By Wilma Bedford
When starting a family, or when you are financially secure and your home has to reflect your status, retirement and changing physical abilities are far from your thoughts. Properties become expensive, which might necessitate three generations living in one home at some stage. Be that as it may, whether you will be compelled to make your existing home elderly-friendly or disability-friendly, or be fortunate enough to be able to build a brand-new retirement home, plan timeously and cleverly for the day you will have to change your lifestyle. Keep in mind that age changes mobility, sight and hearing.
Plan a family home that can easily be changed into two residential units with minimal structural alterations. Ensure that the new unit is spacious enough to accommodate the equipment that accompanies ageing, and that the unit will also receive natural light and heat. If you are building from scratch, consider an open-plan home.
If a garden is included in your planning, plant evergreen shrubs and lay out your garden in such a way that it will be a long-term joy in every season. Avoid a garden on different levels with steps and grass slopes. Build a pathway with rough cement or stone and add a handrail to the side. Avoid loose gravel.
A step at the front or back door might sometimes be unavoidable. Build them with a non-slippery material and add a handrail. It would be clever to have the handrail extend 500 cm beyond the lowest step so that a person who is unsteady can first find balance. Indicate the top and vertical sections of steps with a different colour or a darker shade so that users with weak sight can discern steps easily. Avoid steps that are too low or too high. A comfortable height between steps is 154 cm with a width of 260 cm. Provide space for adding a ramp that is wide enough for a wheelchair or a walking frame to fit. Avoid sharp corners and narrow passages which will make manoeuvring a wheelchair difficult and could damage the corners and doorframes.
Try to avoid steps inside the home. Cover steps with a non-slippery material or non-slippery tiles. Indicate where the steps are with footlights in the wall that are on permanently. Add a handrail to the steps.
Build in power outlets 800 cm from the floor at the outset; you don’t want to bend right down to the floor and struggle with a plug when you can no longer see clearly or have trouble bending and straightening up.
Large, round doorknobs are pretty but for small children’s hands and old rheumatic hands they are a frustration. Rather install lever handles for easy access to a room. Also avoid round tap handles in the kitchen and bathrooms.
Keep the bathroom colour neutral; it is not so easy to remove tiles when the previous era’s fashion fad becomes irritating. Older persons and the disabled might prefer taking a shower to a bath. Make sure the shower’s door is wide enough to allow any kind of assistance. Even better, invest in a walk-in shower. Ensure that emergency handles are installed at the bath, in the shower and toilet. Also provide for enough space in the bathroom and toilet so that the doors can open to the outside. Add a seat in the shower. A loose showerhead that can be hand-held, is also very useful. A toilet with a higher seat will also be essential in an elderly-friendly home.
In the kitchen an eye-level oven is not only essential to be able to see, but also to remove warm pans safely. Good lighting is essential above the stove and at work surfaces and it would be clever to install lights that work with a door-controlled switch inside kitchen cupboards and in the grocery cupboard. Make provision in the kitchen-layout for emergency grab-handles that are vertical and close to the floor, rather than high and horizontal, where it will be difficult to reach and stabilise yourself if you should fall in the kitchen.
The chandelier in the entrance lobby or above the dining room table may be impressive but will be a nuisance to clean. Make provision for replacing the chandeliers with hidden roof lights. Also invest in LED lights. Ensure that there is enough lighting in the reading and hobby areas so that laying on loose cables later that will be untidy and confusing and could cause someone to trip won’t be necessary.
Curtains can give any room a character of its own but can become elderly-unfriendly. As far as possible replace curtains with fashionable blinds that are durable and easy to clean.
Doorbells should be audible in all rooms. Also invest in an intercom system for safety and comfort.
Enjoy planning for your old-age and then enjoy your retirement home.
Building a Retirement Home for Aging in Place, the Home of your Dreams.
Design Tech Homes