A home for life
Get your home ready for ageing-in-place, not only for yourself or for your ageing relative. Some tips to make your home comfortable as you age, so that it will not become a safety hazard to you.
BY: Eleanor Yap
Published: November 25, 2009
With 90 percent of people wanting to spend their golden years in the comforts of their own home rather than in a nursing home, and 8 percent choosing to spend their twilight years with their children, according to a survey done by Tsao Foundation and TNS, the concept of “ageing-in-place” is not all that foreign and unattainable.
This term means the ability to live in one’s own home – wherever that might be – for as long as confidently and comfortably as possible. However, Tan Hee Kiah, design consultant and owner of An Kang Living, who spoke recently at a WINGS talk, has another name for this – “home for life”.
“As one gets older, the body goes through changes,” he explained. He brought up the case of a 52-year-old man who had knee replacement surgery and lives in a condominium but the place had obstacles everywhere. Also, in the shower, there was no seat. “People are often then caught by surprise as they are not prepared,” said Tan.
He shared another case of a 61-year-old woman who had a stroke on the right side and was looking forward to going home but realised there were lots of obstacles at home. There were no grab bars for balancing and making a meal was impossible. “If the caregiver were away, how would she have coped? A home which was seen as a safe haven is no longer the case,” said Tan. “You need to get prepared.”
So what are some of the challenges that people could face? Tan explained that in the case of someone who is using a wheelchair, the challenges can include the doorway being too narrow, the shower areas having thresholds that must need the person to step over and toilet seats are too low. “If you are a person who is always fit, useful and independent, this situation can be hard to deal with,” he said. “As one grows older, our body ages. As a result, our quality of life changes. If the home is catered to these changes, your home will continue to serve you well.”
He stressed, “Home for life is not about decoration, it is about good design that supports you therapeutically.”
Here are seven design tips to make a home more senior-friendly:
1) Provide sufficient space and clearance to manoeuvre around safely (all rooms)
• Entrance doors should be at least 900mm wide and interior doors should be a minimum of 800mm wide for wheelchair and walker access.
• Rooms should be designed so as not to impede passage. For instance, thresholds should be removed, keep the floors flat and with a door swinging inward, make sure there is enough room for the person to come in. Circulation paths should be a minimum of 1,200mm wide.
• Avoid flooring that has a slippery surface or high-pile carpeting because the person can trip and fall. Non-slip ceramic tiles or wooden parquet are better material for flooring. It is very important to make the toilet and bathroom flooring non-slip.
2) For easy balancing and standing (bathroom and kitchen)
• Since standing occurs in the above areas, it is best to provide sufficient space in these rooms for chairs or benches (above), especially since stability may be an issue as one ages.
• Have counters at a proper height so one does not slouch. Tan suggested installing cook tops and sinks with space below so when one sits, their legs can go underneath.
• Ensure rooms are designed with grab bars for good support. Should it be vertical or horizontal grab bars? Tan explained that vertically placed grab bars (above) provide a more efficient and mechanically advantageous handgrip when stepping in or out of the shower. For toilets, horizontal grab bars are fine, said Tan. However, he added: “Towel bars are not grab bars. They are unstable and should not be used as a two-for-one!”
3) Reduce bending and reaching (kitchen and bedroom, especially closets) – “Bending should be minimised as one gets older,” said Tan.
• Keep the things that you use regularly every day within easy reach. Put them at elbow or eye level, Tan suggested.
• Build sufficient cabinets at the proper height and give enough counter space so as to reduce bending and reaching. He advised not to choose low cabinet shelves that you would need to go deep in to search for the items, but rather choose slide-out shelves or drawers so you can pick things up easily.
• For a person who is 1,700mm tall, commonly accessed shelving in the kitchen should not be higher than 1,600mm. Consider retractable shelving that lowers the items down and keep in mind accessible storage in the bedroom for those on wheelchairs. The wardrobe cabinets should be low so they can be easily reached.
4) Catering to reduced hearing (all rooms) – Tan noted that according to a Straits Times’ article, 360,000 people in Singapore have hearing loss that requires hearing aids, and this figure does not just include seniors.
• Make the space conducive for conversation by keeping out TV and other noises. The layout of the furniture should also be conducive.
• Make doorbells and phone ringers louder and consider making sure there are phone jacks in commonly used rooms – the closer the ring, the more likely it is to be heard.
• Install smoke alarms in proper rooms and replace older models with ones that have visual indicators or louder alarms.
5) Easier grasping and holding of items – “This accommodates those with stiff joints,” said Tan.
• Be mindful of fixtures that require holding and turning to operate. “D”-shaped handles are easy to grab and make it easier to operate cabinet drawers and doors. Use lever handles for doors instead of doorknobs as the elderly will have difficulty grasping and turning the knob. For the same reason, replace knob-style faucets with lever-handled faucets.
• Provide sufficient counter top space as well as tables or benches in areas where one will be working or where one may have to juggle or carry loads, while performing a task.
6) Catering to declining vision (all areas) – “Seniors need three times more light source compared to someone younger,” explained Tan.
• Modify the lighting in your home to provide even, glare-free lighting. Ensure that there is sufficient light in every room and work area.
• Make sure floor transitions are easily distinguishable – have contrasting colours so you can see them easily.
• Use appliances (such as the phone) that have large displays or text so that chores can be done with ease and therefore, resulting in a reduction of possible errors.
7) Provision for sitting, lying down and getting back up (living room, dining area, toilet, bathroom and bedroom)
• Provide plenty of open space in the living room and dining area for those who have walkers or wheelchairs. Ensure there is sufficient space in the bedroom to enter or exit a bed if one is using a walker.
• Choose chairs and sofas that have arms which make it easier to get in and out – look for sofa and chair bearing heights of 450mm to 500mm. “Test them by sitting down and don’t get trapped into one that is too soft and low for you,” said Tan.
• Use furniture risers to raise the height of your old sofa if it is too low for your comfort.
• Replace standard toilets with a comfortable-height version, which are several inches higher and easy for the knees and hips. “Not everyone is of the same height,” explained Tan. “The seat should always be at knee-high or higher as then it is easier to get up.”
Tan explained that it is important to plan ahead. “Don’t leave it to chance. When it is done in a rush, it is not so nice. It would look like a nursing home or hospital.”
So how much would you be set back by such home modifications? Tan explained it would depend on the extent of the work and what you want. A basic remodel for the kitchen can be from $1,000 to $2,000, while for the bathroom/toilet, it would be around $200 to $500. More extensively-customised solutions would increase the cost to upwards of $8,000 for the kitchen and $3,000 for the bathroom.
Whatever the decision to be made now or later, you will need to consider a home for life and safeguard the health of you and your loved ones.
** WRITER’S NOTE: Currently, An Kang Living is the only company in Singapore that offers “home for life” design services. For more information, log on towww.ankangliving.com.
(PICTURE CREDITS: An Kang Living)