Transition or change does not have to be approached with resignation or dread. Our lives are spent transitioning from one stage to another and our senior years are no different. There are many ways in which we can age in place gracefully and gratefully by looking for opportunities to have our home work for us, not against us.
This is where an interior designer can make a huge difference. Interior design is not the same as interior decorating. It is much more. These professionals design interior spaces for function and beauty. They can recommend changes that will make it safe and comfortable for a senior to stay in the home they love, including removing non-load bearing walls for better traffic flow, changes in electrical systems to include remote controlled window shades, timed lighting, and plumbing adaptations.
Generally there are 5 areas of an elderly loved one’s home that need attention:
- Overall furniture arrangements: Is there too much furniture? This could be an indication that your elderly loved one is furniture cruising—using the furniture to help them maintain balance as they walk. It also can be a dangerous obstacle course full of opportunities to trip and fall against unforgiving hard edges. Less free space makes it difficult or impossible to use a walker or wheelchair. Clutter is a problem as well, making it harder to navigate and to keep the home clean. Probably most crucial is having a clear and open pathway from bedroom to bathroom.
- Throw rugs: These pretty rugs are the worst enemy of fall prevention. If your elderly parent is willing to make some changes in order to stay independent, these should be the first to go! Not only are seniors liable to slip, but also to trip on a throw rug. Banish them!
- The most dangerous room in the house: the bathroom. Is the floor old cracked vinyl or a glossy tile? Both are a danger. Is the toilet a comfortable height for your elderly parent? Installing a nice looking hand-hold (aka grab bar) by the toilet and in the shower is a simple safety must-have. Speaking of showers, a floor level shower entrance (one without a hazardous lip to catch a foot) will save many a senior from a nasty fall. Adding a seat in the shower is a wonderful safety measure too. One of the most uncomfortable services for a senior to agree to is help showering, so let’s make it as easy and safe for them to shower independently. Tubs are a fall waiting to happen. Check out this “scary to safe spa” video from Topaz Interiors http://youtu.be/Um1O--vDUrs?hd=1 In this situation, a client with MS comes home from the hospital and has to us the shower with a kitchen chair in it. Her husband, who has a bad back, has to lift her over the floor edge of the shower and onto the kitchen chair. This is bad news waiting to happen until some attractive modifications are made!
- The bedroom: is the bed too high or too low? A bed that is too high makes it awkward and difficult to get into, and a bed that is too low makes it a struggle to get out of. Is there a sturdy chair with arms in the bedroom to sit on while dressing? This is preferable to sitting on the bed because it is steadier.
- Lighting: The right lighting for the right tasks really makes a difference. A good reading light by a favorite chair, lighting at exits in case of emergency, night lights in hallways, especially lighting the way to the bathroom for those nocturnal visits.
An interior designer will spend time getting to know you, your style and your taste, so your home remains your home, only better and safer. They can help incorporate a favorite collection into a feature display your elderly parent can enjoy, they have solutions for a senior struggling with low vision, or suggestions for your loved one who is always cold. The majority of us want to age at home, and there are ways to make that happen with a safe, sensible plan.
Thanks to Joyce Jonescheit, interior design specialist for aging adults from Topaz Interiors and Aging In Place Options for her input on this topic.
Published on March 30, 2012.