News & Opinions
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Are You Riding the “Silver Tsunami?”
Kate Tyndall / ProSales / January 15, 2013
Bill McHugh, a custom builder in Austin, Texas, is an example of a trend that’s reaching a tipping point if for no other reason than simple demographics. His mother was turning 80, and she wanted to remain independent, a challenge for McHugh, who knew a lot about building but not so much about designing for the challenges faced by an aging body.
What he found was universal design (UD)—a philosophy that calls for the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.
America is about to get hit by what some UD advocates call a “silver tsunami” of baby boomers, that tumultuous band born between 1946 and 1964. The first of the boomers turned 65 in 2011.
In less than two decades, every living member of that 77 million-strong cohort will be between the ages of 65 and 85 and account for 20% of the country’s total population, according to U.S. Census estimates. And, 90% of these boomers report they want to stay in their homes as they grow older.
Boomers may be determined to defy the limitations of age, but they’re certain to encounter the normal consequences of aging: reduced vision, a process that begins in the 40s; less strength; and a decline in fine-motor skills. These diminutions occur in the absence of any significant disability. At age 60, for instance, adults need three times the light they did at age 20 to see properly. On top of that, Census data reveal that more than 29% of Americans 65 and over suffer some form of physical disability.
Universal design can mitigate a lot of these challenges with the use of layered lighting to banish shadows; flat thresholds at all entrances to reduce tripping hazards; roll-in (curbless) showers equipped with adjustable showerheads, flip-down seats, and support bars; comfort-height toilets (higher than standard toilets); wide hallways and 3-foot wide doorways; multi-level counters; and pull-down shelves in kitchens.