One of the most difficult moments for many American families comes when it's decided that an elderly mom or dad needs to leave home and move into a safer environment.

It can be to a wing of the kids' house or an assisted-living facility where the elderly person can still come and go freely.  Or if the old person is struggling with physical or memory problems, the new residence might have to be a nursing home.

No matter the option, it's rarely a pleasant time for the old folks or their children. People who have lived 20 or 30 years - maybe half a century - in one house have come to love every corner of it.  Still, if they are frail, and the house has many steps or open areas where it's easy to fall, or cupboards and appliances that are hard to reach, there's not much of an option.  It's time to move on.

But now architects and communities are promoting a new and safer kind of house that can be made warm and cozy and distinctive, but can also be much safer for the very old.

It's called a universal-designed home.  Along with a story about it, The Washington Post printed a diagram - a floor plan - of such a house.  It showed such features as a long, sloping walkway, straight to the front door, rather than high steps or an ugly wooden ramp for disabled people. 

Kitchen counters, cabinets and even toilets adjust in height; they can be lowered as people begin to stoop with age.And if the home has more than one story, the staircase and the space at the bottom of the stairs are specifically designed to accept an electronic lift chair if a resident needs one.

The concept is called "aging in place."  Or, to borrow the Post's headline: aging gracefully.  For the elderly, a universal-design home beats the alternative of having to move out and into a place where their priceless feeling of independence is lost.

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.