AGING AT HOME
- Consider accessibility if you plan to remain in your home permanently
- Elevations should be considered both inside and out
- Kitchens will be one of the biggest considerations for an accessible home
- Bathrooms can be made safer with non-slip surfaces and handles
The elderly are often overlooked (or ignored) when it comes to interior design. It’s not a super sexy topic, but at some point in time, this is going to be us. Accessibility is not taken into consideration in the traditional design of most homes. I bring this up because I am starting to see friends my age, buying or building their ‘forever” homes and I think to myself, “this is going to be your home until you have to go into a nursing home.” We are not going to have the same physical capabilities at 80, as we do now. I think the ultimate goal here, is to be able to stay in our homes for as long as possible. Making conscience design decisions now will allow for this.
So what would a REAL “forever home” look like?” First of all, you really want everything on the same level (so you don’t to go up and down any steps). This includes outdoor areas too – you want to easily be able to go from your car to your kitchen. Maybe a few stairs need to be converted to a ramp. You can also rent ramps. Door openings are key. You want to widen them in order to accommodate a wheelchair. Sliding doors are problematic as they can be difficult for someone in a wheelchair to operate. Wayzn has recently come out with voice-controlled door systems (you can even open and close them remotely).
In an ideal kitchen, everything is reachable from a wheelchair (that means no upper cabinets). That means the actual footprint of the kitchen may need to be expanded in order to provide ample storage. You may also want to consider a wall-mounted oven. It may be easier on those with bad backs. Most kitchen lighting is HORRIBLE & uniform. You want to create different layers of light. Ambient lighting is your soft, overall lighting. Task lighting is bright and direct. It should highlight your counters and your sink (your working spaces). Accent lighting is just for highlighting certain areas. Install large pulls on cabinet doors – this will be easy for arthritic hands to grip (don’t do tiny little knobs). A hands-free faucet is also a nice idea.
The bathroom is one of the most dangerous rooms in the house. Install grab bars behind and adjacent to the toilet. Kohler has just come out with this wonderful new toilet that sits just a little higher than most toilets, making it easier to get on and off. There is also a toilet paper holder that can withstand 250 lbs of weight (for those who maybe don’t want grab bars everywhere). Ideally, you want a shower you can just wheel into (even if you are not wheelchair bound, the smallest step can become difficult). You want a shower large enough for 2 people, plus a shower chair. A bench is not sufficient since you can slip right off it. A handheld shower head is great here. You also need to install grab bars in the shower. Make sure the floors are not slippery, especially when wet. A hands-free faucet is also great here (Kohler, of course, makes one).
In the bedroom, make sure you use a low-pile carpet. The bed should not be too low. You want your sofas, beds, toilets to sit a little higher than “normal”. There is a product called SuperPole which helps people get in and out of bed – this might be helpful.
The cost of making all these updates to your home isn’t cheap – but its probably a lot less expensive than a single year in a nursing home. Ask friends and family for recommendations on contractors who have done this type of work before, or call your local Home Builders & Remodelers Association.