Five room designs to help older people stay safe and independent at home
Published: Thursday 24th September 2020
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As we get older, many of us may find that everyday things we used to find simple become increasingly challenging at home. This could be frailty making moving around our home more difficult, a hearing impairment affecting our ability to communicate with family members, or Alzheimer’s meaning we sometimes forget to turn off appliances.
However, just because we’re getting older and may need a helping hand, it doesn’t need to signal the end of our independence.
We‘ve created a series of 3D floorplans to show how we can make changes and improvements to our living spaces to help us stay safely and comfortably in our homes for longer, whether we’re living with dementia, a visual impairment, frailty, Alzheimer’s or a hearing impairment.
Improving the home for people living with dementia
If you have dementia, living in your own home can help you feel secure, surrounded by familiar possessions. Adaptations for someone living with dementia might include keeping the space clutter-free, and using special technology and modified kitchen and bathroom equipment. As well as helping you stay safe at home, these improvements will help give your family and friends additional peace of mind.
People who live with dementia might be at risk of harm from not remembering to turn appliances off correctly or forgetting they are cooking. Installing simple safety devices can be an easy and cost-effective solution. Overflow plugs in the bathroom and kitchen are designed to prevent accidental flooding, and sensor alarms can trigger if the hob or oven is left on.
Sensor alarms can also be installed on front and back doors, alerting a family member if you leave the house unexpectedly. Devices can be installed to track your location, allowing your family to ensure you are always safe. And talking clocks and medication reminders to make sure you always take your medication at the right time can make life much easier too.
Improving the home for those with a visual impairment
If you have a visual impairment, adapting your home could help you stay living there independently. Key adaptations to better equip your home include sensory decorating techniques and readily-available modified technology.
Moving safely around your home typically proves the biggest challenge for someone living with a visual impairment. Changes to combat this include letting as much natural light in as possible during the day, having curtains that block out street lighting at night, and choosing furniture that’s a contrasting colour to walls and floors.
Decorating rooms in colours that are easy to recognise can also help you find your way to the kitchen and bathroom. However, it’s important to remember that this may not be appropriate if you have a visual disturbance – rather than an impairment – as the contrast in colours can be hazardous.
Ideally, appliances in the kitchen, bedroom and lounge should all have raised markings and controls to make them as simple as possible to use. Kitchen appliances such as ovens, kettles and food aids with modified raised controls and markings are all readily available, as are bathroom fittings and remote controls. Similarly, textured furniture – such as sofas and beds – can also help with spatial awareness and help you find what you need.
Improving the home for those with a hearing impairment
Hearing impairments are extremely common and they affect people in different ways. You may struggle to hear certain tones or you may be living with total hearing loss. Either way, there are ways you can adapt your rooms and possessions in order to stay independent at home. Ideas include finding alternatives to audio-based alerts and signals, using technology to help you communicate, and minimising unnecessary background noise.
With this in mind, our first suggested modification is making sure all your safety systems – such as fire alarms and burglar alarms – feature a visual signalling method, rather than an audio one. Alarms that trigger clear flashing lights are typically the way to go. These types of alarms can also be installed in place of traditional doorbells and oven timers.
Additionally, consider installing thick curtains and carpets to reduce background noise. This should improve the acoustics of your home and remove echoing, allowing for more focused hearing. Finally, making use of simple technology can also improve your standard of life. A conversation listener or a hearing loop that can pair with your hearing aid can make watching TV and general conversation with friends and family members much easier.
Improving the home to help with frailty
People who are frail are at a higher risk of falls in the home. A common consequence of this is anxiety and depression triggered by the fear of falling or getting injured at home. However, this doesn’t have to mean an end to independence. A few simple home improvements can help frail people feel safer at home.
The obvious modification is installing grab rails around the home. These give additional support when moving around and can also be used to help someone stand up after a fall. Clutter should be kept to an absolute minimum to avoid tripping hazards, and furniture should not obstruct doorways or pathways, to allow for easy movement around the entire home.
Floors can become slippery and dangerous when wet, so non-slip mats should be used in the bathroom. It’s also a good idea to have a plastic chair in the bathroom as drying yourself while you’re sitting down reduces strain on your body. If you have space in the kitchen, somewhere to sit while you prepare food is also recommended.
Improving the home for those with Alzheimer’s
Like with other forms of dementia, staying in a familiar home and maintaining a certain degree of independence when living with Alzheimer’s disease can help you to feel safe and secure. Simple modifications, personal touches and technologies can make this entirely possible.
Installing safety devices, such as sensor alarms that can trigger if the oven is left on and sink overflow plugs in the bathroom and kitchen to prevent accidental flooding, are a good idea. Another suggestion is sensor alarms on the front and back doors to alert a family member if you leave the house unexpectedly.
Similarly, motion or time-triggered technology, such as smart speakers or tablets, can be used to remind you of events or when to take medication. Simple notes on the fridge, mirrors and other prominent spaces can also be very effective.
Finally, personal touches – in the form of photographs and other meaningful memorabilia – should be placed next to your bed, in the lounge and generally anywhere where you spend time. These can have a calming effect by evoking happy memories, helping you feel more secure.
There’s no doubt about it – getting older can bring about a new set of challenges in our lives, particularly to the way we live at home. However, just because you may require a helping hand in the form of modifications and home improvements, this certainly doesn’t mean the end of your independence.
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