Interiors for Seniors

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), populations are aging faster than ever. This aside, life expectancy has increased from 35 years in the early 19th century to 70 years in the present time owing to advances in medicine, higher hygiene standards, improved sanitation,  and  better health care and nutrition. Indeed, the percentage of the world’s population in the 60-plus age bracket is expected to go up from 12% today to 22% by 2050, or an increase from 900 million to 2 billion.

The need for providing better homes for the old is greater than ever. So if you have an elderly person in your care, this brief guide should help you set up living spaces for them that are not just comfortable, but safe and conducive to good health.

Here are some things to consider:

Lighting

While much has been written about the health effects of lighting, there is a consensus that it is harmless when adequate safety measures are taken.  There are four kinds of lighting to consider: natural daylight, fluorescent lighting, tungsten-halogen lighting, and light-emitting diode (LED) lighting. Incandescent lighting will be left out of the reckoning because it compares poorly with the other types on key parameters such as luminescence and power-efficiency and is technologically outdated. Nor will high-density discharge lighting be discussed as it is more suitable for industrial and commercial applications.

Natural daylight ―

This is always welcome, but outdoor luminance changes from season to season and even in the course of a day, and people with poor vision might find it hard to adjust. Very bright light can hurt the eyes. It also causes sharp contrasts, which might be confusing and lead to accidents. Plan to allow enough natural light to enter the house but use canopies and awnings at windows and exit points, as well as tinted film on window panes to reduce the glare.

Remember to use soft lighting at transition points like foyers, patios, and passages leading to exits, so that an elderly person entering or leaving the house won’t have problems adjusting to the sudden change from bright to dark, or vice versa.

Fluorescent Lighting ―

Available in tubes and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) this type of lighting can be used for illuminating both large and small spaces.  It is economical, durable, and relatively cooler than incandescent lighting. And, since it ships in a variety of light tones, from bright white to warm yellow, it allows you to create an atmosphere to suit a particular location in the house; bright light for the hall, for example, and warm light for the study. A passage may be evenly lit by placing tube lights in a linear arrangement along the centre of the ceiling or on either side of it.

Keep in mind that fluorescent lights emit ultraviolet light and often have a slight flicker, which can be harmful to people with certain eye or skin conditions if adequate precautions are not taken. The rule of thumb would be to place these lights close to the ceiling and encase them in diffusion covers. Alternatively, they may be installed in recesses or valances where they will remain out of sight yet brighten spaces by reflecting off the ceiling to produce a soothing, soft-light effect.

Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lighting ―

LED lighting is far and away the best form of lighting because it scores tops on all key parameters. It is energy-efficient, cool, similar to daylight, and UV-free. LEDs can be used to limit illumination to work desks or kitchen tables, or arrayed to light up much larger spaces.

Tungsten-Halogen lighting ―

These lights are very bright and create sharp light-and-shadow contrasts that might be confusing to aged eyes. They also emit a lot of heat and will cause burns on contact. They’re great for lighting up non-living spaces like storage sheds, workshops, garages, lawns, and pathways.

Layout and Furniture

Some old people get by with a walking stick. Others use a walker. And there are quite a few who are wheelchair-bound. But all need space to move around, so ensure that routes between rooms do not have any obstacles. In fact, aim towards clutter-free living, choosing furniture that’s practical, streamlined, and easy to maintain.

In the bedroom, instead of accommodating a separate wardrobe, shoe rack, and dressing table, install a wall-to-wall unit that can offer a three-in-one advantage and yet have a smaller footprint.
Beds should be without protuberances, posts, or other embellishments that might cause injury or require extra cleaning. However, a headboard against which pillows can be propped up for reading purposes is a must.

Chairs should be sturdy and ergonomically designed. They should have arms and a sufficiently high, properly angled backrest. If you need to buy a motorized chair whose seating height and backrest can be adjusted, ensure that the controls are easy to operate.

Design bookshelves that offer accessibility without forcing one to stretch too high or bend too low for comfort. In fact, apply this rule to all drawers and storage cabinets and make sure they have easy-grip handles in colors that stand out.

Safety Measures

You can take many safety measures when interior-designing for an elderly person. Here is a checklist:
• Ensure that all faucets are the lever-handle type. They’re easier to use than traditional twist-to-open taps that often get jammed and are difficult to operate with soapy or arthritic fingers.
• Install switches within easy reach and two-way switches wherever necessary, for example, in rooms that have two exit/entry points. In a bedroom, a switch at the entrance and another beside the bed would save an elderly person the trouble of having to navigate in the dark to operate the lights.
• In the bathroom, fix an alarm bell and a swing door that can be opened from the outside in case of an emergency. See that the floor is slip-resistant. And accommodate a plastic stool, should an elderly person prefer to sit while bathing.
• In the kitchen, play it safe by installing an induction cooker hob instead of a gas cooker hob. Place lighting above the cooking range and the work table. And keep a lightweight, easy-to-operate fire extinguisher within easy reach.
• Place the front door peephole at a height that suits the resident.
• Ensure that all doors with locks can be opened from either side. And don’t forget to use lever handles (instead of twist knobs) that a person with mobility issues will find easy to use.
• Install handrails along passageways and especially in the bathroom, but keep aesthetics in mind and don’t overdo it.
• Keep carpets firmly affixed at the edges to prevent them from curling up and tripping someone.

It is worth the cost and effort to design interiors that allow seniors to live with dignity and some degree of independence. In a civilized world that is increasingly conscious of the needs of the elderly, such living spaces are not an option but a necessity.