Tapping Into the Baby Boomer Market
Baby Boomer Venture Summit
Santa Clara, California
Promoting “quality of life” for seniors through the use of Independent Living Solutions and Universal Design Principles
By Jeff Weiss
Presented at the “Smart Home” Exhibit of the Baby Boomer Venture Summit
Beginning in January 2006, a Baby Boomer turned 60 every 7.5 seconds. By January 2011, they will reach retirement age at the same pace. This presents an enormous market opportunity for companies that provide products and services to seniors. With 70 million plus consumers in this category, it’s no wonder marketers are jumping onboard.
Baby Boomers are a savvy group. They were the first generation to grow up with television and have been marketed to their entire lives. They are better educated, have more money, and will live longer than any generation before them. In essence, they just might be the perfect consumers.
What Do Baby Boomers Want?
Baby Boomers want to live long, prosperous lives and they want to do it in their own homes. It might sound like a simple proposition. But the fact remains, 1 out of every 2 people over the age of 60 has some type of disability which limits an activity of daily living. Many of these disabilities are minor but they may become more serious over time. And despite being in better health than seniors just a decade ago, they may require some form of home modification to attain their goal of “aging in place.”
Historically, people have planned for their future by making sure their finances were in order. Today, they’re making sure their homes are in order. Which is why Universal and Accessible Design modifications that allow people to live longer in their own homes are currently one of the fastest growing trends in home remodeling. According to a 2000 AARP survey, more than 90 percent of persons age 65 and older would prefer to stay in their current residence as long as possible.
Universal and Accessible Design
Universal Design is credited to Ron Mace, an architect who founded the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. At its most basic level, Universal Design is the creation of products and environments that are accessible, usable, and comfortable for all people, regardless of age, height, or physical ability.
Universal Design features are usually created at the time a home is built. Accessible Design features, on the other hand, utilize Universal Design principles but are modifications that are made to an existing home. Either way, the intent is to simplify life by making the environment accessible to everyone.
Creating barrier-free, accessible environments can be simpler than most people envision. Lever handles instead of doorknobs, expandable door hinges that widen doorways, and grab bars in bathrooms are some of the more common examples used by remodelers. Such enhancements allow people to live safely and comfortably in their own homes.
We’ve come a long way since the first grab bar was installed in a home. The early models were functional, but a bit institutional looking for most tastes. Today’s accessible accompaniments are functional AND attractive. Remember, Boomers are savvy. They want functionality and elegance.
Companies that will thrive in the emerging market will assess the home environment, recommend solutions for incorporating Universal Design principles that will increase safety and accessibility, and implement the modifications in a timely and cost efficient manner.
Accessible Design & Consulting, Inc. has provided independent living solutions for seniors since 1999. Based in Los Angeles, California, the company provides in-home assessments, architectural renderings, accessible design modifications throughout the entire home, elevator and stairlift installations, roll-in wheelchair showers, and also sells durable medical equipment such as walkers, scooters, powerchairs, adjustable beds, and overhead lifts.
Says Adam Fine, founder and president of Accessible Design & Consulting, “Our goal is to promote ‘quality of life’ to seniors with physical challenges so that they can remain independent in their own home for as long as possible. We’ve performed modifications as simple as grab bars, raised toilets and stairlifts in Los Angeles to a recent modification that included the installation of an elevator and overhead ceiling lift. The overhead lift raises the patient out of bed, rolls along a track in the ceiling, carries him from the bedroom to the bathroom and then lowers him into the bathtub. The entire system works at the push of a button.”
Accessible Home Modifications
The ultimate goal of modifying a home to be accessible is to promote safety and independence so the owner can remain in the home for as long as possible. With nursing home costs averaging $60,000 annually, it’s more than worth the effort and expense to modify a home to make it accessible. People that live in their own homes as they age tend to live longer, are more active socially, and spend more time with their families than those who transition to nursing homes.
The best time to make accessible modifications is when purchasing a new home or planning to remodel. Unfortunately, many people are forced to make changes only after a disability arises. Obviously, each home is unique and each person may have an exclusive set of challenges. Nonetheless, there are common things to examine.
Most accidents happen in the bathroom. A barrier-free bathroom is the first item to consider for independent living. Recommended bathroom modifications include:
- Raised toilets
- Grab bars around the toilet, bathtub and shower area
- Wall-hung sink with p-trap cover
- Lever handles on sink or hands-free faucet
- Non-slip shower strips or bath mat
- Anti-scald shower valves
- Hand-held shower head with 3-way diverter
- Widened doorway
- Roll-in shower for wheelchair users if necessary
- Shower bench or seat
- Fold-down grab bars
Kitchens are one of the most popular rooms in the home and are easy to make accessible, especially when designed during new home construction.
- Side by side refrigerators with pull out, or easily adjustable shelves
- Dishwashers with push button controls
- Pull out shelves or lazy Susan’s
- Cupboards close to the counter or motorized that lower at the touch of a button
- Step stools with attached handles
- Non-slip flooring
- Varied or multiple height counter spaces
Living rooms are generally safe but can be made to be more accessible.
- Install furniture risers under sofas and chairs to make them more accommodating
- Electric recliners that lift people up and out of the seat
- Couch canes or furniture with steady arms
- Check for loose carpet, electrical cords, wires or clutter that may impede walking
Considerations for New Home Construction
The concept of Universal Design can be extremely cost effective when designing and building a new home. The following is a list of things to consider when building a new home:
- A bedroom and bathroom on the ground floor level
- Ground floor entrance without steps
- Doorways at least 36″ wide and hallways at least 42″ wide
- Light switches that are 42″ from the floor
- Electrical outlets 18″ above the floor
- Light switches with adjustable controls
- Non-skid flooring
- Sturdy railings along walkways and stairs
- Adequate lighting in all areas of the home including hallways and entrances
- Light switches at the top and bottom of stairways
- Hand holds or grab bars for the shower and bathtub
- Low or no-threshold doorways
“Visitability” is another term that has been gaining traction in recent years thanks to the Visitability Bill introduced in Congress in 2003. Visitability refers to single-family housing designed to be easily visited by people with disabilities. A visitable home has at least one no-step entrance, doors and hallways wide enough to navigate through and a first-floor bathroom big enough for a wheelchair.
This is an important consideration for Baby Boomers as they transition to becoming senior citizens. The aging homeowner may be in perfect health but has peers that are physically challenged. By designing homes with visitability in mind, they will ensure their home is accessible to friends and relatives, which include other seniors or their own children and grandchildren.
Other Products on the Horizon
Making the home safer and more accessible to seniors ensures that they will be able to live independently at home. Adding technology just makes it more fun.
“We’re doing more elevator and lift installations than a few years ago,” notes Adam Fine. “Push-button devices such as cupboards and sinks that lower and raise are becoming popular, as well as wireless technologies such as automatic door and window openers. Computers are now controlling lights and appliances and we’re seeing the first glimpses of voice control that may become more mainstream in the not-too-distant future. It’s definitely an interesting time to be remodeling a home.”