While multigenerational living is far from the norm in the United States, more and more Boomers and Gen Xers are having their aging parents move in with them rather than moving them into an assisted living or nursing home facility. You may have heard of the term “aging in place” and this is exactly what it is—senior citizens living in the residence of their choice for as long as they are able.
Sometimes this means that support is brought into their own homes and sometimes that looks like moving in with family members who can offer additional support. Whether you’re having your elderly parents move in with you or want to make your aging relative’s home safer for them as they continue to live on their own, there are some updates you can make to help with mobility issues and safety.
Aging adults have specific needs when it comes to interior design. For this demographic, functionality and safety need to be top-of-mind, as opposed to aesthetics. (Though, this doesn’t mean their home design will be ugly—aesthetics will simply be a lower priority.) And choosing the right furniture for elderly adults can make a huge difference.
With a few tweaks to your furniture and room layouts, you can make your home safer and more comfortable for loved ones who are aging in place. Read on for our 14 design tips for furnishing a home for senior citizens and aging family members, along with ideas for furniture for the eldery.
Disclaimer: These are simply design tips intended to assist in mobility. Consult a healthcare professional for any safety concerns.
Less stuff makes cleaning easier, helping to empower your senior loved-one to live independently.
1. Reduce Clutter
In a home with older adults, less is best. Reduce clutter throughout the house, making sure nothing inhibits a walkway. (More on this below.) But beyond walkways, it’s also worth removing excess books, paper, and even decor throughout the house. This not only helps reduce mental load, but a clutter-free home can simply make it easier for a senior to take care of themselves, as clutter can get in the way of daily tasks like cooking and cleaning.
Ensure high-traffic areas have wide, clear walkways to make moving around easier for elderly!
2. Create Enough Space for Traffic Flow
To accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, you need to create wider walkways. So, move items out of the way that could become tripping hazards—like consoles in narrow hallways or decorative items in rooms that aren’t very wide or spacious. Having enough space to walk around and navigate will create a safer environment an elderly person.
Reduce trip hazards with a low pile rug with a non-slip rug pad underneath.
3. Choose Low-Pile Rugs
For homes with carpets or rugs, opt for low-pile (aka thinner) options. Anything too chunky or plush (like a thick pile or shag carpet) could become a tripping hazard. Plush-pile rugs can also be difficult to walk on with a walker. Check out our guide on how to choose a rug if you need additional guidance on size and material.
For all homes with older adults, skip the use of small accent rugs, which tend to move around and can more easily cause a fall.
Another option if trips and falls are a serious concern? Skip rugs and carpeting altogether, opting for bare hardwood and tile floors.
4. And Don’t Skip the Rug Pad
If your home has a rug, it’s very important to also have a non-skid rug pad. On their own, area rugs can slip and slide around on hardwood floors. A rug pad will help the rug stay in place, preventing senior citizens (and anyone else, really) from slipping. An added benefit? Rug pads also make a rug more comfortable to stand on and will help extend the life of your rug!
5. Install Grab Bars and Railings
In bathrooms and staircases, it’s worth considering the installation of grab bars and railings. Most staircases have a railing already—but adding an additional railing to the other side of the staircase, if possible, can help with balance. And having grab bars in bathrooms, next to the toilet and in the shower, are extremely helpful for daily mobility issues and ensuring the safety of an elderly person.
Be wary of towel rods, as these can be grabbed like a grab bar but might not be secure enough to hold the weight of a person, which can cause a fall!
A taller sofa will make sitting down and standing up easier on older adults.
6. Choose Sofas at an Appropriate Height and Size
As people age, it can become more difficult to transition from sitting to standing, and vice versa. So it’s important to consider the height of sofas and chairs to make this as easy as possible for the older adults in your home.
Choose a sofa and accent chairs that allow them to sit on comfortably with their feet planted on the floor. But you don’t want them too low, as this will increase the difficulty of sitting down or standing back up. It’s also worth considering sofas with taller arm rests, which will make for a sturdy grip, helping you or a loved one pull themselves up or help or sit down.
The actual size and height of the sofa or chairs you choose depends on the height and size of your aging family member. Someone who is shorter will need a sofa that’s a bit lower and not as deep, while a taller family member will need a deeper and taller sofa.
Choose a bed that is hip-height to make getting in and out easy.
7. Consider the Height and Style of Their Bed
Make getting in and out of bed as easy as possible by choosing the right height of bed. The same rule for sofas applies here too—opt for a bed that is lower than hip height, but not too low! Too tall and they’ll have to jump up to get into bed, too low and they’ll have to hoist themselves up out of bed in the morning—and no one needs that right when they wake up!
A good measurement? Make sure your family member’s feet can sit flat on the floor when sitting on the edge of the mattress. A good rule of thumb is to avoid platform beds, which sit low to the ground by design, making them much too low for older adults; they require much more effort to go from sitting to standing. It’s also worth avoiding intricately carved bed frames or those with jutting woodwork, which are more likely to be a tripping hazard or cause harm. Your best bet is to choose an upholstered bed in a streamlined design. Check out our bed frame style guide to better understand all the bed frame options on the market!
You could also opt for a motorized bed base, which allows you to lower and raise the bed for sleeping and sitting upt to read or watch TV—and allow a person to choose their sleeping position based on any medical needs. These beds can also make it easier for getting out of bed.
Good lighting is a must for senior-friendly homes!
8. Install Good Lighting
Good lighting is a must—in all homes, but especially homes where older adults live. Since eyesight often wanes as we age, it’s important to choose lighting that is bright enough so you can clearly see what you’re doing and where you’re going. This is especially important in the kitchen, bathroom, and stairwells. Keep stairwells well lit with accent lighting, like sconces, or even light strips on the underside of your steps.
Aside from overhead lights, make sure table and/or floor lamps are easily reachable from sofas and beds to avoid any strain. With floor lamps, make sure the bases are sturdy so they don’t topple over easily. And, of course, be mindful of trailing cords on the floor, which can be a tripping hazard!
Since many older adults get up one or more times throughout the night to use the bathroom or get a drink, it can also be helpful to keep a flashlight on the bedside table or have nightlights scattered throughout the house to help with nighttime visibility.
Want to shed more light on the subject? Check out our lighting buying guide for more insight on how to choose good lighting for your home.
9. Keep Necessities Within Reach
Making sure your family member’s most-used items are easily accessible and within reach is very important. This helps reduce strain, which could lead to injuries, and avoids them needing to use a step stool to reach anything. (This is especially important in a kitchen.) Obviously not everything in a home can be within arms-reach—but consider the most used items and strategically place them for easy access.
Skip the glass and opt for wood furniture instead!
10. Avoid Glass-Topped Furniture
Sturdy furniture is essential for older adults—so this means avoiding glass-topped furniture which can chip and break more easily than other materials. It’s simply not the most stable material. If you need something to grip or press on to get off the sofa, or if you trip and need to hold onto something, glass isn’t sturdy enough to hold unexpected weight and can be dangerous in situations like this. Instead, opt for stable wooden furniture.
11. Skip Rolling Furniture
Furniture with wheels or casters should also be avoided. These pieces can roll unexpectedly, which can be dangerous. Skip dining chairs with casters, as they can be more challenging to get out of.
Drum style coffee tables are very sturdy and have no legs, making them a great option for senior-friendly spaces.
12. Be Aware of Furniture Legs and Bases
When picking out suitable senior-friendly furniture, be sure to consider the legs of a piece of furniture. While sofa and armchair legs tend to stay tucked under the frame of the furniture, some coffee tables or dining tables have legs that protrude out at an angle or have large feet. As you might imagine, this can become a tripping hazard. So, think through the legs of furniture pieces and skip any that may result in tripping.
Pedestal side tables, while their bases aren’t a tripping hazard, aren’t as steady as side tables with four legs and tip more easily. So, consider avoiding pedestal table designs as well.
Consider skipping a coffee table and using an ottoman as a plush alternative.
13. Avoid Furniture With Sharp Edges
As we age, our skin becomes thinner and loses some of the protective layers that cushion blood vessels against injury. Because of this, senior citizens are more prone to bruising—so it’s important to avoid furniture with sharp edges. This is especially important in the bedroom, where a person is more likely to be navigating around the room in the dark.
14. Consider Motorized Furniture
Motorized furniture can make life easier for older adults. Motorized recliners, sofas, beds, and even tables allow more flexibility and support, making sitting and standing easier. This can be especially helpful for those who have mobility issues or are recovering from a surgery.
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