The saying goes, “With age comes wisdom,” but oftentimes, it also comes with a new set of physical challenges, such as limited mobility and difficulties with hearing and seeing. That’s why when designing living spaces for seniors, whether in an assisted living community or in your life-long home, safety and comfort take a front seat.
Certain furniture or design elements in your home that made sense before may no longer be practical. Fortunately, there are many options available to address common aging factors, including increased risk of falling or declining vision. It starts by getting a little creative and designing a living environment that promotes continued independence, with form and function.
Here are some suggested tips:
1. Finesse the furniture: Create an open living space with larger pathways between furniture, which allows walkers or wheelchairs to easily maneuver the space. Strategically place larger pieces of furniture so they can be used for balance while moving throughout the room.
2. Think lightweight and sturdy: Furniture should be light enough to easily be moved, but also needs to be heavy enough that it won’t slip out from under someone when they’re sitting down or standing up. Having arms on chairs assists with balance.
3. Take into account the shape of furniture: Having round furniture keeps the layout open and protects your loved one from bumping into sharp corners. Switch out round knobs for pulls and levers, which can greatly help those experiencing arthritis.
4. Create an accessible space: Place frequently used items in accessible cabinets and drawers. Keeping items at waist-height eliminates the need to reach high or bend down. This helps to reduce the risk of falls, while promoting independence by encouraging seniors to do things on their own. Also, putting lamps, microwaves and telephones at arms-length eliminates the need to reach and potentially lose balance.
5. Hide cords: Taping down or tucking away cords eliminates the potential for tripping. The easiest way to do this is to place cords behind and under furniture or along the edges of a room. Your local office supply store will likely offer cable management products.
6. Avoid scattered rugs: Area rugs can be a tripping hazard and increase the risk of falls for seniors. Be sure when they are used you purchase rugs that are non-slip and a contrast color to the floor below so they are easier to detect by aging eyes.
7. Make it practical: When choosing chairs and couches for a home, style is important but most critical is that the pieces are well-designed and purposeful. Having furniture that is too low, deep, or stiff can make it difficult to get on and off.
8. Leverage lighting options: Using lighting at the right levels for a task can make all the difference. Motion-sensor lights – especially between the bedroom and bathroom – make for easier navigation. Not only is this helping to create a safe environment, you’re also being energy conscious! Ensure task areas are well lit to reduce strain on the eyes, and incorporate natural light as much as possible.
Finally, a safely decorated home doesn’t have to sacrifice style or personal touches. Consider recreating the look of a previous home with fewer pieces, or add a common color scheme in a room to add flow and make the space feel larger. Incorporate accessories that are functional, such as colorful trays or boxes, to conveniently store your favorite items. Top off the room with photos to evoke special memories.
Following these tips can minimize the stress of designing a safe space for your aging loved one and help make their living space still feel like home.