Looking for your forever home — where you can age in place with minimal accommodations? It may take more than installing grab bars in a walk-in shower.
With the aging population growing rapidly, Rodney Harrell, vice president of home, community, and family at AARP, recommends thinking of your future needs throughout a home. Universal design can help with this, and one important consideration to make relates to a home’s appliances.
Questions to ask in a home, says GE Appliances industrial design leader Marc Hottenroth, are: “How easy is this [appliance] to use? How easy is it to put things in and take them out? How about the ergonomics? And capacity — does your family expand at holidays or summertime?”
As far as features to seek out or install, induction cooktops, for example, are safer than standard gas or electric ranges because “they don’t get hot; the pans get hot,” Hottenroth says. “You can take the pan off, and a few seconds later, [the surface] is cool.”
In either case, “it’s important that the controls be in front so users can avoid reaching over hot surfaces,” says Harrell. It’s easier to see and use front-mounted controls, and some even have LCD displays. But if children, jumpy pets, or someone’s hip might turn a dial, be sure to get locking controls or easy-to-order covers.
You may not even need a conventional oven these days; a convection microwave can handle baking and roasting. Convection microwaves cost more up front, but the energy savings pay off and aid the environment, Harrell notes. Among conventional oven options are ones with a voice-activated door. Say “open the door” with full hands, and the door — no handle! — glides open for you. Another choice has French doors. Pull one side, and both open smoothly, Hottenroth says. Without the typical door in the way, you can get closer. “With muscular loss, hovering over a big door can be hard,” he adds.
Dishwashers can be annoying for anyone to reach into. Using just the top half of a two-section appliance is a solution (though a pricey one), says Harrell, that “may reduce the bending needed with a standard model.” An alternative is a three-rack model with silverware on top, Hottenroth says. Users with difficulty bending or stooping may set it to “upper wash only,” then use the whole machine when family or friends visit.
Washers and dryers, too, can be tough on aging bodies: Lean into a top-loader, or stoop for a front-loader? Harrell favors front-loaders on 10-inch pedestals, which are sold separately. With top-loaders, he recommends having a sturdy step stool nearby.
The trouble is, front-loaders are known for mildew problems — “a major sticking point for most front-load consumers,” Hottenroth admits. GE designers “added an air ventilation system and antimicrobial material, which has been wildly successful,” he says.
Whatever you buy, consider visiting a sales floor. “Seeing something in person can help you understand how a machine will fit your needs, how you can reach things (or not),” Harrell says. This is one reason AARP has partnered with Lowe’s on aging-in-place content and solutions, a project called Livable Home.
“It’s worth a trip,” he says, “to see what descriptions mean in real life.”