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Designing Your Home for Your Senior Years
By Jim Schenck
When designing or shopping for a new home, we should consider the livability and comfort the home will afford us. There are always specific features that we are attracted to, and a general flow of spaces that we feel will make our particular living style more comfortable. When a young bachelor shops for a home, he looks for different features than a couple with children. Their needs have changed and so they look for the features to accommodate a family. Designing a home or adapting a home for your senior years requires a similar rethinking of your current needs and what your future needs might be.
Consider the following as you look for your senior-years home:
Mobility and Access
- As mobility becomes limited, access into a home, as well as movement within the home, can be a challenge. Think through the layout of the house; does it fit the way you live now, and will it accommodate changes and limitations in the future?
- Try to avoid multi-story homes. At a minimum, make sure the master bedroom and bath are on the first floor.
- Look for an entry with no steps. This should apply to all entries and any area that you will want to access, including that garden area in your back yard. Look at the yard to ensure that there are no mobility hazards, such as steep slopes, steps, or uneven ground.
- Will hallways accommodate a walker or wheel chair? Look for halls that are at least 48″ wide.
- Are doorways wide enough to accommodate a walker, wheel chair, or mobility cart? Look for doors to rooms and passages to be a minimum of 36″ wide and to open in a direction that makes the approach easier. In some cases, a pocket door may be the best bet for easy entry.
- Again, avoid level changes, and check for door thresholds that might pose a trip hazard or make access in a wheel chair more difficult. Look for lever-style door handles and cabinet pulls that don’t require grasping to use.
- As you look at construction plans or existing homes, think safety. Are trip hazards present or will the rug on that wood floor be a problem in the future? Consider potential slip hazards, especially in wet areas like bathrooms. Some flooring options provide significantly better resistance to slipping even when they are wet. With carpets, consider using lower pile carpets and denser carpet pads to make rolling easier for a wheelchair or a walker. Remember that these devices may be needed even if only for a recovery period.
- When considering appliances such as ranges and microwaves, think about where controls are placed and how convenient lifting pots or pans will be. Range controls out of easy reach are a must in a house with kids, but when children are not a consideration, controls on the front of the range will help avoid having to reach across a hot stove to adjust cooking temperatures. Many enjoy the convenience of microwaves located above the range; however, for some, this can pose a hazard, as hot foods have to be handled from an awkward height.
- As you look at how to organize spaces and appliances, keep future limitations in mind. Consider places that might benefit from having grab bars or railings. Bathrooms — especially showers — are obvious places, but areas like hallways may also benefit from a well-designed railing.
Convenience and Livability
- Are the spaces where tasks need to be done located conveniently? For instance, many find it convenient to have the laundry room located close to the master bedroom and bath. After all, that is where most of your laundry comes from. Are there direct and open connections between living spaces and task areas such as the kitchen? Saving a few steps may not seem to be much of an issue today, but for many, this can extend the livability of a home. Functions like carrying food to and from the dinning or kitchen area, or the convenient location of a bathroom to the living spaces can make a big difference.
- Open floor plans are great for communication and mobility, but you need to give some thought to where devices like televisions go relative to quieter spaces. As hearing decreases, the television volume increases, and that can pose a conflict in the future.
- Think about combining functions into a single room. Can the desk where you do bills be part of the kitchen? Should there be a sitting area in the bedroom?
- Most houses are designed with the bedroom in the rear of the house for privacy. Consider the view from the window if you were recovering and spending most of the day in bed. Perhaps it would provide a more interesting view and more interaction if the bedroom faced the street.
- Additionally, make sure that windows are low enough to allow comfortable views when seated or lying in bed.
Above all else, a home should be a home. Comfort is what most of us are trying to achieve, and that should be your most important consideration. As you think back on places you have lived, you will likely realize that comfort is relative to our needs. Try to imagine your future needs and choose a house that will better meet those needs. With the right consideration and an eye on the future, you will most likely be able to choose a home that will provide comfort well into your senior years.
About the author: Jim Schenck is Vice President for Independent Living at Advent Christian Village. He has responsibility over all ACV facilities and independent living services. Jim has been with ACV since 1991 and has over 35 years’ experience in development and construction of commercial and residential facilities. Jim has a bachelor’s degree in architecture and is a state-certified building contractor.