Everyone in this world will cross through the phase of old age. It is inevitable. The various aspects of our house that seem comfortable now may not offer the same kind of convenience or ease in our old age. Old age brings with it certain health complications and physical limitations. As architects, would it not be our responsibility and duty to provide them with a dignified life? What are the various aspects one should consider while designing for senior citizens? Let us examine some of the significant aspects.
1. Flooring options
Thresholds, loose rugs, and slippery flooring are all extremely hazardous in the design of elderly spaces. When flooring materials like granite, glossy tiles, or vitrified tiles are slippery, choose a carpet with an anti-skid underlay. Try to avoid changes in levels inside the spaces. If these level changes are unavoidable, warn them of a change in material, texture, or colour so that they are well informed about the shift. Here also, avoid using very strong patterns or shiny surfaces that may interfere with their perception of depth.
Bathroom flooring is one of the most important aspects one needs to consider while designing for the elderly. When the floor is wet, it could become slippery and, in turn, pose a dangerous hazard for its elderly residents. Therefore, anti-skid tiles are a must. If it is not feasible to replace or change the existing flooring, make sure a non-skid mat is placed within the shower area. Another important design consideration would be to clearly separate and demarcate the wet and the dry areas in the bathroom.
2. Clear walkthrough
When designing a space for senior citizens, it is essential to make sure the traffic movement is unhindered by objects and furniture. Leave the space in the centre so that a good walkthrough is maintained. It is important to consider the fact that a minimum width of the passage of at least 36″ is required for a wheelchair to move freely and comfortably. Let all the elements occupy the corners and make way for the elders. Furniture, instead of sharp corners, should be of rounded edges to minimize the risk of injuries while moving around.
3. Bathroom fixtures
Apart from the flooring options discussed earlier, there are other aspects regarding the fixtures in the bathroom that need to be incorporated. Installation of quality grab bars is a must near the WC and the shower area. It would also be very helpful if it would be possible to place a stool or incorporate a seat inside the shower area. For a person with limited mobility, a handheld shower would be easier to use than a fixed shower head.
Incorporating sufficient ambient and natural lighting is highly recommended. Install two-way switches so that they can be switched on before entering and switched off after coming out of the space. Task lighting for reading in the bedroom, night lights for safely walking to the bathroom, sufficient staircase lighting for the treads to be visible, and lighting under overhead kitchen cabinets are important aspects one needs to cover while designing for the elderly. Make sure the walls are also painted in neutral or pastel colours as they would make the space brighter, thereby creating a warm, soothing look.
Lighting should highlight any sharp edges, and care must be taken to avoid shadows. Make sure a matte finish is preferred over a glossy finish to prevent harsh glare from surfaces.
The recommended height of chairs and WC for optimal comfort ranges from 17 inches to 19 inches, and the height of the bed ranges from 20 inches to 23 inches. The chairs should have a backrest, armrest, and good cushioning, while the headboards should be padded. Make sure a neat, clean, and clutter-free furniture layout plan is followed for comfortable circulation. Incorporate bedside tables so that frequently used items can be accessed directly from the bed.
People with joint pain or arthritic hands find it extremely difficult to use a doorknob. Gripping and turning can be painful for those who have a limited range of motion. So replace them with door levers. In the case of plug points, make sure they are placed at a comfortable height as it would be difficult for the elderly to bend and stretch. Also, eliminate the use of extension cords to avoid tripping. Make sure to install handrails on both sides of the staircase.
Standing for long periods of time during meal preparation can be tiring for senior citizens. Provide them with a seat and make sure the design does not force them to bend or crouch. Install appliances that are easy to use and manage. Make sure the cabinet shutters are made of glass to know what is inside. In the case of an island kitchen counter, consider the island on wheels so that the position can be adjusted in the case of a wheelchair or a walker.
8. Designing for inadequate Hearing
It is significant to take into account the needs and requirements of senior citizens who have a certain degree of hearing impairment. The doorbell must be audible in all the rooms. Installing an intercom that also works as a doorbell is also useful. Telephones with volume controls that are adjustable and a large keypad will be extremely useful for people with a certain degree of hearing and visual impairment. In the case of smoke detectors, a strong strobe light instead of audio signals will help people with hearing issues.
9. Security systems
When senior citizens stay alone, it is essential to ensure their safety by installing burglar alarms, CCTV cameras, and smoke alarms. The elderly mostly rely on home delivery for food, groceries, and other essentials. So, their safety needs to be accentuated and given utmost importance. Windows and balconies need to be provided with safety grills. Installing an ELCB, a safety device, will prevent accidental electric shocks. An easy to flip master switch can also be installed near the entrance, which would make it easy for senior citizens to turn on or off all the devices before or after entering. Emergency lights should be installed as they are extremely useful during blackouts.
10. Having interesting Views
Many senior citizens are restricted to their homes due to various reasons. So, it is important to not isolate them from the outside world and nature. Make sure there are large windows and balcony spaces. These lounging spaces help connect them with nature and provide street and garden views. Incorporate a rocking chair or some comfortable furniture and a few plants in these balcony spaces and let them enjoy their hot tea and get their daily dose of Vitamin D.
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