I read a fascinating article in this morning’s Wall Street Journal called Staying Put at 96. In this piece, journalist Lucette Lagnado talked about the growing number of seniors who are opting to stay in their own homes as they age, not relocate to a nursing home. The woman featured in Lagnado’s front page story, Virginia Lawson, is 96 years old and lives in the home she and her late husband bought in the Hamptons in 1950.
I read this article with great interest for a couple of reasons. The first is personal: my Dad is one of those seniors who still lives in their own home. I could identify with the push/pull Ms. Lawson’s only son deals with in balancing his mother’s independence and wishes with his concern for her safety and well being as she becomes more physically and mentally frail.
The second reason I poured over this article is that seniors staying in their homes as they age is a trend.
The fact that it actually costs less for seniors to be at home with some sort of occasional help makes me think about the pending Medicare crisis. According to the author, from 1975 to 2004, Medicaid spent about $600 billion dollars on long-term care of the elderly, with nearly 90% of that sum going to institutions (she got her stats from AARP). A shift in where the elderly live could actually ease this crisis, so there is certainly a reason to pay attention to this trend from a fiscal point of view.
There is a décor side to this trend as well that is poised to become a trend of its own.
Knowing that seniors loose strength as they age means that, when they do so while remaining in their own home, the weight of things used everyday becomes a factor. The elderly also have trouble getting up out of the deep, plush upholstery that has prevailed as scale has increased over the past several years.
Seniors also need more light to see. Not only that, but cdolor must be used carefully on walls and floors because certain contrasts in color value are perceived as changes in depth—a hole or a drop-off, for example.
All of this may sound like nothing more than the trials of aging but these issues are really business opportunities waiting to be embraced, especially as Boomers begin their retirement. This savvy consumer group will accelerate the market’s quest for products that make life better for seniors in all kinds of ways that have nothing to do with playing golf or taking a cruise. How do we know that? Because Boomers have been raised to expect great design and excellent style. They will accept no less 5, 10 or 20 years from now.
Consider dinnerware. My Dad uses an old set of melamine that is light enough for him to pick up, even in stacks. Retired boomers will want melamine for the same reason, but they will not be satisfied with plates in nondescript patterns with poor quality. They want dinnerware to have style. French Bull is already on the job, with fabulous, trend right designs that have broad appeal. This is a model for how other companies should approach glassware, mixing bowls and cookware.
Lighting is a huge need for aging adults. More of it is required all over the house—for reading, paying bills or even looking in the closet. Covering a room in fixtures is a solution that works yet offers little else. Companies like Blome are sneaking rows of LED’s into curtain rods. This is a clever touch that could and should inspire more ways to bring light into a room. Done this way it is a decorative solution with a practical benefit.
These are just a couple of ideas. There should be many more and there will be. As the huge and powerful Boomer group pushes for changes to décor products—modifications and innovations that make them usable for an aging adult living in their own home—expect a whole range of new products to appear. Changes in home and condo building have just begun with universal design principles (more known, discussed and applied today than every before) at the core. Products will be next. 2010 is the year when this niche will begin to attract attention.