Dream homes are rarely designed with elderly people in mind. Like all other houses, your house too was most likely designed for a young family with fresh, young dreams. But if you’re planning on living in this house for the rest of your life, or if you have an elderly person moving in with you, you’ll need to make some small changes for a more comfortable life. The aim of renovating your home to make it senior-friendly is to make your home a safer and convenient space. Self sufficiency and security are other areas that a senior-friendly home renovation project must focus on.
Before embarking on making alterations for the elderly, you must first assess your house and how your lifestyle is changing. When you’re younger, your den may be a room where you host informal evenings. But when you grow older, you may want to use this room as a TV room, a nap space, or a dining area. Along with the home interiors, also pay attention to the area outside your house. Your assessment should also include the special needs of elderly people with physical disabilities. Here are some pointers you should bear in mind.
When you’re young, the aesthetic value of bathroom floor tiles is given the highest priority. However, for a senior-friendly home, the texture of the floor surface is much more important than how it looks. One of the major differences between large tiles and small tiles is that the former are slippery when compared to the latter. Smaller tiles, especially mosaic tiles, are usually skid-proof, making them a necessity for senior friendly homes.
Since elderly people are most often unaccompanied in a bathroom, ensuring their safety here is crucial. Retiling a bathroom floor is possible only if your family owns the house. Additionally, retiling the bathroom can be quite an expensive affair. A cheaper alternative to this would be to stick anti-skid stickers on the existing tiles. However, these have a short lifespan and may need to be changed from time to time.
Another area that needs attention in a senior friendly bathroom is the commode and shower or bath area. In most cases, the toilet itself may not be at a very comfortable height for an elderly person. A common feature in most senior friendly home renovations is to exchange a traditional commode for a wall mounted toilet. This allows you to install the toilet at a height that is more comfortable to use. Additionally, you may also want to consider installing support bars on either side of the toilet.
If your shower has a built in shower seat, you may want to install support bars here as well. Get inspired by this smartly designed bathroom, which is the brainchild of Liliana Zenaro Interiores, interior designers and decorators from Sao Paulo. Here, the commode is flanked by a towel bar on its left, which also provides support.
For most of us, the dream house has more than one level. However, for an elderly person, everything might need to be at the “same level”. With arthritis being a common ailment for most aged people, climbing stairs is never an exercise that is looked forward to. If your house does have more than one level, install a small lift to take people from one floor to the other.
If you do not have space for a lift, consider a chair lift that can run along your staircase. If there is a height difference of a step or two between rooms or at entryways, consider installing a ramp with a low gradient. Though this is optional for most senior friendly homes, it is a necessity when living with people who use a wheelchair or a walker.
Curtains add grace and a finishing touch to home décor. A popular way of draping curtains involves having curtains that are longer than the height of the curtain rod from the floor, and letting the excess fabric pool on the floor. This creates a formal, opulent look, but unfortunately it is also a tripping hazard.
Cutting down the length of your curtains till they skim the floor will not take away much from the look of your room, but will make it a much safer place for elderly people to walk in and out of.
A senior friendly home often requires wider doors than normal. This is because elderly people may need to walk with someone for support. If possible, look at widening passages and doorways within the house to make it more comfortable for an elderly person to walk in. Pocket doors are an ideal solution for senior friendly homes, as they occupy less space and are easy to use. A double door is often preferable to a single door for main entrances as these are easier to operate and lighter than single doors.
Pay special attention to the handles on all your doors. Replace knobs with ‘C’ shaped handles to make them easier to grip and hold on to. However, if an elderly person in your family has a tendency to wander, you might want to let the main doors of your house have knobs instead of levered handles.
Security is another point to focus on while renovating a home to make it senior-friendly. A good home automation system lowers your chances of forgetting to set alarms and can make daily life a little less stressful. Install an intercom system with a video camera at the main entrances of your home. With this, the chances of an elderly person opening the door for strangers are significantly lowered. You could also consider linking your phone to this system so that you can keep an eye on your home from afar. Furthermore, install grills in windows and balconies to keep intruders at bay.
Once you have incorporated the above ideas in your home, it will become a safe and snug haven for your aged parents or an elderly relative, or you yourself when you get older!
For more ideas about how to prepare your home interiors, check out this ideabook - Preparing Your Home For Spring!