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Designing for the Elderly: A Concerned Daughter’s Guide to Aging Parents

Interior design for elderly

Designing for the elderly is becoming an increasingly important part of domestic life, but why? Like many of you reading this, my parents aren’t getting any younger. As a working professional living far away from home and raising kids of my own, I wish I could do more for them. When I come home for the holidays, I help out as much as I can – whether than means making repairs around the house, assisting them with financial planning, or doing the grocery shopping. But there’s only so much I can do from a distance. That’s when I started looking for more long-term solutions for my ageing parents’ needs, and I found that one of the best ways to care for them and their living situation was to improve where they lived. Because my parents love their home and their neighborhood, instead of looking to re-house or placing them in an “old people home”, I looked to renovate. Interior Designing for the Elderly is that long-term solution, and we’re here with answers to all of your most important questions and concerns.

Designing for the elderly running

What are the stages of old age for elderly friendly home design?

The golden rule of aging is that it’s a changing process; individual needs vary depending on the stage. If your parents are in their sixties—a.k.a. their “Golden Years”—they’re still going to be active. Remember that advances in medicine and welfare mean more people than ever are working well into their seventies, pushing back the age of retirement further than it was a few decades ago. Since seniors have more ways of keeping themselves physically and mentally active, it’s imperative that their homes prepare them and their families for the inevitable.

Designing for the Elderly ageEven the healthiest people in their seventies don’t move around like they used to. Regardless of how driven they might be, your parents are sure to experience reduced stamina and physical impairments in their eighties, and in their nineties will be homebound. By then, accessibility will be of the utmost importance. Unless they’re superhuman, retirement is a given, and means a lot of downtime. This is where design for seniors and design for ageing comes in.

What is the importance of Designing for the Elderly?

Like any other living space, except for the special things that make it livable for seniors. Whether building a home from the ground up or retrofitting an existing one, there are many things to keep in mind. It might seem like a lot on paper, but we’re here to make it clear.

Designing for the elderly iconsDid you know that your aging parents are two of 617 million people in the world who are 65 and older? That’s 8.5 percent of the global population, and the number is expected to double by 2050. The reason behind this trend is simple: people are living better, longer. But with longevity comes a need for safer living spaces, designed with the elderly in mind. As the elderly population worldwide rises and more people than ever over the age of 65 have the means for independence, smarter home innovation becomes paramount. Designing or redesigning interiors with your parents in mind is the best way to ensure that home really is where the heart is. Home design for seniors is all in the details.

How to make your home senior friendly?

The whole concept of a senior-friendly is built around those things your parents use the most. That means, first and foremost, installing levers on every door. This will make opening doors a breeze and allow your parents to move from one room to another without having to fumble for a knob. They’ll also have less trouble closing doors, if and when they need some privacy. Proper lighting in every room is a must. This includes indirect lighting to cut down on glare, rocker-panel switches for ease of operation and to minimize the chance of electric shock, and LED fixtures that require less frequent changing. Skylights and ceiling lights, where installable, are an elegant solution. As for flooring, anything made from linoleum,cork, or other soft materials reduces the risk of injury in the event of a fall, and minimizes trip hazards commonly associated with carpeting. On that point, it’s imperative to eliminate trip points at all thresholds. Seniors may be unable to lift their feet as high as they used to. The flatter the surface, the better.

Designing for the Elderly friendlyIt’s important that seniors feel obligated to lean or bend over as little as possible. To ensure this, having plug points at waist or table height means no more bending over to plug in or unplug an appliance. Similarly, full-length mirrors mitigate the need for dangerous gymnastics just to get a good view of oneself. In places, such as bathrooms, where bending over may be unavoidable, grab bars are indispensable and will give your parents that extra sense of security they need. Last but not least, strategically arranged landing places for smaller everyday items such as keys, wallets, insurance cards, mobile phones, medications, eyeglasses, hearing aids, remote controls, jewelry, cosmetics, and handbags, can be lifesavers.

Be sure to check out the archiparti feng shui instructable to learn how to balance safety, accessibility, and energy! The perfect compliment to the Designing for the Elderly guide!

What is elderly bathroom design?

Designing for the Elderly bathroomMore than any other room in your parents’ house, it is essential to know how to make bathroom safe for elderly. Bathroom designs for seniors should always include grab bars and/or handrails that match the height and reach of the intended users. Whether in the shower or near the toilet, these will allow your parents smoother transitions from standing to sitting, and alleviate the possibility of falls, sprains, and spinal injuries. An elevated toilet means your parents won’t need to squat too far to reach it. Likewise, a lower sink will enable them to perform their nightly routine from a seated position. In the shower, intelligent design is even more important. Above all, a curbless walk-in shower stall, with optional seat, means no more leg lifting just to get into the tub. Other necessities include a detachable and height-adjustable shower head, an anti-scald water device to protect from burns, and a clearly labeled shower handle that is easy to operate. PRO TIP: Using 2-by-8s instead of 2-by-4s when building a wall makes installation of grab bars much easier.

What to keep in mind when designing kitchens for the elderly?

Designing for the Elderly kitchenFirst and foremost, every kitchen design for elderly needs a relatively small kitchen triangle to minimize distances traveled between appliances. Using a rolling cart that goes with your parents as they walk around the kitchen can be a great help. The cart may also be used for storage, or to keep important utensils nearby at all times without having to reach for them. Speaking of reaching, rotating trays(Lazy Susans) in cupboards will help to maximize those hard-to-reach areas in the back. Down below, ample knee clearance under sinks and counters will make washing dishes, food preparation, and other kitchen tasks easier to perform while seated, especially for wheelchair users. Likewise, pull-out cutting surfaces can be great for those who need lower access. PRO TIP: When planning kitchen and cooking spaces while Designing for the Elderly, avoid placing cabinets over stoves, so no one gets burned reaching over them.

Want to know more about different types of kitchens, see the archiparti blog post here.

What are some elderly friendly bedroom ideas?

In a bedroom for the elderly, two-way switches make everyday life that much more comfortable for those who spend a lot of time in the home. These switches allow your parents to turn on a light when entering the room and shut it off from bed, for example, without having to walk all the way back to the doorway. Adjustable orthopedic beds for elderly and anti-allergen bedding can be lifesavers for those with back issues and sensitivity to industrial materials. Bedrooms are often the most challenging when it comes to storage, and so having ample closet space is essential. A walk-in closet is ideal, but isn’t always doable in a given room. Either way, outfitting any closet with variable-height shelving will allow more options for keeping the important things within immediate reach, give your parents a feeling of orderliness, and reduce the chances of tripping over items left on the floor due to lack of space. PRO TIP: Natural light from large windows promotes a healthy sleep cycle and aids the visually impaired.

How to make stairs safer and easier for elderly?

Designing for the Elderly stairsWhen thinking about how to make stairs easier for elderly, the key thing to remember is to have handrails on both sides, so that your parents get maximum balance support when ascending or descending. Figuring out the proper step riser height and tread depth is another factor to consider, especially when you have more funds to play around with in your renovation budget. Major technological interventions like stair chairs may seem like savvy solutions to mobility problems in multi-level homes, but they can be eyesores and require more upkeep and repair compared to more integrated renovations. One advantage to larger equipment is that it’s more likely to be covered by health insurance, but the risk of malfunction must also be carefully weighed. PRO TIP: Safe stairs for elderly must always be properly lit.

What is the best decor and furniture for senior citizens?

When it comes to décor, the golden rule of designing for seniors is: always use different materials, textures, and/or colors to indicate any changes in level. If, for example, you have a linoleum floor but carpeted stairs, make sure the color differences are distinct enough. Palettes adapted to the needs of primary residents—using, for example, high-contrast color schemes for those with poor eyesight—are another must. Under this category, we might also include elderly ergonomics and senior friendly furniture. Most furniture on the market isn’t well suited for Designing for the Elderly and may be too plush to properly support aging bones. Elderly ergonomics inspired recliners are a safe bet for the living room, for those times when mom wants to doze off without having to move all the way to the bedroom. PRO TIP: A harmonious décor goes a long in way in improving the emotional well-being of the elderly, and anyone else living in the household.

How to improve accessibility for elderly through senior living interior design?

Designing for the elderly in regards to acccesibility poses a new layer of challenges in equal consideration of form and function. Making homes wheelchair accessible overall, while initially expensive, will pay for itself in the long run. The ideal accessible home will have no-step entries and thresholds, and wheelchair ramps where needed, wider hallways and doorways, and swing-away hinges that allow doors to be pushed open from either side. For homes with garages, a garage lift might be helpful, but like the stair chair must be weighed against the risks of malfunction. PRO TIP: Even if your parents don’t currently use a wheelchair, consider the possibility that they might need one later on.

What are some senior gardening tips?

Designing for the Elderly gardenGardening is proven to be a therapeutic and healthy activity for seniors. While garden designing for the elderly, there are a few things to bear in mind. First, raised beds so that they won’t need to bend over. (Another option would be trellises for vertical gardening.) Second, wide paths make wheelchair or walker accessibility a snap. Lastly, make sure their tools are easy to see and clearly marked. PRO TIP: Keep gardening beds in shaded areas to avoid heatstroke.

What are the dangers of elderly falling?

Resources for independent living are more abundant in certain parts of the world over others. Still, even those with strong networks of support stand only to benefit from an architecturally sound approach to accessibility and individual integrity. A safe home is one in which all parts work together to protect the well-being of those inside it. Neglect even the smallest component, and the entire machine will eventually collapse—“collapse” being the operative word here, as falls are responsible for more accidental injuries than any other category. At its core, interior design for the elderly must be committed to mitigating the likelihood of a fall.

While falls affect approximately thirty percent of the elderly population, most tend to occur in the home and on level surfaces, as seniors are less likely to negotiate stairs, ladders, and stools. Falls account for the largest number of injury-related deaths among seniors, and represent the third most common cause of unintentional deaths in the United States alone. According to the Center for Disease Control, a third of the elderly population will experience at least one fall in the next year. Fall rates increase with age, and those who fall once are much more likely to do so again. Other accidents may occur in the shower or bath, and while getting out of bed. It’s easy for your parents to take their surroundings for granted. In the same way that we might bend the rules of the road the more we drive, we’re prone to being less attentive about our homes the longer we live in them. Designing for the Elderly is the ideal solution.

Designing for the Elderly fallFalls, however fundamental, are by no means the only concern when it comes to designing for the elderly. Many factors must be taken into account, not least of all the recommendations we’ve made above. Some of these are more obvious than others, and depend on the mobility, impairment, and mental health of your parents. When assessing the senior-friendliness of any living space, it’s best to start with details otherwise taken for granted.

How can renovation become injury prevention?

In the same way that medicine can protect against ailments later in life, preventative design can ease transition into aging. Though most homes aren’t designed with aging in mind, smart renovation can fix this. The problem with many existing assistive technologies in the home is that they feel like “add-ons.” One way to change this is with a holistic interior design approach, and more innovative designers to implement it. Whether reworking a key area or upgrading an entire home, you should never have to sacrifice harmony for function. Aging in place starts with the right place to age.

How many elderly are living independently at home?

The 2015 United States of Aging Survey reported that 75 percent of seniors fully intend to spend the rest of their lives in their own homes. In the Middle East and Asia, pre-existing cultural expectations make aging in place a given. East Asia, despite its growing desire to age at home, is lacking in home-based care options. And in Europe, falling birth rates and higher life expectancy necessitate the need for homes in which one can age gracefully. Whatever infrastructure may or may not be in place (Canada’s Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, for example, provide financial assistance for elderly who wish to age at home), we can be sure that designing for the elderly isn’t just an issue of aesthetics or geography, but ultimately of well-being.

Designing for the Elderly China

Designing for the elderly requires ingenuity and empathy. Considering the unavoidable rise of populations over 65 worldwide, the need for preventative measures should already be an essential part of the interior designer’s toolkit. Building homes with the expectation of aging in place means fewer renovations later on. It also means easier access for family members of all ages. Building a senior-friendly house for a new family, for instance, allows mothers to get strollers more easily through doorways, gives children more room to play, and widens storage options.

Designing for the elderly minimizes feelings of dependence. Your parents deserve the best, and no investment is too small when it comes to improving their quality of life. Ideally, they should be able to live in their home for the rest of their life, and making these renovations now, or least renovating to make adjustments easier later on, will not only bring happiness to those who sacrificed so much to put a roof over your head but also make you more prepared when your own Golden Years come knocking at the door.

Designing for the elderly couple

Need help or some friendly advice for your redesign and renovation?

If you are looking to redesign or renovate any part of your home or that of a loved one, Designing for the Elderly or otherwise, take a look at our FAQs and drop a line to the professionals here at archiparti via our contact form – we’re always happy to hear from you!

Be sure to check out our blog for our latest designer tips and tricks, current news and media coverage, as well as our most recent renovation article series!

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