Achieving the Best Living Environment for Dear Dad Took A Bit of Role Reversal and Persistence

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 adults 55+.

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 advisor.

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 assisted living.

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 advocacy resource.

A 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 sense, right?

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 few.

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 of life.

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 walker.

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 live. 

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 communities.

Assisted Living Studio Apartment

Before

After

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.

Before

After

The 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.

Old-School Nursing Homes vs. Today’s Assisted Living Communities

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

  1. Be financially prepared to self-pay.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

© 2019 55+ TLC Interior Design, LLC. All rights reserved.



Private Family Dining Room Renovation Makes Big Impact at Senior Living Community

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

Private Family Dining Room Feature Wall

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.



55+ TLC Interior Design is Honored with 2019 Chrysalis Award for Remodeling Excellence

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.

Would You Be Able to Come Back Home After Having a Stroke?

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.

I design beautiful homes (and bathrooms) that support aging in place through and beyond active adult years, as well as stroke survivors, and loved ones and caregivers. I’d like to be your designer!

55+ TLC Interior Design Receives International Award

55+ TLC Interior Design and Founder Bonnie J. Lewis were honored with a 2019 CID Special Recognition Award for Use of Tile for Aging in Place at the CID Coverings Installation and Design Award Reception for Outstanding Achievements in Design and Installation of Tile & Stone.

Her firm was one of 19 winners out of more than 150 global entries. This is her 25th design excellence ward since founding the company just over 5 years ago.

Award-winning ADA Shower

Universal Design vs. Aging in Place Design vs. Senior Living Design: Understanding the Differences Empowers Best Housing Decisions

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 is Honored with Two National NAHB Remodelers Awards

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelers announced the winners of its annual Homes for Life awards, recognizing excellence in aging-in-place and universal design remodeling projects. The awards were presented at the NAHB Remodelers All-Stars Celebration in Las Vegas on Feb. 19.

The Homes for Life awards were expanded into multiple categories in 2018, resulting in four winners across five categories. Dave Myllymaki of Vancouver, Wash., won the Multi-Generational Remodel category; Bonnie Lewis, CAPS, Allied ASID, Associate IIDA of Scottsdale, Ariz. won both the Bath Remodel and Whole-House/Multi-Room Remodel categories; Jeni Finnigan, CAPS, of Unbounded Space and Amie Faust of Half Dozen Designs in Denver won the Kitchen Remodel category; and Iris Chadab, CAPS, NKBA, of Windows to the Walls Interiors, LLC of Alexandria, Va., won for the Best Overall Certified Aging-in-Place (CAPS) design.

“These remodelers specializing in aging-in-place help home owners’ dreams come true by implementing custom solutions to last a lifetime,” said 2018 NAHB Remodelers Chair Joanne Theunissen, of Mt. Pleasant, Mich. “The Homes for Life projects exemplify innovative home design that prioritizes safety and style for any age or ability.”

Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists are remodelers, general contractors, designers, architects, health care professionals and others who have been taught the strategies and techniques for designing and building aesthetically pleasing, barrier-free living environments to help home owners live in their homes safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age or ability level.

Bonnie Lewis 2018 NAHB Whole House/Multi-Room Remodel Winner for New Aging in Place In-Law Suite

Bonnie Lewis 2018 NAHB Bath Remodel Winner for Aging in Place Bathroom

ABOUT NAHB REMODELERS: NAHB Remodelers is America’s home for professional remodelers, representing nearly 50,000 members of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) who are involved in the remodeling industry. Founded in 1982, the organization provides information, education and designation programs to improve the business and construction expertise of its members and to enhance the professional image of the industry.  Its membership incorporates nearly 100 local councils in nearly every state. Learn more about remodeling at nahb.org/remodel.

ABOUT NAHB: The National Association of Home Builders is a Washington-based trade association representing more than 140,000 members involved in home building, remodeling, multifamily construction, property management, subcontracting, design, housing finance, building product manufacturing and other aspects of residential and light commercial construction. NAHB is affiliated with 800 state and local home builders associations around the country. NAHB’s builder members will construct about 80 percent of the new housing units projected for this year.  

Case Study: Downsizing in Style for Aging in Place 

Making a lifestyle change, a recently single, 50-year-old client was relocating from the east to Fountain Hills, Arizona. She landed in a nice single-family home with a spectacular view of Four Peaks mountain and the world-famous fountain. The single-level house is perfect for her to downsize to and will be suitable to live in throughout her golden years once the master bathroom is remodeled for Aging in Place (future project).

The immediate plan was to do some updating and remodeling to achieve the contemporary look desired to make it her home. Initially, the client’s Realtor referred a contractor whom she hired and entrusted to build a contemporary fireplace to replace an existing Southwest-style beehive fireplace, prior to her relocating. Once she arrived, the contractor proudly presented her with his interpretation of contemporary, which wasn’t even close to what she had in mind. Unfortunately, she learned the hard way (time and money) that contractors are not designers! That’s when I was hired.   

As always, I took time to learn and understand what the client wanted. Above all she wanted that contemporary fireplace, but she also dreamed of a warm, comfortable, contemporary great room with an area for dining, new furniture, and a better furniture arrangement for the great room and master bedroom.

After translating the client’s objectives into design concepts, I presented my custom fireplace wall design and furniture plan drawings, along with furniture, fixtures, window treatment, fabrics, materials, and color selections for approval. Aging in Place design was transparently incorporated with lighting and in the furniture plans, to help prevent falls and provide wheelchair accessibility, should it be needed later. The client was excited to see the plans and what everything would look like, before it was constructed or installed.

Contemporary Fireplace

Contemporary Remodel Great Room Before & After:

Contemporary Remodel Master Bedroom Before & After:

The new, dramatic, contemporary focal point fireplace wall is surrounded by an inviting, large leather sectional sofa. A beautiful cascading Capiz shell chandelier tops a custom dining table made of organic materials, creating an appealing dining area. The redesigned master bedroom has the warm, glam look and feel the client loves. She is very happy with her remodeled space and pleased that it earned a Design Excellence Award from the American Society of Interior Designers.  

©2019 All rights reserved.


Downsizing Strategies to Make Your Best Move

Has your house outgrown you? Perhaps you’ve become empty nesters and no longer need all that space. Perhaps your lifestyle priorities have changed, and you want to shed or lighten the burden of home maintenance. Perhaps you want to cash out and reduce your expenses. Or, perhaps it’s only you now and you want a fresh start. No matter the reason, adults 55+ need to be very strategic in selecting the home they’re downsizing to.

downsizing

4 Key Strategies to Smart Downsizing

1. Think beyond dreamy, active adult retirement years and remote locations. Find a community and house where you can live out your golden years. As we age, physical and cognitive decline naturally occurs, and there may be unanticipated medical problems. These things need to be factored into where you live and the house you live in.

Optimal location considerations:

  • Close proximity to hospitals and medical providers
  • Mobile service availability (medical, dental, x-ray, hair and nails, pet care and grooming)
  • Close proximity to friends and family (it’s tough when you’re not in the same state!)
  • Within range of transportation service (Uber, Lyft, taxi, limo, etc.)
  • Close proximity to a grocery store and pharmacy, or within range for delivery service
  • Close proximity to recreational and social activities
  • Close proximity to educational opportunities
  • Close proximity to volunteering opportunities
  • Close proximity to place of worship

2. Before you buy the downsize house, hire a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) to do an Aging in Place Home Evaluation. Why? A house is a big investment. For a nominal cost, you’ll learn whether the house has what it needs, or is a good remodel candidate, to meet your needs beyond the active adult years. 99% of U.S. homes are not ready, according to a 2017 Harvard Housing Study. Even most new construction homes are not. It’s best to find out sooner rather than later whether or not the house you’re considering is.

An Aging in Place Home Evaluation is similar to a home inspection, but there’s a completely different, extensive list of items being evaluated. Schedule an evaluation prior to making an offer on the house or during the inspection period. You’ll be advised on areas that need improvements and/or remodeling and the investment it will require. Then you’ll be able to make an educated decision as to whether that house is the best for you, long-term.   

3. Have a proactive mindset about preparing your house for successful aging rather than “I’ll do it when I need it.” Because your needs will change as you age – it’s a scientific fact of life. Waiting to prepare your home “until you need it” is too late!

Your home needs to be Aging in Place ready for fall and accident prevention to avoid injury or death, and to access and use key areas (entry; bedroom; bathroom: toilet, shower, sink; and kitchen) via a wheelchair, before you need it. Otherwise, you very well may be forced (abruptly) to move again, to assisted living at a cost of $45,000 or more per year).  

None of us want to think we will need any of that, but the reality is if you’re proactive now with Aging in Place design and remodeling, you’re far more likely to live longer, be independent, and be able to stay in your home if that’s your preference and avoid the cost of assisted living.  

And, the good news is 1) your bathroom or home doesn’t have to look like the ugly, institutional image that just popped into your head, 2) when done beautifully, it will increase the home’s market value. But it takes hiring the right design professional. One that is expert in the science of design for older adults, and whose work is also aesthetically attractive.

4. Have your downsize house prepared (designed and built or remodeled) for Aging in Place by a senior living interior designer and licensed contractor. The best and most convenient time to do it is before you move in. It’s a wise investment in your longevity and wellness.

Many people mistakenly think that adding grab bars is it, or worse, they think it’s a DYI project. Grab bars should not be installed like you’d hang a picture. Walls need to be prepared. It’s a matter of life safety. Don’t cut corners that could cut short the life of you or your loved ones, just to save a few dollars.    

The bottom line is the house you’re downsizing to should be professionally designed, built or remodeled and furnished to meet your needs for today, tomorrow and beyond. Only highly-specialized professionals are qualified to do that.

You can either be proactive and tackle aging head-on or be in denial. Your choice will either positively or negatively impact your longevity, independence and quality of life.

If you’re considering downsizing, call me. Also, if you’re in the Phoenix area, I have some fantastic Realtors that specialize in the real estate needs of older adults that I can introduce you to.

©2019 All rights reserved.