While you can’t please everybody, make sure you have more hits than misses when bringing in an older member of the family into your home. Marites Magcase, a licensed interior designer from WM-Magcase Design Company, talks about dovetailing safety concerns and pleasing seniors when it comes to room aesthetics and functions. “Safety is necessary and essential to [eliminate or] avoid serious injury to [elderly people]. ... Old people's movements are slow and less physically adept, so we as interior designers need to make sure their home environment [is] risk-free.”
Little changes, big difference
One change that may involve the least amount of money: re-arranging your furniture to minimize accidents. Magcase says, “There must be a clear, unobstructed path for [the elderly] to walk safely and easily. Remove all rugs, runners and criss-crossing electrical cords.” In the bedroom, ensure that their bedside tables have “table lamps, light control panels, emergency prescription medicines, [a] telephone and [a] list of emergency telephone numbers within their reach.”
If you’re undertaking these changes a little at a time, zero in on the area they’ll be visiting most often: the bathroom. “Anti-slip mats are essential [in] the bathroom and the bedroom, too. There must be one inside the shower enclosure, one at the water closet area and another at the wash basin area. It would be a good idea also to have a non-slip mat near their bedside too to avoid slipping when they get up from bed,” Magcase advises, adding that shower enclosures must have grab bars and a sturdy PVC bench or stool to allow them to sit while bathing. A grab bar is also recommended to allow older people to sit down and stand up with ease after doing their business in the toilet.
“All hallways and stairwells must be [well-lit], with illuminated light switches at each end. [It’s best to] use compact fluorescent energy saver bulbs or fluorescent tubes in either daylight or cool white type,” opines the interior designer, explaining that this will minimize accidents at night, such as when disoriented seniors fumble in pitch-dark conditions on their way to the toilet. Keeping an ambient light or a night light on to prevent injuries in the bedroom and bathroom also helps. “If the budget permits, it is best to install a separate light switch control panel near their bed side.” Illuminated power outlets are also convenient.
If grandma still loves working in the kitchen, special hinges for cabinet doors and special drawer guides that are self-closing can prevent pinched fingers or hands. The interior designer further advises, “All cabinets [and] drawer handles and most essential items must be at easy-to-reach levels … between waist and eye level, so the elderly need not stoop to open cabinet doors, drawers or to get essential items.” Sturdy and wide stepping stools will help the elderly reach out-of-reach objects.