Apartment living can be a challenge at any age, but as the population of New York City continues to grow and age, it is becoming apparent to building owners and tenants alike that apartment building design needs to change to better serve its residents.
To that end, the Mayor’s Office and the New York City Department for the Aging recently released a helpful guidebook aimed at providing building owners with advice on how to ensure their building is a safe, welcoming environment for New Yorkers over 60 who plan on remaining in their longtime apartments as they age, a practice commonly known as “aging in place.”
A Growing Population
Based on US Census and City-gathered data, the population of New Yorkers 60 and over is set to skyrocket in the coming decades. There are currently more than 1.4 million people living in New York City over 60, and that number is expected to climb to 2 million by 2040. Of that population, 96 percent of all seniors are planning on aging in place, meaning building owners will need to account for their tenants’ needs and consider minor alterations to their buildings to promote a safe living space.
The population of New York City is not only growing older, its needs are also changing. Chronic conditions become more common as we age, and can result in altered visual acuity, memory retention, hand dexterity, and mobility. As a result, building owners are now being encouraged to consider these needs.
The city’s guide focuses on two major challenges currently faced by New Yorkers aging in place: social isolation and household falls.
Based on Department of Aging data, falls are the most common concern for older adults and can have the greatest impact on a resident’s overall health. One in every three Americans aged 65 or older reports a fall every year, with one in five falls resulting in hospitalization and, in many cases, an eventual decline in that person’s health.
While falls and their effects on a resident are clearly apparent, social isolation is a much more subtle hazard to overcome. If a resident has a small social circle or does not interact with their neighbors, it can become easy for minor problems (like increasing forgetfulness or difficulty taking care of oneself) to escalate into serious medical concerns without outside help. As a result, the guide offers a number of ways to encourage residents to engage one another in common areas throughout the building.
Building for the Future
Many of the changes suggested in the guide are already commonplace in modern residential buildings meant for older tenants, like contrasting floor colors to indicate elevation changes, stairs, or changes in the flooring material, grab bars in hallways and bathrooms, and public seating in building common areas and entryways, however the guide does introduce some new, subtle ways to help residents navigate the building.
Specifically, the “wayfinding” sections of the guide offer interesting ideas to help adults with memory or visual challenges reach their intended destination. The guide suggests using unique paintings, wall colors, or plants visible from the elevator to help residents remember their home floor, as well as encouraging door decorations to help residents identify their front door. This wayfinding concept goes beyond hallways and also includes the exterior of the building, recommending large, easy-to-read signage outside the building to indicate the address and make it easier for residents to identify their building from their neighbor’s.
The guide also encourages building owners to consider upgrading technology throughout the building to better serve its tenants, including integrating video intercom systems into each apartment to improve security and aid those with hearing impairments, the installation of help buttons in apartments, and even purchasing medical alert devices as a group to lower costs and help building staff ensure the safety of their tenants around the clock.
Finally, while making every modification suggested in the guide might not be affordable for all building owners, the guide does a good job directing readers to a number of city, state, and federal programs that can help offset renovation costs.
Don’t Own a Building?
Even if you are a resident or have an older loved one living in New York City, you might want to peruse this guide and begin to consider how age-friendly your building will be as the years go on. While many of the modifications listed in the guide are beyond the scope of a single resident’s efforts, there are some great ideas for in-apartment modifications that can be completed at little cost.
SelectCare hopes you find this guide useful and applaud the efforts of everyone who worked on this great resource, especially the staff of New York City’s Department for the Aging.