has appropriate furniture or 2)
have a senior living designer, such as myself, order or design seating (sofa,
chairs, dining chairs, etc.) for you.
This type of furniture is not available to the general
public, so you won’t find it in furniture stores. It takes several months to order
and receive or have made, so keep that in mind. Is it expensive? It’s more
costly than cheap imported furniture that many stores offer or what you’ll find
online, but it’s not outrageous. It’s good quality, durable and cleanable, and
is well worth it!
This couple doesn’t have an immediate physical need, but
their new furniture works now and will benefit them along the way as they grow
older. So, they won’t have to buy more furniture later to meet their needs and
keep them safer.
These clients now have a living space they’re proud to
entertain in and enjoy winding down there after a long day at work. Transparently,
the Aging in Place design elements are helping to protect and keep them safe.
In the future, should they decide to sell their home and
downsize, their renovated living room will create a great first impression with
prospective buyers and their MLS listing can boast “Award-Winning Design” as a selling
point. Both the living room and master bedroom (a renovation project I designed
a few years ago) are award winners.
If you or someone you know is planning to renovate, remodel or downsize and move, please contact me. I’d love to help.
At 65 and in good health, Sue recently bought a house with the
intention of it being her forever home. However, she recognized that while her
master bathroom had been updated, it had not been designed for aging in place or
wheelchair accessibility. It was a cramped space, the existing vanities were
too tall for her, the curb-less shower nor the bench inside was accessible by
wheelchair, and Sue didn’t like the bathroom’s cold aesthetic vibe. She wanted a
pretty, Victorian-inspired aesthetic in her favorite colors to make her smile
Years prior, Sue had taken care of her elderly mother and knew
firsthand how difficult and unsafe it is for a senior or caregiver to maneuver
a standard, non-Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant bathroom. Sue
did not want she or her daughter to go through that.
Sue understood that remodeling her master bathroom would be
necessary to make that dream a reality and that she would need an Aging in
Place Remodel Designer to get it right and achieve the desired result. Contemplating
retirement, Sue decided to make the investment and proceed with the design and remodel
Done correctly by a qualified professional, an Aging in Place
ready bathroom will help keep Sue in her home and out of assisted living later,
as she desires. So, 55+ TLC Interior Design was hired.
Sue’s other request was to include in the remodel design a
freestanding tub she had her heart set on and had already purchased. We always advise
clients against tubs for safety reasons. They are a trip, slip and fall hazard,
particularly for adults 55+. Our mission is to make environments safe,
easy-to-use, comfortable and beautiful for clients to thrive in. We want our
clients to be safe.
Unable to convince Sue to forego adding her bathtub for safety reasons, she promised to remove or not use the tub if she begins having mobility or balance issues. So, the tub became part of the design plan along with a properly installed grab bar next to the tub to lend support when she enters and exits.
The Design Solution
The new master bathroom was designed to be fully ADA-complaint. As a result, the accessibility, functionality and overall aesthetics of the bathroom were significantly improved. It looks and feels much larger, open and less cumbersome.
New slip-resistant flooring provides safer, easy movement throughout the bathroom and shower. The appropriate light necessary for adults 55+ was calculated and designed in to make daily activities easier and prevent falls.
A curb-less, door-less shower with reachable shampoo niches was constructed. A beautiful ADA-compliant shower seat, fixtures, support bars and hardware were installed to ADA code with proper wall braces and proper locations. A word of caution – curb-less showers aren’t simple to build, and they need to meet ADA-code. We have seen many incorrectly built curb-less showers, by untrained contractors or that were DYI projects, which had to be torn out and re-constructed
because the water flowed into the middle of the bathroom instead
of down the drain. Most contractors aren’t trained or experienced in
constructing curb-less showers. But they don’t tell you that.
55+ TLC only partners with licensed, bonded and insured
contractors that are trained and experienced in building proper functioning,
code-compliant curb-less showers. We want our clients to have beautiful,
problem-free living environments.
A custom-designed beautiful, wheelchair-accessible vanity and linen closet allows for easy access and storage. The new vanity height works great for Sue now and also will if she ever needs a wheelchair or walker in the future.
Aging in Place Helps Prevent Falls, Which Are a Big Problem
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Every year, 1 out of 3 adults age 65 and older will experience a fall.
Up to 30% of those who fall will suffer moderate to severe injuries or death.
Once someone has fallen they are 2 to 3 times likely to fall again.
According to the Home Safety Council — State of Home Safety in America, 2011
Approximately two thirds of all injuries occurred in the tub or shower, and approximately half were precipitated by bathing or showering, slipping, or getting out of the tub or shower.
Approximately 80% of all bathroom injuries were caused by falls, with the highest injury rates in the oldest age groups. The most hazardous activities were bathing, showering, or getting out of the tub or shower.
55+ TLC’s Role
First and foremost, we listened to what Sue wanted. We meshed that with ADA-code and safety features to create a functional, permittable and buildable floor and electrical plan. We diligently and discerningly selected and provided the materials, fixtures and hardware that a true Aging in Place bathroom needs. We do it transparently and beautifully. All along the way, we visually and verbally communicated the design and incorporated Sue’s feedback to ensure she got the master bathroom she dreamed of.
An Award-Winning Aging in Place Master Bathroom
Sue has a beautiful, Victorian-inspired Aging-in-Place master bathroom designed to enjoy now and through her active adult years. Her new master bathroom received the 2018 Homes for Life – Bathroom national award from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelers. The award recognizes Aging in Place remodel design excellence.
Return on Investment
While Sue knew she would enjoy her beautiful new master bathroom,
she had no idea that just a few months after it was completed, she would need
Sue sprained her hip and immediately needed an ADA-compliant
bathroom. The good news is that she had one ready to accommodate her needs! First,
she needed to use a wheelchair, then a walker, and now she no longer needs a
mobility device. The in-home physical and occupational therapists helping to
rehabilitate her were impressed by the design, safety and beauty of her Aging
in Place master bathroom as well.
Had Sue not had her ADA bathroom, she wouldn’t have been able to stay in her home while she recovered, which would have been inconvenient and costly.
Plus, should Sue ever decide to sell and move, she will find that her
Aging in Place master bathroom will have increased the home’s value. Contrary
to most home modifications for aging, which are ugly, institutional looking,
and need to be removed before the home can go on the market.
The goal of 55+ TLC is to help as many people that want to stay in their homes do so safely and beautifully, and to keep those that plan for senior community living, live safely in their home until they’re ready to make the move. We also strive to increase the value and salability to sell and move faster.
Has your home been designed for Aging in Place? 99% of U.S. homes
have not, according to a 2017 Harvard Housing Study. Don’t wait until it’s too
late! We’d love to help you.
After my mother passed in 2010, my father’s geriatric doctor and
my older sister, a retired nurse, began urging dad to move into assisted
living. He was very resistant and repeatedly dismissed their advice. His
sentiment was “I have a house that’s paid for, why would I want to pay rent
somewhere else?” But there was more to it than that. He loved puttering around
on his one-acre lot and watching deer and other wildlife that frequently traveled
to and from the forest preserve next to his property. Witnessing nature is what
made dad feel free and alive and gave him immense joy. He said, “I’d feel like
a caged animal in an apartment.”
I did not want dad to lose his sense of freedom and joy. The
problem was that he was living with advanced macular degeneration, arthritis
and needed to use a walker in a house that was not designed for mobility device
accessibility, aging in place or his particular needs. Because he couldn’t get
his Driver’s license renewed, due to his vision impairment, he was dependent on
my brother, who lived about 40 minutes away, for transportation to appointments
and to get groceries and prescriptions. (This was before car services like Uber
or restaurant, grocery and pharmacy delivery services were readily available.) There
was also the challenge to not slip and fall on snow and ice during the long
Midwest Winter months. Not an easy task for anyone, let alone older adults with
diminishing balance and vision.
How do you tell your parent what to do, or keep them from tossing
your advice to the wind, because they still view you as their child? Parents
believe they know best because they are older. I see this dynamic firsthand
when I am the professional working with families.
There comes a point when you simply need to
reverse roles. That time is when they’re no longer making good decisions and
need a guardian angel to step in and protect them, before something bad happens.
You need to be the parent.
In 2011, I was just one year out of design college and working for
a commercial senior living design firm. I was intimately aware of the benefits
of senior living communities and assisted living. I was trained in how the body
ages and how to design with those needs in mind, which is highly specialized. However,
at that time, I was not focused on residential design for older adults and had not
yet become a Certified in Aging in Place Specialist. Nor was I aware that 99%
of residential homes need remodel design to accommodate the changing needs of
Living in a different state halfway across the country made it
tough to help or see what was really going on with dad day-to-day. Every time I
talked with him, he said everything was fine.
However, when I flew back to Ohio for a visit, I discovered there
were life-safety issues with dad living at home. I watched him turn on his gas
stove and crank up the flame to about 8-inches high because he couldn’t see it
and thought the stove wasn’t working. He confided that he had been falling but
hadn’t told anyone. I even uncovered “stranger elder abuse,” as dad had been
repeatedly preyed upon for money but didn’t realize that he was being scammed. They
had built up trust with him over several months and dad was allowing them in
the house. Dad simply thought he was helping someone in need and didn’t tell
any of us about any of it.
I immediately sought counsel with our Elder Law Attorney, who
referred me to the County Prosecutor, who advised that this would not end well
for my dad if it continued. The only legal way to stop it would be to declare
him mentally incompetent. I refused to demean dad like that – plus, he was as
sharp as ever. I believed there had to be another way to protect him.
I knew, despite how much dad didn’t want to leave his home, he needed to move to assisted living, for his own safety and wellbeing. In the right senior living community, he would have extra eyes on him daily, and care as needed, which was important with his rapidly deteriorating vision, and it would keep the predators away. He would have opportunities to socialize with peers and make new friends. Nutritional meals would be provided, and he wouldn’t be eating alone. Housekeeping and laundry service would be provided. His risk of falling would be significantly reduced as good communities are designed by professional senior living interior designers to prevent fall and accidents, accommodate walkers and wheelchairs, and be safer, overall. Dad would also be much safer without a stove or a house that he insisted on maintaining himself (including going up on the roof!)
However, as confident as I was about how much safer and better off
dad would be in assisted living, given his needs and situation, he was not. So,
I had to assertively reverse our roles, be the parent, take the lead, jump into
action, take the heat, and talk and persuade him through every step of the
process and move. It felt awkward and uncomfortable, but Dad’s safety and
well-being was far more important than my uncomfortableness. It was tough and exhausting,
but so worth it.
Many times, the existing home can be professionally designed and
remodeled for Aging in Place, which safely keeps them at home. Other times
there are extenuating circumstances, like with my dad, where the best solution
is assisted living.
Step One – A Loving Intervention
Because parents are usually more willing to take advice from
professionals than from their own adult children, I engaged a professional
senior advisor and called a family meeting with dad, my siblings and the
It was effective and impactful for dad to have a professional talk
with him about his needs and how his current home wasn’t meeting those needs. It
was powerful for dad to hear all his adult children (who don’t always agree on
things) in unison supporting and agreeing with the advisor.
Bingo! By the end of the meeting, dad made the decision to move to
Step Two – Finding the Right Place if Home Isn’t an Option
Moving is particularly tough on seniors, so you’ll want to get it
right with the first move. I recommend engaging a Senior Placement Specialist to
bring forth your best options. They’re like Realtors®, except they are solely focused on senior
living placement and their service is no cost to you. They serve as a great
senior placement specialist will take you to tour appropriate senior living
communities or care homes they have already vetted, based on your budget for
rent and care, needs and
lifestyle preferences. They provide better, more individualized service than the
online service companies that you see advertisements for on TV that simply give
you a list of communities and leave you to figure it all out on your own.
Whereas, good placement agents have many resources and help you
every step of the way, including the preparation and paperwork for move-in, as
required by community management and state laws. Plus, they are aware of which
communities and care homes are the best and those to avoid.
Please don’t make the mistake of presuming you can find and choose
the best place on your own. Take this example with my well-meaning sister and
brother and how it could have gone very wrong.
My older sister (the nurse) wanted my dad to move into an assisted
living community just down the street from his house and close to her, and my
brother and sister-in-law wanted dad to move into a brand-new Brookdale community
(largest senior housing provider in the US) close to their house. Either makes
I investigated each. The problem with the one down the street from
dad was that they only offered shared rooms. Dad, being a very independent,
strong-willed person would have absolutely hated that as he would lose
independence and privacy. My sister wasn’t aware of the shared rooms set
up and acknowledged she didn’t know enough about senior housing to ask the
right questions. The problem with the new community close to my brother was
that it was only memory care and my dad did not have dementia or Alzheimer’s.
My siblings are intelligent, educated people, but they, like most
people, do not know enough about senior housing to make the best selection. You
don’t know what you don’t know. For the sake of your loved one, engage a local professional.
Given my senior living training, I knew what to look for and what
questions to ask. So, I promptly vetted several senior living communities for
dad that offered assisted living. I narrowed it down to three and took dad to
tour them and have a meal there.
When I have clients that want or need senior housing, I refer them
to good senior placement agents I know and trust. If you need a senior
placement agent in Arizona, let me know. I’d be happy to introduce you to a
Another option to find a local senior placement specialist is to look on the National Placement & Referral Alliance website, www.npralliance.org. It’s a Not-for-Profit professional association that promotes standards, ethics and education for its membership, which serve seniors and their families. I serve on the Central Arizona Chapter’s Board of Directors. That Chapter was founded about eight years ago, and the association just went national in 2018 and is quickly developing new chapters.
Step Three – Don’t Let Curve
Balls Throw You
Dad and I were in agreement on which community would be the best for
him. It was in a pleasant, country-like setting with lots of trees, grass and a
pond with ducks. Things he would enjoy and space for him to safely ride his
adult tricycle. He said, “If I can’t stay at home this is where I want to live.”
I was so pleased we found a place he would enjoy. We were already
to sign the community’s agreement but were told there’s was a six-month waiting
list for one-bedroom apartments. Yikes! All they had available was a tiny 385
sq. ft. studio apartment. Double Yikes!
Of course, dad quickly said he could wait. But the reality was he
needed it ASAP! I insisted it had to be now and I knew he would not be happy at
the other communities. So, we took it and moved forward.
Step Four – Ensure the Apartment Design is Mobility Device Accessible, Senior-Friendly and Meets Specific Needs
The studio apartment was tiny, but I was determined to make it
mighty! I went to work leveraging my senior living design skills to improve quality
Downsizing from a single-family home, compounded by the need for a
fast move, was no easy feat. But in less than three weeks it was accomplished.
I designed a vibrant, uplifting, ADA-compliant space that
incorporated key existing pieces dad wanted to keep and new furnishings that
were needed. I implemented senior living design techniques that made his daily
activities easier, given his vision impairment, arthritis and need for a
I infused his studio apartment with his favorite colors, which I
adjusted for his vision impairment, and things that brought him joy – nature,
birds, animals, and music. Large-scale media and artwork were introduced,
abundant lighting was provided, and cabinet pulls designed for arthritic hands
were installed on the cabinetry.
One would assume that all assisted living community apartments are
senior-friendly and set to go from a safety perspective. But I’ve found either
in working with clients transitioning into independent or assisted living
apartments or when I’m touring communities that many are not as accurate as
they should be and need tweaking (even the high-end luxury communities). I have
identified senior design gaps for clients and resolved problems to improve
safety and make daily activities easier, prior to move-in. There are cases
where the architectural design is poor for seniors and that can’t be fixed.
It’s best to identify those type of problems when touring and look elsewhere to
Also, I help clients that are downsizing into a new home or an
independent or assisted living apartment. I help them determine which furniture
they want to bring with them. I advise which pieces will and won’t work in the
new space. I review a Furniture plan (arrangement), which is a CAD
(Computer-Aided Drafting) drawing, revealing precisely which furniture pieces
will be moved, where they will be placed and whether anything new is needed. I
also assist by selecting and purchasing senior-friendly furniture and
furnishings for them.
When needed, I have access to professional organizers that help
clients sort, purge, pack and unpack, as well as movers. Often, the families I’ve
worked with also have me go back to the house they moved from and prepare it to
sell for top dollar.
Each of these services tremendously reduce the stress and
overwhelm that older adults feel when it comes to downsizing and moving. In
fact, the mere thought of downsizing is so overwhelming for seniors that it’s
the number one reason they decide against or put off moving into senior living
Assisted Living Studio Apartment
Step Five – Be Compassionate and Prepared
for a 3-Month Transitioning Period
Your loved one will probably not
be happy for about three months. That’s the usual amount of time it takes people
to transition into apartment and community living. There are new routines to
get used to, including new mealtimes and how the community functions and operates.
It takes time to feel comfortable, stop being angry about having to move (i.e.
losing their independence), and to make new friends.
As for dad, right at the
three-month mark he struck up a close friendship with a nice lady that lived
there, which made his last 2 ½ years of life more pleasant. He really missed
living in his own single-family home but made the best of living at the senior
living community, as he understood he was safer there.
best way to avoid a move to assisted living is to make an investment in
yourself and have your home professionally designed and remodeled for
successful aging in place before its too late, like it was for my dad. Done
correctly and beautifully, it will add value to your home as well.
While there are still some of the old-school nursing homes out there, there are a lot more new-school senior living communities that have populated the market, since the birth of the “senior industry” 30 years ago.
The old-school nursing homes usually operate solely on revenue from Medicaid (the US government) and don’t have sufficient funds to make improvements, so they simply have not kept up with the changing market. Whereas, most of the new communities are private pay (by the residents) and do not accept Medicaid, so they operate more profitably, which allows them to make investments and improvements to serve their community and residents and remain competitive.
Over the past five years, there’s been an explosive growth of brand-new senior living communities developed by large established senior living owner/developer/operator companies as well as investors that have jumped into the senior housing industry. They’re all anticipating that the tsunami of Boomers turning 65 each year will want or need senior housing and care.
The properties just keep getting better and more impressive as the developers strive to meet consumer desires and to stay ahead of competitors, but it’s always important to research the owner/operator and interior designer. Consider everything when selecting senior living, not just price.
Established companies usually have their heart in it and are experienced. They know what works and what doesn’t. They know where they need to spend money and provide resources.
Investors’ priorities may be different, or they may be inexperienced and not have a handle on day-to-day operations, which can be disruptive for residents and their families, and cost them more which causes unanticipated rent increases. They’re also more apt to forgo hiring a professional senior living interior designer either because they don’t know any better or because they want to avoid the expense.
Senior living properties that have not been designed by a professional senior living interior designer put residents at risk with life-safety issues that are preventable.
Sadly, I come across this more than I should, and it makes me cringe. For example, recently I visited a brand-new large, senior living community with independent living, assisted living and memory care. I inquired, as I always do, as to who the developer and designer were. I was told that the developer was a local investor and their secretary did the design. Yikes! That is flat out scary and dangerous!
Assisted living and Memory Care are healthcare. Senior living, memory care and healthcare design are highly specialized and based on science and art. Design for seniors at every level of care requires that highly specialized design, which is a lot more than looking pretty. So, I will never recommend that community, despite that it looked nice. But only people that ask or are trained designers will know because it’s not visible to the untrained eye. The moral of the story is: Don’t judge a book solely by its cover, do your homework.
Three Ways You Can Avoid Old-School Nursing Homes
Be financially prepared to self-pay.
Purchase a Long-Term Care insurance policy and make sure that it will cover home care as well as memory care, so that you’re fully protected.
Hire a qualified Aging in Place design professional now and have your home and/or bathroom designed and remodeled for aging in place, so that it prevents falls and accidents and will enable you to stay in your home through active adult years and beyond, if you prefer. 55+ TLC also makes it beautiful and increases the home’s value, making it a wise investment.
I strongly recommended Long-Term Care insurance. Recent statistics indicate that 4 out of 5 people over 65 will need long-term care in their lifetime, and you’ll likely need it for 3 to 10 years. Most people aren’t financially prepared for that. LTC insurance can serve as a life preserver.
Progressive, dedicated senior living communities (independent living, assisted living and memory care) continually look for ways to improve resident experience and inspire family members to visit their loved ones. Up-to-date aesthetics, private family dining rooms, new amenities like movie theaters, spas, and salons, and activities, dining and culinary experiences, health and wellness programs, and greater levels of care are among the most popular.
Why Private Family Dining Rooms?
Many senior living communities offer a separate, private family dining room for residents to host private family gatherings they otherwise may not be able to due to space limitations in their apartments. Typically, senior living apartments are 600 to 800 square feet, but can be as small as 350 sf or as large as 1,800 sf.
Senior living apartments are intentionally designed and built small to encourage residents to spend their time out in the common areas socializing, dining, participating in activities, and taking advantage of the community’s amenities, rather than staying cooped up and isolated in their apartments. Smaller apartments also tend to be more manageable and easier to navigate, particularly as mobility decreases or with cognitive decline.
The common living areas and apartments in senior living communities are usually designed by senior living architects and designers, which make them safer than houses and/or bathrooms. Although, single-family houses can be rectified for safety through design and remodel by a qualified Aging in Place design professional.
Design Matters So Much More for Adults 55+
McDowell Village Senior Living is a nice, lively, active community in Scottsdale, Arizona. It has 205 independent and assisted living apartments with approximately 300 residents ranging in age from 70 to 100+. The McDowell Village management team had noticed for some time that their private family dining room was not being used much, so renovation became a priority.
With a mission to keep residents happy, active and engaged, and not have underutilized space, the renovation objective was to update the existing dark, heavy, traditional style décor and furniture in favor of a more casual, contemporary and inviting room that would be more appealing to residents and their adult children. One that would be frequently used for family gatherings, meals and parties.
As their senior living interior designer, the challenge was to not only create a casual, comfortable contemporary space that would be used more, but one that would also integrate well with the traditional style adjacent spaces that were not being renovated at that time.
In redesigning the private family dining room, the opportunity was seized to make the room more walker and wheelchair accessible, fully ADA-compliant, and more senior-friendly (easier to use and safer) via colors, furniture size and layout, lighting, and the flooring material.
The renovation design included new lighting fixtures and proper positioning of them, which required moving some electrical, new flooring that was more durable and cleanable, new furniture and artwork, wallpaper removal, and fresh paint in new colors.
Benefits for Residents, Visitors, Staff and Management
The renovated private dining room has been a big hit with residents and visitors, as well as staff and management. The room is now in high demand. It’s being used as intended for family gatherings, meals and parties, and even more. Resident groups are meeting there. Some of the ladies are beading and making jewelry together while other residents are getting together to play cards, despite that there are other areas in the building to do these activities. Even staff meetings are taking place there. Each is a testament to the room’s warm, casual appeal. Exactly what was desired and needed.
Whether occupied or unoccupied, the renovated private family dining room design gracefully conveys a sense of home. Even to prospective residents touring the community.
For a second consecutive year, 55+ TLC Interior Design and Founder Bonnie J. Lewis have been honored with a Chrysalis Award for Remodeling Excellence. The 2019 Western Region Award is in the “Commercial Project Under $500,000” category.
The entries were judged on overall design, the creative use of space and materials, and the degree to which the project enhanced the original structure.
The project was commissioned by Lifescape Premier, a medical practice in Scottsdale, Arizona. An existing X-Ray imaging room was re-designed, re-modeled and re-purposed into a fitness testing and training room for adult and senior patients.
Stroke happens fast, leaving no time to prepare for its life-changing consequences. It happens to approximately 795,000 people each year. Stroke risk increases with age, but strokes can—and do—occur at any age. Stroke is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the United States. Mobility is reduced in more than half of stroke survivors age 65 and over. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, and diabetes are leading causes of stroke. 1 in 3 U.S. adults has at least one of these conditions or habits.
The Physical, Cognitive and Emotional Toll of Stroke
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Although stroke is a disease of the brain, it can affect the entire body. A common disability that results from stroke is complete paralysis on one side of the body, called hemiplegia. A related disability that is not as debilitating as paralysis is one-sided weakness or hemiparesis.
Stroke may cause problems with thinking, awareness, attention, learning, judgment, and memory. Stroke survivors often have problems understanding or forming speech. A stroke can lead to emotional problems.
Stroke patients may have difficulty controlling their emotions or may express inappropriate emotions. Many stroke patients experience depression. Stroke survivors may also have numbness or strange sensations. The pain is often worse in the hands and feet and is made worse by movement and temperature changes, especially cold temperatures.”
Stroke Survivor Needs Upon Hospital or Rehabilitation Facility Discharge
With paralysis, reduced mobility and neuropathy you’ll likely be using a wheelchair or walker and need physical support for transferring. You may also need caregiver assistance with daily activities (showering, dressing, toileting, meal preparation, medications, transportation, errands, etc.). Health care provided in the home, as well as occupational and/or physical therapy may be needed, too. Stroke survivors benefit from Senior Living Design, which addresses physical, psychological and emotional needs.
Mobility devices, caregiver support and home health care service each have requirements that 99% of homes simply aren’t ready to accommodate, according to a 2017 Harvard Housing study. And, hospitals and rehab facilities can’t release stroke patients to an “unsafe” environment.
So, unless you’ve already had your house or at minimum the master bathroom designed and remodeled for Aging in Place and wheelchair accessibility, you wouldn’t be able to go back home.
Following Are Four Housing Options After Stroke. Which Would You Choose?
1. Permanently move to an assisted living community, care home or skilled nursing facility.
Advantages:Readily available, often with immediate occupancy. Many assisted living communities offer activities and outings, provide nutritious meals, include housekeeping service for your apartment, offer different levels of care, and have nice amenities. Most have been designed by professional senior living designers, which provides psychological, emotional and physical benefits throughout the common areas. Other benefits of assisted living are that there are caregivers and staff to assist if you fall or have medical events, and it’s maintenance-free living.
Disadvantages:Community living and shared walls. Requires downsizing. Assisted living community apartments are typically 400 to 1,200 SF. It’s a bedroom or shared bedroom in care homes, which are typically licensed for 5 to 10 beds. Ownership, management, caregivers, and staff can change. Rent and care fees can increase.
Cost: $4,000 to $8,000 per month for Assisted Living and $8,000 to $12,000 per month for Skilled Nursing. Long-Term Care Insurance will pay for it, if you have a policy. Most assisted living homes and communities are private pay and do not accept Medicaid, so you must have funds available to pay out-of-pocket. If you need to sell your home first to access those funds, that may take time.
There are a limited number of assisted living communities and care homes that accept Medicaid, but you must first apply and then meet the stringent qualifications (for example – have less than $2,000 in assets and meet specific health needs criteria).
2. Have your home designed and remodeled for Aging in Place by credentialed professionals while you temporarily stay in assisted living.
Advantages: Done right, your home will be wheelchair accessible, functional, safe and beautiful to accommodate you through and beyond active adult years. Because it’s a life-safety matter, be sure to hire an Aging in Place or Senior Living Designer and a qualified Licensed Contractor to accurately design, obtain permits, meet codes and construct/install.
Caution: There are a lot of designers and contractors that say they can do Aging in Place design and remodeling but have no formal training or certification. It’s technical and tricky and that’s where mistakes are made, which could result in injury or death.
Disadvantages: It generally takes 2 to 3 months for design and construction. It may require a temporary stay in assisted living or with a family member while the work is being done.
Cost:Design and remodel cost (less than a year’s rent in assisted living). Plus, 2 to 3 months at $4,000 to $8,000 per month for temporary assisted living housing during the remodel design and construction process. Long-Term Care insurance coverage often includes home modification costs, so check with your provider to see what their policy is. Reverse mortgages or home equity lines of credit can be a good way to pay for Aging in Place design and remodeling.
3. Permanently move in with a family member whose home will meet your safety and care needs. (The home should first be assessed by a Certified Aging in Place Specialist or a Home Care Agency professional to ensure that it will be safe and accessible.)
Advantages:The opportunity to live with family and not be isolated or lonely.
Disadvantages:You’ll lose some privacy and/or independence. You may have to give up your furniture, artwork and home furnishings because your family doesn’t have space for it, it’s not their style and won’t integrate well, or the cost to move the furniture would be too high. It may require moving to another city or state where your family resides.
Cost:Rent, home health care, and possibly moving expenses
4. Sell your house and buy a new one.
Advantages:You retain the privilege of owning and living in your own home. It’s tough to find aging in place ready homes for sale, but you can hire an Aging in Place designer and contractor to remodel the house to accommodate your needs. Once you find a house, you’re serious about buying, have it evaluated by a Certified Aging in Place Specialist or Senior Living Designer before purchasing it to ensure it’s a good remodel candidate. Otherwise, you could invest a lot of money only to learn that it is not suitable to meet safety and accessibility needs and a remodel won’t cure it.
Plan on 2 to 3 months for the aging in place design and remodel to be executed. That means you’ll need to live in assisted living or with a family member until that process is completed.
Disadvantages: It could be too physically, emotionally or cognitively challenging to be house hunting. It may take time to sell your current home.
Cost:New house purchase, Aging in Place design and remodel (less than a year’s rent in assisted living), plus $4,000 to $8,000 per month for temporary assisted living housing during the house hunting, remodel design and construction process. Long-Term Care insurance often includes home modification costs. Check with your provider to see what they’ll cover. A reverse purchase mortgage may be a good finance tool for you.
Design Matters for Adults 55+ and Stroke Survivors
Because I’m trained, seasoned and award-winning in both commercial senior living design (including Memory Care) and residential Aging in Place design, I’m uniquely skilled to infuse senior living design techniques into the design of my residential clients’ homes. As a result, they benefit from evidenced-based senior living/healthcare design in a home setting, normally only available in senior living communities. I design for the unique physical, psychological and emotional needs of adults 55+, and address specific conditions or limitations. Well beyond what Aging in Place design alone provides.
For stoke survivors, that translates to a living environment that is designed for mobility device accessibility; helps prevent falls and accidents that can result in injury or death; supports independence; preserves dignity; makes daily activities easier; helps combat depression; and accommodates caregiver assistance and home health care.
You’ve likely heard in the media in recent years the terms Universal Design and Aging in Place for homes. Although its name is more intuitive, Senior Living Design hasn’t been publicized because it’s practiced commercially in independent and assisted living and memory care communities, and on more rare occasion in assisted living care homes.
Why should you know or care about these terms? Because design matters for successful aging and knowing the difference between Universal Design, Aging in Place Design and Senior Living Design will empower you to make the best housing decisions for you and your 55+ loved ones.
Each of these three types of design share one feature – wheelchair accessibility. Beyond that they are different. Seems logical, right? If they were all the same, would they have different names? Of course not. As a seasoned designer trained in and practicing all three types, I promise you they are each different.
However, I’m continually finding architects and interior designers don’t even know the difference. To make it worse, now companies are deliberately interchanging the terms in order to sell more products, services, and training to the trades. They believe that by calling everything Universal Design consumers will find it more palatable than Aging in Place. Most do not know any better and simply follow the big companies’ lead.
The problem isn’t with the products, it’s that they are teaching consumers that Universal Design is what older adults need, which is wrong and misleading. Read the following definitions, examples and my best tips pertaining to each to understand why.
Universal Design makes buildings or homes accessible to all, regardless of age, size, or ability. It has been implemented in commercial design for more than two decades. You transparently engage with Universal Design whenever you’re in a public building. It includes wheelchair-accessibility, which eliminates access barriers. However, Universal Design also requires compromises in design to accommodate the majority of people. For example, the design needs of children are very different than those of older adults.
Implementing design for one population would render the space restrictive to the other, so a design compromise is intentionally made. The important takeaway here is that the specific design needs for older adults are not addressed with Universal Design because it needs to work for the majority, hence the name “universal.” Universal Design is best for public or commercial spaces and for homes where there are two or more generations (multi-generational) living under one roof.
Aging in Place Design makes homes safe for adults 55+ to live safely, independently and comfortably throughout the aging process. It shares the basic principles of Universal Design, but goes further, taking into account design for the unique and specific needs of older adults.
Because 99% of homes are not Aging in Place ready, according to a 2017 Harvard Housing study, homes usually require some remodeling. If your goal is to stay in your home and age successfully and be independent, it’s wise to invest in yourself and hire an Aging in Place remodel designer to proactively prepare your home – before you need it. Just like child-proofing a home – Would you wait until your toddler has an accident or take precaution in advance? Being pro-active to protect your independence at 55+ should be a priority. You’re worth it!
Senior Living Design is highly-specialized, science/evidenced-based design that supports physical safety and psychological and emotional wellness for older adults. Senior Living Design and Memory Care Design are the highest, most comprehensive levels of design for adults 55+ and require the most training. It’s a specialty with a limited number of practitioners and an even smaller number qualified in Memory Care Design.
Senior Living Design and Memory Care Design includes the basic principles of Universal Design and Aging in Place Design but go well beyond. Most independent, assisted and memory care senior living communities’ common areas have been designed and furnished by professional senior living interior designers to meet the unique needs of older adults.
However, when residents move in safety wains. Because residents or their families usually decide to “decorate” the apartment. Again, design matters. A senior living interior designer should be hired to create a safe, accessible furniture arrangement, select or purchase senior-friendly furniture, and design for other needs to prevent falls, make daily activities easier and for comfortable living. The rest of the community has been designed and furnished for safety and wellbeing, your apartment should be, too. You’re worth it!
I have found it rare for assisted living care/group homes (categorized as up to 10 beds) to be designed by a professional senior living designer, which is very unfortunate as it puts residents’ safety and wellbeing at risk. Some assisted living home owners are proud of how their homes look. However, senior living design is art and science. Pretty is nice, but without the science behind professional senior living design, there isn’t safety.
It’s important to always inquire and vet a senior living community or assisted living care home on their care, staff, food, activities, amenities, neighborhood, etc. But be sure to also find out who designed it. Google and research the design firm or individual. Are they a qualified professional senior living interior designer? It’s a matter of life safety, health and well-being, so it needs to be part of the housing decision for you and your loved ones. You deserve it!
I am an advocate for adults 55+. My expertise and passion are helping to make the rest of life the best of life for my clients through design in private homes, senior living communities, assisted living care homes, and residents’ apartments in senior living communities.
I am trained, experienced and award-winning in the specialties of Senior Living Design, Aging in Place Remodel Design, Universal Design, and Memory Care Design. I’d like to be your designer!
Bonnie Lewis of 55+ TLC Interior Design has been our chosen designer and project manager atMcDowell Village Senior Living for several years. Bonnie has proven to be responsive and proactive from the project management aspect and her designs are innovative and well received by our discerning clientele of elder adults and their adult children. She is passionate about her work yet always considers her clients’ wishes to create beautiful and functional end products. I don’t hesitate to recommend Bonnie for any project that requires an experienced and accomplished design and project management professional.
—Michael Bergmans, General Manager, McDowell Village
Bonnie Lewis’ commitment to providing a functional, yet high-quality décor for her senior clients is not only beneficial to her clientele, but also benefits the housing industry. When potential residents tour our community and get a glimpse of Bonnie’s work, they are amazed at how apartments can seemingly come to life, with Bonnie’s well-thought-out touches. From the paint schemes to the arrangement of furniture pieces, individuals can envision their own safer living arrangement, and start to get excited about the move-in process.
—Matthew P. Bucher, Director of Marketing at The Elizabeth Scott Community
After taking care of my mother late in life I knew first hand how hard it could be to manage aging in place with a standard bathroom. When it came time to remodel the master bath I knew I wanted it to be ADA compliant in case of possible future needs and I called Bonnie. I am very glad I did! My beautiful new bathroom does not make me think "disability" or "nursing home" — the words that come to mind instead are "feminine, elegant, and serene." It makes me happy every day.
—Sue McGee, MD
Dad loves his new suite and we are so pleased with the remodel design and the workmanship. We get compliments often on it and the design. I so appreciate all your hard work and diligence. Thank you again for your beautiful work and for all you do. You are truly a Blessing.
My mother and aunt were very happy being able to live together. They both love the remodel design additions and changes. We don't think I could have made a better selection of remodel designers for this project, you are awesome! My mother's last six months were comfortable and happy thanks to your innovative design work. Thank you.
—Dr. Ronald Barnes
Due to having both knees replaced, I had Bonnie redesign my Master Bathroom into a more functional space. My favorite features are the shower bench, which I can flip up, and the big niche for all my shampoo and lotions. It is not just functional, it also turned out beautiful.
Bonnie took on a series of projects for my elderly parents beginning with accessibility renovations to their unique desert residence, followed by interior design updates for a new independent living apartment, and culminating in a comprehensive refreshing of the interior of finishes of their home; when it became painfully clear that my father could no longer live there without fulltime assistance.
Throughout the process Bonnie was exemplary in her knowledge of the key design issues, her willingness to provide multiple options, and her adherence to schedule and budget. Bonnie is a true professional – always courteous and a pleasure to work with. I can recommend her without reservation.
—Keith Krolak - AIA, LEED AP
Bonnie designed our Master Bath for remodel. Her ideas were outstanding and elegant. She also managed the project. We were very happy with the design, construction and the entire project. Her selection of specific high-end materials and items used in the project added an upscale look to it. The contractor she suggested also did a wonderful job for us. Would I use Bonnie again? Absolutely. I highly recommend her.
—J. Bruce Bossie
Working with Bonnie on renovating our master bedroom has been an absolute pleasure. She took time to understand our goals and tastes, diligently searched for creative and cost-effective options for every piece, and recommended reputable sub-contractors. Her organizational skills and attention to every detail resulted in efficient and timely project completion and the beautiful end-result we love!
—Dr. Susan Wilder
What a great experience working with Bonnie. From the start she was very professional. She listened to our ideas and made wonderful suggestions. About half way through the project we learned just to go with Bonnie’s instincts. The overall design and the way she brought it all together with exceptional use of color far exceeded our expectations. All our friends were amazed at the outcome, too.