When designing a flat that is suitable for people who are aging, it is important to keep in mind all the impairments that can arise with aging. These are vision loss, hearing loss, muscle weakness, impaired memory, back problems, knee problems, and even anosmia (loss of smell). In my design of this apartment I will try to address as many of these possible impairment types and their needs as possible, so that the home of elderly will be a safe and pleasant environment.
If we start by addressing the bathroom there is some areas that can be made safer to use in old age. For example in the shower where it is very easy to slip and hurt yourself even if you are not elderly. The difference of falling in the shower as an elderly person compared to a younger person is that there is a much higher risk of breaking something, like the hip or the femoral neck. As a means to address this issue, the shower floor should be fitted with an anti-slip material. It shouldn’t just be an anti-slip carpet since those can easily drift around on the floor and cause people to fall as well. So a better option would be to have the floor material to be anti-slip instead. There are anti-slip tiles that can be used on the floor, like the ones you can see in some public showers, but this solution would gravely complicate cleaning the floor of the shower. Maybe a product similar to the one on the picture below would do the trick?
Or maybe the small anti-slip stickers depicted on the picture below would work just as fine, since they shouldn’t be able to drift around like an anti-slip carpet would, and they don’t obstruct the cleaning of the floor like other solutions. These stickers have to be close enough together though, so that there is no risk of slipping on the wet floor between them.
The sink in the bathroom should have an easy-to-use lever for the water, since it is a lot easier to get the desired temperature of the water with these as oppose to the sinks that have two knobs to turn, one for hot water and one for cold. I would also like the sink to be able to be lowered or elevated if needed, by for example the push of a button. This would facilitate the needs of the user even if he or she was in a wheelchair or a lowered reach for some other reason. A similar function would be implemented for the toilet, so no matter your height you could have the toilet seat be at a convenient level. The toilet would also need to have armrests like the one you see in handicap-toilets, but these would be retractable into the wall behind the toilet when they were not needed.
Another useful addition to the shower area is a built-in bench where you can sit down while showering. Not only for times when you are too weak to stand in the shower but it’s also a nice feature if you like to take long showers for example. A similar bench to what I am referring to can be seen on the picture below, however I would like it to be a little broader, so you can sit comfortably.
The bathtub is fitted with a ledge at one of the sides, as depicted on the picture below, to make it easier getting into and out of the bathtub. This solution is perfect in the sense that it doesn’t look weird in any way, and if you don’t actually need it then it can be used as a shelf or a place to put your towel while you bathe.
Moving on to another room that needs to be fitted with measures to make aging in this apartment easier, the kitchen. I have a few ideas here, most of which can be explained with the picture below. There are extra room under the kitchen-sink and the stove so a person in a wheelchair has room for the legs beneath it, and because of that can be close enough to use both the sink and the stove efficiently. If no one in the apartment is in a wheelchair, the extra room can just be fitted with a little curtain and be used as extra storage. The oven is placed at a medium level instead of on the floor, so that there will be less bending down, since bending down can be quite exhausting when you are getting older. Another important thing about the oven is that it needs to be fitted with a timer, so it turns off if it gets forgotten, otherwise it could easily start a fire. An eventual dish-washing machine should be at the same level as the oven, to make it easier to use. I have a little objection about the design in the picture though, and that is the cupboards in the top-right corner. How is a person in a wheelchair suppose to reach them? The top-left cupboards is a borderline case but the top-right cupboards just seems impossible to reach. I would prefer that they were positioned in better places, preferably on the same level as the oven.
Some issues that needs to be dealt with in the apartment as a whole is that there shouldn’t be any thresholds in the doorways between rooms. In this day and age there is no real need for threshold, and they are mostly just in the way. The more obvious reason is that they are not very funny to go over with a wheelchair, but on the other hand it hurts a lot to step on or kick into them when you are walking also.
I have been doing some thinking when it comes to the inner doors of the apartment, and I’ve come to the conclusion that they would be useful to have, especially for the bathroom and the bedroom. The drawbacks of having these inner doors is that they can become quite hard to deal with if you are in a wheelchair, as you sometimes have to back up at the same time as opening the door. I have to admit that I haven’t actually tried to open a door towards me while sitting in a wheelchair, so there is a chance that this issue doesn’t even exist. Either way I did find a type of door that has an offset axis, so that the door doesn’t steal as much space when it is opened. The function of the door is displayed on the picture below.
Lastly I would like the electric outlets, used to power different devices throughout the apartment, to be at a higher level. It doesn’t really make since to have them at a floor level in an apartment designed for the elderly. With eventual back problems and osteoarthritis it is just going to lead to all kinds of different accidents and injuries.
There are of course a lot of more things that could be done that I haven’t thought of, but we at least covered the major areas of the apartment and made the it a lot safer and easier to use as the residents will grow older.