With Americans living longer, there’s growing interest in the concept of aging in place—that is, staying in our own homes for as long as possible. Fortunately, we can look to the senior housing industry, which has built hundreds of retirement communities across the country, for ways to design single-family homes to accomplish this goal. This week, the American Association for Homes and Services for the Aging met in Los Angeles and showcased many new and exciting products in its 2010 Idea House. Though geared primarily for large campuses such as nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, most of the features on display could be adapted for use in private homes. The Idea House—designed by associate Eric Krull, interior designer Melinda Avila-Torio and landscape architect Jake Friend, all of THW Design in Atlanta—brought together a cross-section of the latest in technology, furnishings, fabrics, finishes and outdoor amenities aimed at improving the quality of senior life. Here’s a look at some of the best innovations.
Kitchens designed for seniors in wheelchairs wisely eliminate base cabinets and drawers under cooktops and raise toekicks to 8½ inches all around so that burner controls and work surfaces can be reached more easily. For seniors who can walk, slip-resistant floor coverings such as EarthWerks’ subtly textured vinyl and plank flooring help prevent falls while providing the warm look of natural stone and wood. For more information, see Earthwerks.
Pressalit Care electric lifts, distributed by New England Medical Systems, adjust countertops from 24 inches to 38 inches above the finished floor to accommodate people of different heights and capabilities in the same household. Wall cabinets also can be outfitted with the motorized lifts for better access. A safety device prevents counters and cabinets from being lowered too far and possibly injuring legs or kitchen equipment. For more information, see Pressalit Care and New England Medical Systems.
Anyone who’s ever accidentally burned dinner will appreciate the CookStop wireless system from Home for Life Solutions, which reduces the risk of fires caused by unattended electric stoves and cooktops. A motion detector turns off all heating elements if no movement is spotted in the kitchen within a specified period of time. The programmable device can be connected to Tunstall’s Caresse+ monitoring system to alert remote caregivers and family members about a potential emergency. For more information, see CookStop, Home For Life Solutions, and Tunstall.
Carpet tiles by InterfaceFLOR, the commercial counterpart to FLOR, offer floor coverings that are easy to install, clean and change. Made of recycled materials, the solution-dyed, fade-resistant nylon tiles are low-pile to reduce the risk of tripping. They’re also impervious to moisture and treated with an antimicrobial preservative to limit staining, odors and mold. For use under carpet or vinyl flooring, a SATECH rubber mat adds extra cushion to minimize the impact of falls that could result in broken bones. For more information, see Interface Flor and Satech.
As the computer company’s name, It’s Never 2 Late, implies, seniors are never too old to jump on the technology bandwagon. The in2L system employs large, easy-to-read touch-screen symbols, enabling people to surf the Internet and follow current events, favorite sports teams and other interests online. The system also demystifies e-mail and webcams. For more information, see It's Never 2 Late.
The families of seniors who live alone can stay in touch with WellAWARE and BeClose monitoring systems that rely on unobtrusive passive sensors placed on beds, chairs, walls, windows and doorways to track sleep cycles, daily activity patterns and home security. If, for example, somebody is going to the bathroom more frequently than normal or a window is left open, sensors can notify doctors and caregivers to intervene before a health or safety problem arises. For more information, see WellAWARE Systems and BeClose.
Furniture for seniors doesn’t have to look like something out of a hospital ward. In addition to chairs upholstered in stylish fabrics that resist staining and fading, Joerns Healthcare’s fully adjustable bed comes with handsome wood veneer trim to blend into residential settings. The steel-frame bed, which can be widened to extend the sleeping area, can also be raised or lowered to a person’s most comfortable seat height. It comes with removable handles to make changing linens easier, and it has a handy night light underneath. For more information, see Joerns Healthcare.
Delta, a division of MASCO Bath, offers an acrylic shower unit complete with controls, grab bars and shelf within convenient reach from the matching seat. For seniors with physical disabilities, the all-inclusive shower unit also features a zero threshold instead of a raised curb. For more information, see MASCO Bath.
Mannington Commercial vinyl flooring combines safety with a fashion-forward palette for the bathroom, the hallway and other areas where water could pose a slipping hazard. Pairing such floors with a SorbaSHOCK foam-core underlayment adds protection against fall-related injuries without sacrificing the rigidity needed for wheelchair traffic.
For more information, see Manningron and SorbaSHOCK.
Artwork inspired by nature has the power to create a serene environment by bringing a touch of the outdoors inside. Henry Domke, a former doctor now producing prints on paper and canvas, made this digitally enhanced photograph of an aloe to resemble a painting. Kwalu’s sturdy steel-frame Harvest table and Tivoli dining chairs provide a comfortable gathering place for meals or other social events in a central space that would ideally be flooded with warm sunlight. For more information, see Henry Domke Fine Art and Kwalu.
Playworld Systems has found ways to make staying active simple and enjoyable. The LifeTrail outdoor exercise kiosks provide self-guided workouts that can be performed while sitting or standing and at an individual’s own pace. For livelier workouts, the company’s video game-like NEOS wall has flashing lights, music and sound effects to get seniors moving and stretching in friendly competition with their children and grandkids. For more information, see Playworld Systems.
A rolling cart equipped with full-spectrum grow lights allows seniors to continue to garden regardless of the season whether they have outdoor space or not. With Stand-up Gardens, which are wheelchair-accessible mahogany carts with brakes, they can raise fresh vegetables and herbs or ornamental plants indoors or out. Options include a timer for the grow lights, a set of gardening tools and a storage shelf. For more information, see Stand Up Gardening.
One-on-one fitness instruction plays a significant role in motivating seniors to stay in shape. A talking robot dubbed Bandit encourages a person seated in front of it to engage in customized exercises, ranging from easy to challenging. Although still in the research and testing stages, the robot is capable of leading a person through a series of arm movements or imitating arm movements modeled by the person. It’s one of six socially assistive robots, or SARs, being developed by the Interaction Lab of theViterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California. For more information, see Interaction Lab.
Eco-conscious transportation alternatives for seniors include a golf cart retrofitted with a canopy of solar panels by Solar Brad, a San Francisco Bay-area folk artist and solar advocate, and an Izip Tricruiser electric tricycle with a grocery basket from Currie Technologies. For more information, see Go Solar! and Currie Technologies.
Seniors can’t swim laps in it, but this HydroWorx pool is multifunctional, allowing for relaxing exercise as well as rehabilitative hydrotherapy. It comes equipped with ergonomic grab bars for safety, an underwater treadmill for workouts that are easy on the joints and adjustable water jets for massaging sore muscles. For more information, see HydroWorx.