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 safety and comfort take a front seat when designing living spaces for seniors – whether in an assisted-living community or in your life-long home.
Certain furniture or design elements in your home that made sense before may no longer be practical. Fortunately, experts say that 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.
Andrea Owensby, senior director of design for Sunrise Senior Living, explains, “Ensuring your aging loved one’s safety can seem overwhelming at times, but there are a lot of simple changes you can make to help prevent accidents and improve quality of life so that seniors feel more at ease in their homes.”
She and her team suggest these 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 that they can be used for balance while moving throughout the room.
2. Think lightweight and sturdy: Furniture should be light enough to be moved easily, but it also needs to be heavy enough so that it won’t slip out from under someone when they’re sitting down or standing up. Having arms on chairs, for example, assists with balance.
3. Take shapes into account: 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 arm’s length eliminates the need to reach and potentially lose balance.
5. Hide your 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. Visit your local office supply store, which likely offers cable management products.
6. Avoid scattered rugs: Although decorative, area rugs can be a tripping hazard and increase the risk of falls for seniors. Be sure that when they are used you purchase rugs that are nonslip and a contrast color to the floor below so that they are easier for aging eyes to detect.
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 when possible.
Finally, a safely decorated home doesn’t have to sacrifice style or personal touches. Consider re-creating 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.