Elevating a dishwasher in the kitchen means not having to bend down really far to access its contents.

There is a connection between a person’s sense of happiness, safety and independence, and his or her ability to perform the tasks and activities of daily living safely at home. The reality is, a substantial amount of housing in this nation is in dire need of repairs and updating. San Diego County is not immune to this issue. Many living environments that are not user-friendly, are energy-inefficient, have safety hazards, poor lighting, contain unhealthy indoor air quality, among other problems.

A recent report by AARP Foundation and the Harvard Joint Center of Housing Studies found that nearly 20 million older adults live in unaffordable and unsafe housing, according to Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP. “Plus, only 1 percent of all housing stock in the U.S. has the recommended universal design features,” said Jenkins.

“With 10,000 people turning 65 each day for the next 15 years, the situation is only going to get worse unless we do something to change it,” she added.

Upgrading unsafe homes

Modifications in the bathroom, including a grab bar near the toilet and an open space under the sink, increase accessibility.

The National Institute on Aging states that “more than one in three seniors over the age of 65 fall each year, and six out of every 10 falls occur in the home, with 80 percent of these falls in the bathroom where we spend much of our time and tend to move around without thinking about our safety.”

Most homes have been designed and built through the years to meet the ergonomic needs of the “average” person, which is more along the lines of a young male in his early 20s, about six feet tall and in perfect health. The building industry had no set standards on such things as table, counter and toilet heights, seating or even doorways. Instead, manufacturers, designers and builders traditionally use the products that are readily available.

But what about people as they age, or as they face accessibility demands or other challenges? Do their living environments accommodate their needs?

Here’s where the idea of a “Smart Livable Home” comes in, using design features adapted to people’s needs, rather than people having to adapt to poor design.

As people are affected by age or health challenges — which may negatively affect sight, hearing, muscle strength, dexterity, balance, coordination and reflexes — their ability to successfully and safely perform daily living tasks and activities at home can be greatly challenged. Design features and details can be incorporated into new and existing living environments to help successfully overcome these obstacles to independence.

There are simple steps to create a more user-friendly, accessible, energy-efficient and safe Smart Livable Home. They can include widening doorways, installation of lever-style door and faucet handles, brighter glare-free LED lighting, energy-smart solar hot water systems, slip-resistant low or no threshold showers with hand held spray units, and properly installed grab bars.

Learn more

The public can learn more about universal design and Smart Livable Homes as well:

On June 15th, the County of San Diego will host its Aging Summit 2016 at the Town and Country Resort & Convention Center in Mission Valley (500 Hotel Circle North, San Diego CA) from 9am to 3pm, with featured speaker, Dick Van Dyke.

Laurence Weinstein is founder and president of Shared Solutions America. He spends much of his time educating both consumers and professionals on how to create practical as well as beautiful, living environments that are user-friendly, energy-smart, safe, sustainable, and affordable. Weinstein’s series, “Livable San Diego,” is a twice-monthly series that can be found inside the Home & Garden section of the Union-Tribune on the second and fourth Saturdays or online at livablesandiego.com.