Photo by Gus Ruballo on Unsplash
By Tiffany Edison
Nobody likes to think about aging, myself included. Yet, there’s a trend here in the United States known as “aging in place.” As defined by the CDC, aging in place is “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” It should come as no surprise that the world of interior design has started to ramp up efforts to assist aging adults. As the latest U.S. census results confirm, senior citizens comprise the country’s fastest growing population.
Our homes hold our memories and represent our independence. Surprisingly, making just a few different residential design choices can potentially offer life-changing results, and offer a better quality of life for those entering their golden years. It’s time for all to maintain their independence and preserve their dignity as long as safely possible, and this should not be reserved for those of significant means. Below are helpful suggestions for extending independence in your current home.
It’s wise to stick with surfaces that are smooth, such as traditional hardwood floors, cork, or linoleum when considering flooring. Softer surfaces like these minimize the wear and tear on joints and are less of a tripping hazard than options such as tile or high-pile carpeting. If level changes are unavoidable, draw attention to these transitions through material changes or choose contrasting colors. Remember that falls are often the riskiest part of seniors aging at home.
LED light fixtures are a good option for seniors, as they require minimal changing throughout their lifecycle and are often a great source for indirect lighting. Indirect lighting in itself can reduce glare and therefore minimize additional tripping hazards throughout the home. Two-way switches are also recommended; they allow one to turn the light on upon entering the room and turn it off from the bedside table if installed in bedrooms.
Existing showerheads can be retrofitted to offer adjustable capability and can help extend ones’ ability to bathe independently, and thus preserve dignity. A hand-held shower wand is also an excellent option to this same end. Perhaps the most important consideration, however, is choosing a no-threshold or walk-in shower to minimize tripping hazards. I get many requests for shower seats; I’d only add that perhaps a contrasting material or tile color should be selected to assist in distinguishing between the wall and floor more readily. Finally, sink levers are much easier to adjust versus faucet fixtures for those who struggle with dexterity issues.
Ideally, aging adults should have a first-floor laundry option. Be creative! This may mean that an existing closet or unused bedroom may be better utilized as a laundry facility. The key is minimizing stairs, especially when carrying things such as laundry baskets.
Throughout the Home
Simply put, choose mechanisms that operate with minimal effort. This can mean levers instead of doorknobs (throughout your home, including the hardware in kitchens and bathrooms) and opting for rocker light switches over the traditional toggle switch. When considering issues impacting seniors staying in their homes, it would be remiss to ignore the topic of social isolation. When space planning, a good design should always consider having a place to gather, offering enough seating for guests, and encourage television viewing in a common space.
If you are considering a renovation of your existing home or transitioning into a condominium, you may find value in hiring an interior designer or architect certified in aging-in-place design. For more information, NYC DFTA’s “Aging in Place Guide for Building Owners” is an excellent resource.
Tiffany Edison has been an interior designer since 2002 and specializes in both
residential and commercial projects. She holds a Master of Social Work degree
(ACSW) and utilizes interpersonal relationship skills on a daily basis with her client
base, largely comprised of Ann Arbor, and Metro Detroit residents. She has a
wonderfully large blended family residing in the city and enjoys the comforts of home.
When she’s not fully immersed in client projects, you can find her active on the golf
course, a favorite pastime.