Senior Nation: A Sexagenarian’s Musings on “Aging in Place”

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One of my favorite movies is “The Thin Man,” based on the first of six mystery novels by Dashiell Hammett. Nick Charles is a retired detective who manages his wife’s inheritance; however, his wife’s adventurous spirit soon has them assisting the police in solving cases. The inspired casting of William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora made the series pure pleasure to watch.

In the first movie, “The Thin Man,” Nick and Nora are asked to help find a missing inventor who had shown signs of forgetfulness. During a New Year’s Eve party at the Charles’ apartment, the son of the inventor is surrounded by reporters asking questions about why his father would want to disappear. The overly erudite son answers “Well, he is a Sexagenarian.” One of the reporters exclaims “I can’t print THAT” and the camera pans to show Nick’s bemused face as he chuckles over the reporter’s limited vocabulary.

As this sexagenarian reaches another birthday this week, I am contemplating, even more, the challenges of “aging in place” in my early 20th-century farmhouse. Shortly after moving in, I removed the tub shower in my first-floor bath and modified the floor joists to slope the floor in the shower area. The added benefit is the extra floor space I now have in my small bathroom. I am currently designing my kitchen renovation with five feet between my galley kitchen layout for ADA clearance if that ever became an issue for me.

Whenever I design a new home or undertake a major renovation with a client, we discuss design features that would enable them to remain in their home as they grow older. Instead of the 36” wide hallways stipulated by the building code, 42” wide hallways are better for maneuvering a walker or wheelchair, and 36” wide doors make access to rooms easier. Stacking closets in a two-story house creates a shaft for a future elevator so the house could be fully accessible. Leaving space in an attached garage for future addition of a lift to the main floor eliminates the need for an exterior ramp. Many houses have three steps from a deck or porch to grade, and the code does not require a handrail. However, adding handrails is safer for people like me who need to grip a handrail for support when maneuvering steps.

I just completed a “Smart Home Technology” course as part of Continuing Education for renewal of my architectural license. This technology has had an enormous impact on home design and can be as simple or complex as you need. Voice-activated controls, security systems that can lock exterior doors and provide video of your exterior door areas, lights that can be voice or motion activated to eliminate the need of timers for lamps, etc., are all part of the technological integration of your personal devices with today’s technology to keep you independent as long as possible. It’s then easy to relax, pour one of Nick’s signature martinis and watch a great movie like “The Thin Man.”


Jennifer Martella has pursued her dual careers in architecture and real estate since she moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004. Her award winning work has ranged from revitalization projects to a collaboration with the Maya Lin Studio for the Children’s Defense Fund’s corporate retreat in her home state of Tennessee.

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