Today's ADA-compliant bath fixtures and accessories have surpassed that 'institutional' look.

JACLO


As we (48 and three-quarters) approach the other side of being “over the hill,” we realize how many youngsters could mistakenly consider us already sliding down that slippery slope. Why just this morning, as we prepared to write this story, we peered down through our “progressive lenses” to read this sobering lead from a press release from the AARP: “If you’re like the majority of Americans over the age of 45, you want to continue living in a familiar environment throughout your maturing years.”

Apparently 45 isn’t the new 30 as we were led to believe just three short years ago. It’s the new 65. In the spirit that it never hurts to plan ahead, however, we have more than noticed how downright stylish the once dowdy world of “handicapped” plumbing products have become.

Just take a look at the grab bars we have pictured from JACLO. A few years ago, if we saw this at all at the various plumbing shows we attend, they would have been in a plain metal finish.

We also noticed the walk-in tubs or roll-in showers on display, with all offering much style and decorative touches that everyone else has come to expect from their bathrooms. Even Jacuzzi, a name pretty much synonymous with “whirlpools,” has a line of walk-in jetted tubs.

“Aging will happen to everyone,” Drue Ellen Lawlor said at this year’s Kitchen/Bath Industry Show in Chicago, who went on to point out a different meaning to the buzzword “sustainability.” As more people live longer, they will likely need regular assistance, particularly when it comes to using the toilet and bathing.

“Is their home ‘sustainable,’ ” Lawlor asked, “not in the ‘green’ sense, but in terms of longevity and usefulness?”           

As always, marketers are beginning to set their sights on the baby boomers, that demographic bulge that’s always represented a big market from the time they started being born after World War II.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans over age 65 is expected to double - reaching 72 million by 2030. Unlike the generation before them, this crowd doesn’t expect to move to retirement communities or assisted-living centers. Most boomers expect to stay put in their own homes. Stories we’ve read also mention that aging baby boomers don’t want anything like toilets, grab bars, shower systems, etc., to look like they belong in an “old folks’ home.”

A 2006 survey by the AARP said 84 percent of its members want to remain at home as long as possible. As Lawlor pointed out, however, can they stay put safely? The easy answer is absolutely not. That same AARP survey indicated that almost 90 percent of its members currently didn’t live in homes that had been modified to help them, say, take a bath safely.

We’ve written before about the bathroom being the most dangerous room in the house. Slips, trips, falls and other injuries present a real danger for older folks. In fact, the AARP says those over the age of 70 are the largest group injured by falls in the home each year.

“And that scares seniors the most because it puts them out of their homes,” Lawlor added.

Plumbers have a real opportunity to remodel bathrooms for this growing market in the years ahead. An extensive bath remodel seems like a pittance compared to the bankrupting cost of nursing homes.

Lawlor mentioned some of these “aging-in-place” preferences she picked up from a survey done by the National Association of Homebuilders:
  • Nonslip floors.
  • No- or low-step thresholds.
  • Grab bars.
  • Easy-entry showers.
  • Higher toilets.
Lawlor was also sold on the benefits of radiant floors. Anyone who needs to spend more time in the bathroom will quickly appreciate the added warmth, plus “you feel colder more as you get older.”

Lawlor recommended that the able-bodied rent a wheelchair or walker for the day to get a sense of what this might feel like in your own bathrooms.

American Standard

Designated Specialist

You may want to consider taking the NAHB’s Certified Aging in Place Specialist program to address the needs of consumers who want to make their house a home for a lifetime. Training includes:
  • The unique needs of older people;
  • Home modifications that can help people continue living independently in their homes longer;
  • Common remodeling projects; and
  • Solutions to common barriers.
Log on to www.nahb.org and search for “CAPS.”