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Take the ‘Aging’ out of Aging in Place

This year’s KBIS was rife with aging-in-place products, and the growth of the aging baby boomer and mature demographics certainly warrant these products. But how do you sell products for “aging” to people who are convinced that “old” is always ten years older than they are?

authors Janice Costa | March 5, 2015

It’s snowing again for what feels like the 38th time this winter, and my Mom is not happy: Dad is going stir crazy and, despite the treacherous roads, has decided to head out to his office at the college where he teaches to get some work done. Mom suggested it might not be a good idea to drive in this, and he responded, “I’m fine. I’ll stop driving in bad weather when I get old.”

At 78, it would be hard to argue that he’s young, but with his full schedule of teaching, running an 18-piece big band, bowling several nights a week and working on a new endocrinology textbook, he hardly falls into the traditional stereotype of “old” – even if he has had a knee replacement and several stents put in.

Indeed, with the growing number of older adults who do everything from to working well past retirement years to starting new businesses, pursuing hobbies, going to the gym and even running marathons, that stereotype seems less and less relevant.

For kitchen and design professionals, this can present some interesting challenges. This year’s KBIS was rife with aging-in-place products (see related KBIS coverage, Page 52), and the growth of the aging baby boomer and mature demographics certainly warrant these products. But how do you sell products for “aging” to people who are convinced that “old” is always ten years older than they are?

Just as today’s boomers and seniors are shattering the stereotypes of what it means to grow older, the design community may need to toss out the current approach to selling “aging-in-place” products and rethink how to meet these clients’ changing needs, recognizing that today’s “old” is a far cry from what it meant just a few decades back.

The good news is that in the 2015 Kitchen and Bath Style Report, the National Kitchen & Bath Association reported that more than half of NKBA designers surveyed said they incorporated accessible products or Universal Design features in at least some of the kitchen and bathroom projects they did last year. Yet there is still a tremendous resistance on the part of homeowners to plan for – or, in many cases, even talk about – the dreaded “A” word.

In this month’s Trend Spotting (see story, Page 26), Jamie Gold looks at ways aging-in-place products and the concept of Universal Design can be rebranded to appeal to a growing demographic of older homeowners, many of whom are still active enough to be interested not just in grab bars and ramps, but in fitness rooms, stream showers, healthy cooking appliances and more.

While a walk-in safety tub may be the best option for an older client who is mobility challenged, a more active senior may be excited by the wealth of jetted tub options with hydrotherapy benefits (see related Product Trend Report, Page 41) ideal for loosening up after a gym workout.

As Gold states, “By changing the conversation from aging to accessibility or athleticism, you empower your clients to feel comfortable with the best features available for their lives and homes.”

Marketing these features by reminding boomer clients of the need to be able to accommodate parents or in-laws can also help to make these features more appealing – and less “threatening” for those who are uncomfortable with the idea of aging. Likewise, “safety features” such as induction cooking and faucets that offer color cues to warn of hot water can be marketed as ways to protect future grandchildren.

The nation's population continues to age, and savvy design professionals know they must remain up to date on the best products to facilitate creating relaxing, inviting, accessible and beautiful homes that will work for them as they grow older. However, it's equally important to remember that while your clients' bodies may be aging, many still believe in the adage that "old" is just a state of mind. Like my Dad, they will buy "aging" products when they're "old." For now, they just want products that make their homes comfortable, their lives easier and their spaces beautiful.

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