Watch: Aging well at home could depend on home design

The video above comes from the arts & life program of SDPB, Dakota Life.

When a real estate agent introduced Gail Cain and her husband, Sam Hasegawa, to their 1910 home in the historic Cathedral District of Sioux Falls, Gail says she knew right away that the historic home with its wooden windows leaded glass, its pocket doors and wraparound porch was home to them.

“I grew up in a house a bit like this. So I always felt like home – as soon as I walked in. And I never want to give it up. We did what we could to make sure we could stay here as long as possible,” says Gail Cain.

In retirement, the couple remains healthy and active. But they recognize that they can’t always climb the stairs. With this in mind, they recently added a downstairs shower room on the corner of an existing powder room.

“Essentially, we have everything we need on the first floor,” Cain says.

Like Cain, most South Dakotans would rather stay home as they age. Unfortunately, most homes aren’t designed to age, says Leacey Brown. She is a Field Specialist in Gerontology with South Dakota State University Extension.

“Many of our homes are not designed for seniors and end-of-life needs. They are usually designed for that mythical single family that will never grow old. They call it “Peter Pan”, housing. You know, housing for people who will never grow old,” says Leacey Brown.

Brown says that to age well at home, there should be stair-free access to all essential areas and it’s important that doorways and bathrooms are large enough to accommodate a walker and wheelchair.


An accessible home isn’t just for seniors. Architect Gene Fennell says even young people are susceptible to an accident that could impact their mobility.

“We are all one incident away from needing this accessibility. And maybe only temporarily, maybe for six weeks, maybe for six months, you know. The cost of renovation is so much more than the thought process and getting it right in the first place,” says Gene Fennell.

The thought process that Fennell refers to is universal design – or designing with accessibility for all in mind.

“I start with universal design, and it’s design that doesn’t leave out people with different abilities. People have different abilities, that is, there is no entry segregation. When I talk about segregation, I’m not talking about race, or anything like that. I’m talking about abilities, physical abilities… Design should take all of that into consideration and not be binary in the choices that can be made,” says Fennell.

To emphasize his point, Fennell shares an example of how he implemented universal design principles when designing an addition to the Pennington County Courthouse. The original 1922 building had over 30 steps leading to a grand entrance. In 2017, Fennell’s addition greeted the public with a stepless entrance.

“Instead of forcing people to choose between ‘we go up those stairs or we go in a wheelchair lift’, we just rocked the whole floor so everyone approached the inside of the building from the same way. I take that thought process into residential design,” says Fennell.

Universal design was a priority when Shauna Batcheller, community health project manager and licensed contractor, worked with architect Robert Arlt to design her family’s home. She and her husband chose to build their new home in a tight lot between two turn-of-the-century homes near a historic neighborhood in downtown Sioux Falls. The Batchellers have two young sons.

“Our intention was to plan for the future as much as possible…it’s adaptable to our current family. But also adaptable to our future needs and projects and you know, to our changing health situations over the years. So we incorporated as many of these features as possible to make it a user-friendly home. So, the things we have put in place are: a stepless entrance, a bathroom and a kitchen on the ground floor. There is also a room that can easily be converted into a bedroom on the main level. There is a large bathroom that can accommodate a wheelchair. There are also built-in laundry hookups on the main level so we could easily convert our home into a single story living room and we could access the outside without having to use the stairs to access any of the main functions of our home,” says Shauna Batcheller.


Batcheller says she didn’t have to give up the design elements she wanted to build a home following universal design principles.

“I think that’s a concern for people. They think it’s going to cost more to make a one-size-fits-all house or they’re going to have to compromise, and their house is going to look like a hospital room. But I hope to share some pictures of what we were able to do, just to show how it can be done and it can be done in a beautiful way,” Batcheller says.

During the construction of their house, Batcheller broke his foot and had to bear no weight for two months

“It was such an unexpected circumstance that reinforced our decision to make our house easy to get in and out of, easy to move around,” says Batcheller.

Locating their home within walking distance of entertainment, restaurants and essential services like a grocery store and post office was also intentional, as losing the ability to drive is often part of the aging process. For South Dakota Public Broadcasting, I’m Lura Roti.


  • Leacey Brown, SDSU Extension Gerontology Field Specialist 605-394-1722 or
  • Dakota Home: 1-833-663-9673
  • The Dakota Link Assistive Technology Loan Fund provides low-interest, long-term loans to provide people with disabilities in South Dakota with a specially designed financing option for the purchase of assistive technology equipment and devices. assistance, home access improvements or vehicle access modifications. For more information, please visit:
  • The Home and Community Options and Person-Centered Excellence (HOPE) waiver administered by the Division of Long-Term Services and Supports, allows the Department to use Title XIX Medicaid to provide home-based services and community services to people at risk of institutionalization. To learn more, please visit: or call 1-833-663-9673
  • The Community Home Improvement Program (CHIP) provides low-interest loans to eligible borrowers to improve or repair the borrower’s current single-family home. For more information, please visit the South Dakota Housing Development Authority website:
  • The Single Family Dwellings Guaranteed Loan Program helps approved lenders provide low- and middle-income households with the opportunity to own adequate, modest, decent, safe and healthy housing as their primary residence in eligible rural areas. Eligible applicants may build, rehabilitate, improve or relocate housing in an eligible rural area. The program offers a 90% loan guarantee to approved lenders to reduce the risk of providing 100% loans to eligible rural home buyers. To learn more, please visit:
  • Single Family Home Repair Loans and Grants, also known as the Section 504 Home Repair Program, provides loans to very low-income homeowners to repair, improve, or upgrade their home or grants to very low-income elderly homeowners to remove health and safety hazards. To learn more, please visit:
  • General Resources
  • The AARP HomeFit Guide was created to help people stay in the home they love by transforming where they live into a “home for life,” suitable for themselves and everyone in their household. The guide offers solutions ranging from simple do-it-yourself fixes to improvements that require skilled expertise. Available online:
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs provides grants to service members and veterans with certain permanent and total service-related disabilities to help them purchase or build an adapted home, or modify an existing home to accommodate a disability. To learn more, please visit:

Abdul J. Gaspar