Design with Aging in Mind

October 1st, 2007 § Leave a Comment

The fastest growing segment of society is the elderly. By 2020, there will be 53.2 million Americans older than age 65—about 16% of the population—and 6.5 million of those will be over 85, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nobody really wants to see themselves as “aging” but it is inevitable.

The problem is that when people think of safety features, visions of hospital medical supply equipment and “ada compliant” fixtures comes to mind. Mention ADA and you may get cold stares from your clients. American Disability Act of 1990, sets Federal standards for accessible design in public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation. It does not cover residential design but that should not mean “ada” design should be overlooked in the home.

The problem with the term ADA when designing for older clients is that aging should not be viewed as disabled! Design should not be age specific. Replace the term “ADA Compliant” with Universal Design and now it sounds Utopian. The term is somewhat new age but seems to be the most common term Americans refer to when discussing aging in place. All products should be suitable for young and old.

‘Design for the young and you exclude the old. Design for the old and you include the young’, said Professor Bernard Isaacs, of The Centre for Applied Gerontology, Birmingham.

Safe design can be attractive. Universal design that uses sophisticated design elements while still incorporating safety features can improve the quality of life and serve young and old without regard to whether it was designed for age specific issues.

I like the definition “Inclusive Design” the most, The British Standards Institute defines inclusive design as “The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible … without the need for special adaptation or specialised design.”.

There are additional sources of information available to incorporate into your design.

  • One of the most common accidents to occur in the home is falling down. The NSC, (National Safety Council) has useful building ideas and tips to reduce the chance of falling by using smart design. Please read:Designs on Building Safe Homes for the Elderly

  • The Helen Hamlyn Foundation supports innovative projects aimed at improving the quality of life of older people. A major focus has been the design of homes for older people and the household equipment available to them. Reference:
  • Examples of Inclusive Design

What can I do to improve my kitchen design?

  • Lighting: Excepted from Lighting Design for Aging Eyes
    Article by Stan Pomeranz
    • Every area should have general illumination in addition to task lighting.
    • Daylighting and dimmable fluorescent are good indirect ambient light sources.
    • Accent lighting adds visual interest and becomes important for orientation and safety. As we age, it becomes more critical to clearly define hallways, stairs, and potential changes in surfaces or levels. Proper lighting can do this effectively.
    • Lighting design must balance between creating visual interest and visual disruption. This is particularly critical with older eyes that find blurred vision or changes in contrast unsettling. Scallop lighting effects on hallway walls or alternating high and low illumination levels within a space create a visual distraction.
    • Shiny floors provide another source of glare and the resulting light patterns can be disorienting.
    • It is also helpful to visually define where the wall meets the floor and avoid shadows which effect detail perception a higher ambient light level is helpful in creating pleasantly lit areas.
    • The placement of light switches, electrical receptacles, and shelves at heights that better accommodate children, short people and people with disabilities that limit their range of reach
  • Appliances:
    • A trend in standard design is to place the microwave above the range in the kitchen. This placement inhibits the use of the microwave and creates a safety hazard for many people, especially children. The application of a universal design feature would be to relocate the microwave to a lower position that is convenient for a broader range of users while still saving counter space.
    • Install wall mount ovens instead of ranges. Bending and knee limitations make using a range much more difficult. An oven mounted at a height convenient to the user is a safer approach.
    • Look for cooktop burners that sit below a smooth, glass top. These burners look at lot better than your old electric coils. You clean the glass top – not the coils. That’s much easier to do.
    • Choose controls that sit at the front or side of the cooktop. And look for burners that aren’t set in a straight line. With these features, you won’t have to reach across hot burners to turn up the heat or stir a pot at the back of the stove.
    • Ask about push-button controls. It’s much easier to push a button than to turn a knob. These buttons are also easier to clean.
    • Buy a cooktop with a heat indicator. This light reminds you when the burner is still hot. The light goes out when the burner cools down.
    • Make sure your cooktop and stove are easy to read. Find a model that uses different colors to tell you which parts are hot and which parts are cool. Look for displays that use big numbers that you can see from across the room. And, check out the instruction book. Large type and simple sentences can help you find answers quickly.
  • Make Your Cabinets Work For You.
    • Think about removing the doors on your cabinets. Or replace the doors you have now with glass. You’ll be able to see clearly where you stored everything. You won’t waste any more time or strength looking for things in all the wrong places.
    • If you can’t replace your doors, then replace the handles. Handles that look like a “D” are easier to grab than round knobs.
    • Lower the height of wall cabinets for easier access.
    • Add a Lazy-Susan to a deep shelf or a corner cabinet. This flat, round tray spins around easily. Give it a turn and you can easily bring items from the back of your cabinet to the front.
    • Add a auto switch inside a lazy susan cabinet or a deep pantry. Lighting a typically dark area is much easier to find things when the light automatically turns on when the door is opened.
    • Install pot and pan drawers instead of door/drawer base cabinets. The simple motion of opening up a drawer is easier to maneuver than a roll out tray behind a door.
  • Counter Tops
    • It’s okay to keep most of your counters where they are. That’s about 36 inches from the floor. But add at least one counter that is 28″-32″ high. Children will love working here. You’ll find it easier to chop and bake at this height. And someone who needs to sit while they cook will be thrilled to have a nice place to work. Just make sure there’s enough knee space under the counter to pull up a chair or wheelchair. That knee space should be 30 inches wide and 27 inches high.
    • Be sure to choose counter edges that are rounded, not sharp. This will help reduce the injuries if someone falls in the kitchen. In addition, the edge of your counter top should be a different color than the rest of the counter. Pick a color that really stands out. That way, people with poor vision will be able to see clearly where the counter ends. Fewer dishes will spill and break.
  • Passages
    • 32″ clear door openings @ accessible areas
    • Barrier free path to all accessible areas in the home

Additional Resources.

  1. The Accessible Kitchen Layout.
  2. AARP, Certified Aging in Place Specialists.
  3. What is Universal Design?
  4. Baby Boomer Demand Boosting Universal Design.
  5. The Accessible Home: Updating Your Home for Changing Physical Needs by Creative Publishing Internatonal (Editor), Bryan Trandem (Editor)
  6. Aging in Place,
  7. These resources are designed to help consumers make good decisions about the products they need to improve their home environment.

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