By Gail Mayhugh,
Sr. Interior Designer
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This is the first of a series addressing designing for positive Aging-in-Place. In this post, I’ll be sharing furniture and arrangement suggestions.
As we age, we lose some of our strength, agility, and mobility, affecting our ability to navigate the rooms in our homes. For some, a home may have been perfect when they moved in can become dangerous to navigate as they age.
I have done many Aging-in-Place interior design consultations, looking at adjustments and changes to help them live comfortably and independently in their existing homes while improving their safety and ease of living.
I experienced this first-hand with my own mother. As a result of the placement of her recliner and the presence of area rugs, she took a couple bad falls. She was hesitant to make changes and didn’t listen to me at first, but after the falls I had to insist on making changes. Although the changes were needed due to her health, even if you’re excellent health, you might want to consider some of the suggestions below to ensure you can live comfortably in your own home.
If you’ve never sat in a recliner, you’re missing out. I worked with a client who said she was only going to allow one in her house when her husband retired. Well, guess what? We bought two, and she’s been enjoying it for years. What’s nice about a recliner is that it allows you to adjust your comfort level. However the ability to safely get in and out of it may change over time.
I knew it was time to upgrade my Mother’s recliner when she couldn’t pull the lever back to put the footrest down and ended up falling when she climbed over it. Luckily she wasn’t hurt, but we went shopping that day for a powered lift chair. Although a bit pricey, it was worth every penny to make getting up easier for her.
When selecting any upholstery, especially a lift recliner, a textured fabric is the best. Over time seniors lose muscle mass and strength and sometimes can’t control all of their movements. A textured fabric will help, so they don’t slip out of a chair.
You may be tempted to purchase dining chairs with casters, thinking it will make it easier for them to push away from the table, but they need to be avoided. I’ve seen it many times when pushing themselves up and away from the table, the chair goes out from under them, causing a fall.
It may also be time to purchase new upholstery, as pieces that are too low, too soft and too deep can present a hazard in being able to get up and down. If the sofa itself is in good condition, and not too low or deep, you can have the cushion pillows changed out with a firmer foam. So that’s it not too hard, have them wrap it with a single layer of Dacron.
The arm height of all upholstery needs to be higher, allowing help when sitting down and standing up. It gives you more leverage. It should be flat and designed to easily grasp.
"By creating a safe and comfortable environment, aging-in-place in our own homes increases quality of life and independence."Gail Mayhugh
An uncluttered and simple furniture arrangement that is easy to navigate is essential in every room. The room I’ve found to have the most safety concerns is the family room.
Is there a clear path in and out of your furniture arrangements? I've seen many homes with baskets of magazines on the floor by a chair. Slipping on newspapers, magazines and loose papers is a high risk in any older adult’s home. How far away is the coffee table from the sofa? Too close and it won’t allow sufficient space to walk normally and may even trip someone trying to get up and out. Are there electrical and phone cords exposed in walkways?
Another item we don’t think about is where the telephone is located. When the phone rings we get up quickly and an older adult might lose their balance from being dizzy, then run to the phone and trip and fall. It’s so easy to have multiple handsets around the house. There should be at least one next to all favorite seating areas and nightstands. Seniors really should try to keep a cell phone, if they have one, with them at all times.
Even though we may love area rugs, they should be removed as mobility declines, especially from dining areas. When pushing a chair back, it can catch of the edge of the rug and cause a fall. My Grandmother had scatter rugs throughout her house, caught her foot on it and went down, breaking her shoulder. No matter our age, probably most of us have experienced it. Rugs need to be properly secured to the floor.
Implementing even a few of these ideas will enable an aging senior to remain in their home in both comfort and safety. Aging is a part of life we can’t avoid. By creating a safe and comfortable environment, aging-in-place in our own homes increases quality of life and independence.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Gail Mayhugh is a Certified Interior Designer and Color Expert and received her interior design education from the Interior Design Institute in 1992. Since then she has run a successful interior design and architectural color consulting firm, working with over 2,000 clients, both nationally and internationally on over 6,000,000 square feet. Consulting on design and architectural color decisions for both interiors and exteriors, Gail collaborates with homeowners, business owners, property managers, architects, painters, contractors, builders, realtors and homeowner associations.
Areas of Specialty:
Real Estate Staging