Tag Archives: senior living design

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!