As the mirror delights in telling me every morning, I’m not getting any younger.
But at least I have plenty of company.
By 2034, according to Danielle Arigoni, AARP’s director of livable communities (and a 1991 University of Oregon grad), there will be more people 65 and over than there are 18 and under for the first time in U.S. history.
Which is why aging in place — and how best to do it — is such a major issue now, one that will only become more important in the next several decades.
“It’s a massive demographic tipping point,” Arigoni says. A 2018 AARP survey found 75% of those 50 (what I call “those kids”) and over want to age in their own home, and the percentages grew even higher in older age groups.
Much has been written about what to do to make a residence’s interior best suited for homeowners as they age. (See AARP’s very informative — and very free — Home Fit guide.)
But less has been shared about how to make a private garden accessible as people age into their 70s, 80s and 90s. The American Society of Landscape Architects has addressed public spaces and gardens, but not private residences.
Which is where Jane Coombs, a retired landscape designer, comes in.
A few years ago, Jane and husband, Peter Dowse, knew it was time to move out of their beloved 1914 Craftsman in Sellwood. With stairs leading up to the entry, an upstairs master bedroom and a basement laundry room, the home was all the things aging-in-place experts don’t recommend.
So it was that they found themselves in a one-story house in Milwaukie and Jane, with 30-plus years of landscape design experience, had a 10,000-square-foot, relatively blank canvas to work with outdoors.
And in the process of designing her garden, she always kept in mind what would work best for her and her husband 10 years down the road.
“When I’m 90,” she explains, “I won’t be able to maintain the garden the way I can now.”
This thinking led Jane to incorporate aging-in-place design principles in her front and back gardens, many of which we’ve included in the tips.
They include flat, navigable surfaces for wheelchairs and walkers, a step-free entry from inside the house to the patio, easy-maintenance plants, plenty of seating and multiple hose bibs. A LOT of hose bibs. OK, eight, to be exact.
A very dear friend of mine from high school, Oklahoma State University assistant professor Emily Roberts, has her doctorate in environmental gerontology, a field that seeks to optimize the relationship between the elderly and their physical and social environment.
I learned from her that connection to the outdoors and nature can ease and prolong a person’s life, even if it’s just looking out the window from either a hospital bed or your own home. Having access physically or visually to nature is extremely beneficial to our well-being as we age.
The concept of biophilia, originally written