How To Design A Senior Citizen Friendly House
A blog written by Debashis Datta (Khyaal Content Community Member)
A house is an ultimate refuge for everyone tired of the notions of the ongoing struggle for survival in the changing external world. Needless to say, this is more true for senior citizens, although most of them may have become detached from their professional life.
A house is expected to evolve into a "home", a physical space for seniors to rest, recuperate and rejuvenate. Most desirably, it will then open up to a magical dwelling space of souls whose deep wisdom arising out of vast experience has the power to inspire and spiritually strengthen our youth.
Being of such great importance, a house for our senior citizens requires serious brainstorming and innovation in its design aspects. We have noted that a senior's house should effectively address the following needs: comfort, health, safety, communication, peace and spirituality.
The house of seniors should be compact, neither cramped nor very large, and devoid of bends and curves. The drawing and dining rooms should be merged into a common uncluttered space. Also, there should be less number of doors.
Climbing stairs would be difficult for our senior citizens, so the house should be single-storied or should have power-operated elevators. For single-storied buildings, stairs should have low steps and be accompanied by or replaced by ramps. These ramps should have a moderate slope to be easily negotiable by an aged person or a ride on a wheelchair.
For multi-storied buildings, there should be at least two elevators in one building to avoid complications due to breakdowns. The elevators should be good in size with all the standard comfort and safety features like exhaust/cooling fans, carpeted floors, alarms and door locks.
All the doors, including those of the toilets, kitchens or elevators should be large and well-oiled in the hinges or easy-to-slide type. But the main door at the entrance, which may be heavy due to foolproof security, all other doors should be lightweight but strong (like those of fibre or durable plastic), preferably without locks.
The windows should be airy, ideally of sliding type and easily operated. Curtains can be replaced by easily operated blinds.
All the electrical switches, mechanical fittings, knobs, handles, locks, toilet fixtures, etc... should be large and easily usable with a soft touch.
The kitchen should be open without doors and with low cupboards with soft-touch covers. The kitchen should preferably have a gas line installed for supplying fuel for cooking or should have a portable double cylinder LPG provision. The oil/masala vapours and other emissions from the process of cooking should be sucked and filtered off by installing a good efficient chimney system before being released into the atmosphere outside.
The colour schemes of the external walls should be bright to create a sense of joy. The internal walls should use a soothing yet bright palette, which doesn't absorb the illumination, yet enhances a sense of serenity. Lighter shades of blue, green, yellow and creamy white are most commonly used to create an ideal psychological ambience.
The illumination of the whole house should be strong. Electric lamps with daylight effects are the best choice. Night lamps in bedrooms should not be feeble but strong enough to enable an aged person with failing eyesight to see clearly. Night lamps in passages to toilets should focus on floors.
For obvious reasons ensuring uninterrupted supplies of electric power and water is of utmost importance for elderly dwellers.
There should be a fully dependable and hardy UPS system, preferably catering to the whole house or at least to the main living areas of the bedroom, dining/drawing space, kitchen and bathrooms. Power batteries with inverters are preferable to electrical generators as the former have smooth automatic changeover and noiseless operation in case of failure of the usual power supply. For bulk power needed by lifts (elevators) and cooling/heating systems should of course have automatic generators.
Water should be stored in a big overhead tank and should be cleaned on a regular basis. Adequate and dependable pumping facilities should be there to fill up the tank every day.
In heat-wave-prone localities and the localities with frequent rains, should have an additional shed installed on the roof to guard the rooftop against direct sunlight and rainfall.
Robust air-conditioning with a good cooling capacity is a must except in high altitude hilly locations, where there should be dependable heating provisions, including toilets and kitchen. The maintenance of the cooling/heating systems should be failure-proof. To avoid illnesses these systems should be tuned to create an optimal cosy indoor temperature, neither too cold nor too hot.
As the cities are increasingly getting polluted, now there is a new demand for air-purifiers of sufficient capacities with fine and powerful filters installed in the main bedroom and dining/drawing space. This helps in maintaining the air purity of the main dwelling areas inside the house, thereby reducing the risks of asthma and nausea along with a variety of bacteria/virus-infected airborne diseases.
To take care of the mosquito menace the use of electric vaporizers of mosquito-repellent liquids is hazardous for the health of our seniors. It is known to have resulted in allergies and other complications after prolonged use. It's best to have the windows fully and effectively covered with fine nylon mesh. The doors opening to corridors and balconies shall preferably be double doors covered again by fine nets.
There should be two water purifiers (UV or similar technology to destroy harmful bacteria and viruses while preserving minerals and vitamins) to provide healthy drinking/cooking water.
The bathrooms/toilets should have electric geysers or provisions for heating water by sunlight and storing it for subsequent use.
It is best if the house has a garden area, where the senior citizens can enjoy a stroll through-plane pathways and a pleasant rendezvous with green nature as a regular routine. They can sit for their tea and snacks in the early morning or evening hours on comfortable wooden benches in the garden. But such things are a luxury in metros due to tremendously high land costs. It may not be advisable to walk in the garden engulfed with obnoxious smoke in certain cities. In that case, a large dining cum drawing space, a terrace or a long indoor corridor may be used as a to-and-fro walkway for elderly people.
The best location chosen for the construction of the house is away from the coastal belt prone to frequent storms and cyclones. Seismic zones should also be avoided. Spots with heavy rainfall, snowfall or hailstorm are surely not suitable.
All the doors/windows should be fireproof, waterproof and airtight. Preferably, the furniture should also be of noncombustible materials.
There is always a danger of our senior citizens having a severe injury due to toppling while walking on slippery or wet surfaces. Floors everywhere must be unpolished, rough and dry. Wall-to-wall carpets come in handy to cover perilous marble floors.
The toilets need special attention for the sake of the safety of our vulnerable seniors. The illumination should be strong and operated from outside switches. The water closet (WC) or the lavatory seat should be strict of the western type. The height of the WC shall be adjusted to be comfortable for sitting and getting up for an aged person - by using suitable sitting attachments easily available in a large number of varieties in the market. The bathing areas should be separated from the WC and washbasin areas of the toilets by plastic curtains to stop water splashing out to other areas while bathing. Anti-slip rubber mats or thick porous rubber mats shall be used to turn wet surfaces into safe surfaces without any possibility of slipping or skidding. The bathing areas shall also have wall-mounted draw-out type seats - to enable old persons to have a bath while seated (handheld flexible showers are an appropriate fitting here).
Handles on walls are very convenient for the support of older citizens. These should be fixed at proper height and position on the walls of the toilets suitable for comfortable gripping. These are very effective measures to ensure safety against slipping and also can be fixed on walls beside passages.
All the systems like power systems, cooling/heating systems, air or water purifiers and pumps (if any) should be taken care of through good maintenance service packages so that there's no difficulty due to breakdown.
Automatic fire fighting systems should necessarily be there to keep a continuous vigil over the house. Also, it should be accompanied by a good fire alarm or smoke alarm system in the whole building. These should be maintained properly with frequent trials to check and ensure the effectiveness thereof.
The house is to be at a location where health-related services are easily obtainable. The best possible location, therefore, is an area where one or more hospitals and clinics are nearby, on an access road. This is the most important point regarding the easily communicable location of a house of elderly people and comes convenient in case of medical emergencies.
Nowadays, home delivery is available for supplies of vegetables, fish, other eatables, and medicines in almost all the cities. So nearby shops are not that important, but may still have some utilities at locations away from cities.
For in-house communications, over and above the abundance of mobiles and the installation of an old-fashioned intercom system will be very useful for the benefit of senior citizens. Tabletop push bells, mechanical ones, are also indispensable.
Sounds of chaos can act as unwanted impostors shattering domestic peace and tranquillity. To make the house free of external noises, the windows and doors can be rendered soundproof simply by ensuring proper airtight and watertight fittings. Curtains and blinds with beautiful decorations may also work wonders as efficient absorbers of sound and scorching sun rays. The sun's rays may or may not enhance one's sense of peace, depending on mood and personality, and curtains/ blinds may be drawn or removed as per the desirability of its presence.
Gardens, terraces with garden patches and pots of plants at window seals and elsewhere may be exclusively used as special design features for creating an atmosphere of peace in tune with nature. After proper waterproof treatment of roofs, aesthetically realized rooftop gardens are also a modern model of an ideal house with a peaceful healthy aura.
A rather special aspect of houses for senior citizens is an attempted connection with the sublime omnipresent power present around us. It is always there, only its presence is to be made to be felt by incorporating certain features in the house. This can most effectively be imbibed by building a stand-alone abode of God, preferably inside a garden. The scarcity of space for any such separate construction may be tackled by allotting a prayer room, which should be more or less spacious and adorned with religious/spiritual motifs.
The use of dictums of Vastu or Feng Shui, or a similar faith system as per one's belief, in the geographical orientation and other construction features of the building will also give a solid boost to the sense of confidence and obsolete spirituality.
There are innumerable features to be incorporated in the design of a house so that it becomes suitable for the comfort of senior people. It also depends on the needs of a couple or more particular persons. Every individual is precious to us, and we should choose the features befitting his/her specific requirements. Budget is a restraining factor requiring a midway compromise between the ideal and the affordable choices.
The only factors which make the ultimate mark amidst all these so-called modern features of the design are those time-tested from days as of old as human civilization - love, care and company. There is no substitute for human compassion for senior citizens.