Homes That Work for Everyone
Most homes are built for the needs and preferences of active adults. Often they are unsuitable, even dangerous, for a person with diminished capacity or limited mobility or for a person needing care and for the caregiver.
If your home has stairs, would you be able to access a full bathroom if you could no longer go up and down those stairs on your own power? Where would you sleep? Could you get into the kitchen or use the toilet if you were injured or had to use a wheelchair? If you needed to sit while taking a shower, could you reach the controls and adjust the showerhead?
Without requiring extensive modifications, in most cases, thoughtful design can transform these spaces into supportive environments that optimize independence and control for the occupants while ensuring safety and promoting an overall sense of well being. These changes also make it easier and safer for a caregiver to tend to an individual.
One approach to creating more supportive environments is Universal Design. Also known as inclusive design, barrier-free design, design-for-all and lifespan design, Universal Design broadly refers to the concept that ideally all design (products, technologies and the built environment) should serve the broadest range of people, regardless of levels of ability or mobility, age, gender or physical stature without the need for adaptation or specialized design. It is not a design style but rather an orientation to design, focusing on the end-user.
Universal Design incorporates such elements as stepless entryways, wider doorways, lever-style handles on doors and faucets, multi-level or adjustable task areas, grab bars in bath areas, easy-access drawers and storage, and other features that improve ease and comfort as well as accessibility. These enhancements benefit people of all ages and abilities, and they help to reduce the likelihood of falls, injuries and accidents.
For persons with vision limitations, having proper lighting throughout the home is essential. Task areas, such as kitchen counters, hobby tables and desks, should have additional, focused overhead lighting or lamps. Blinds, shades and window treatments should be adjustable to allow ample natural lighting. Entryways, hallways, steps and closets all need to be clearly lit when in use. Sensors or timers are ideal for these areas. Rocker switches with dimmers make it easy to control lighting and reduce glare.
Indoor air quality is another concern, especially if there are children or elderly people in the home. Forthose with allergies or difficulty breathing, mold, dust, household chemicals and even humidity can create problems. Make sure heating and air conditioning units are properly serviced, and use HEPA filters and a dehumidifier to control molds and other allergens. Some building materials also can be hazardous, such as plywood containing formaldehyde or carpets that emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are respiratory irritants and neurotoxins. Carbon monoxide and radon are two invisible, odorless gasses that can build up in some homes, causing sickness and even death. You can have your home tested for the presence of these gasses.
When contemplating modifications to a home, consider all the ways that the interior environment can affect the occupants. You should take into account not only their physical well being but also their emotional well being. Something as simple as changing the color of paint on the walls can make a significant difference in our attitude and sense of well being.
Rearranging furniture to make it easier and safer to move about is another small change that can make a big difference.A home that is "emotionally healthy" promotes activity and is inviting to family, friends and neighbors. Create areas where people can comfortably gather together and interact, without distractions from televisions or radios. Fabrics and soft furnishings that reduce noise levels can make conversations easier to follow. Illuminating walls with sconces or recessed bulbs adds light without increasing glare and creates a more appealing ambience.
Creating a safe, functional and comfortable environment need not be costly or difficult. Most of the modifications discussed above can be done yourself or require a minimal amount of assistance. For larger changes, a qualified interior designer with expertise in Universal Design or aging in place can help you decide what is best for you and your home. The benefits to your health and quality of life are considerable, and you will enjoy your home more for many years to come.