How do you create a home that is age-friendly and also pleasant for the younger generation? Several local interior designers showcased their creativity when they came up with three show units to cater to seniors who are independent, the elderly who need some form of assistance, and those who need full assistance.
All spaces in a home should be created with the safety of the elderly in mind to prevent falls, said Leong Ta Wah, interior designer and director of Design Business Sdn Bhd. The home, he added, should be a comfortable environment filled with good memories.
Leong came up with a design concept called Awakening that is contemporary enough to cater to younger visitors such as grandchildren.
His show unit is a non-assisted living design for senior citizens who do not need assisted care. The serviced apartment concept works like a small studio unit with bathroom, bedroom, pantry and a balcony with wooden flooring, green features and good ventilation.
“The vinyl flooring allows for easy use of the wheelchair. It is better than tiles which can be hard and offer a cold surface in case of falls. Toilets should be well-ventilated with grab bars and a bench for the elderly to sit down for a shower,” Leong explained.
There is also a board game area for children and seniors to interact and bond.
Style without borders
People often relate ageing to old furniture and pastel colours. Design director Ooi Boon Seng of PDI Design & Associates wants to break away from this stereotyping.
“We want to bridge comfort and functionality with style and design. And show that even as people age, they can still live in elegant and stylish homes,” said Ooi who adopted a more futuristic approach in designing a show home for semi-assisted living. “Style is about living without borders, enabling one to live as one deems fit. Style and disability can co-exist by employing linear design and a barrier-free kitchen.”
Ooi and associate partner Lisa Ong put their heads together to design a show unit for the elderly, the wheelchair user, and all other age groups.
“We designed this place for the elderly who is well-travelled, independent, tech-savvy, stylish and appreciate the finer things in life. The furniture can be flexible and mobile if a larger space is needed to set up a patient’s bed or equipment when needed in the future,” said Ong.
The main design criteria is functionality. Furniture with rounded edges can help prevent injuries; chairs with armrests can give the elderly a better grip and help them to rise to their feet. Materials used should be easy to clean and bacteria-resistant.
Fixtures should be elevated from the ground with a recessed base for easy cleaning and manoeuvring. Designs should minimise bending and grant easy access for wheelchair-users. Coffee-tables with an upturned edge can help prevent spillage and make maintenance and cleaning easier.
Floor lamps with switches at the mid-section make it easier for the elderly to switch on the light without bending. Corner railings are useful as they prevent the elderly from bumping into any form of glass which may break and hurt them. Railings installed along the walls can help the elderly to support themselves during short walks.
Curved kitchen worktops allow the elderly in a wheelchair to navigate easily. The cabinet height can be reduced by a few centimetres for easy accessibility.
The walls and fittings can be in soothing shades to provide a calming effect. The floor can be in darker shades to provide contrast and help distinguish surfaces and boundaries for the elderly with poor eyesight.
Vinyl floors offer minimal cushioning in case of falls. The anti-slip property gives a better grip, too.
Idzam Othman, senior interior designer of Majidah Design Sdn Bhd, has come up with a design concept for fully-assisted living for the elderly who need such assistance. Almost everything in his show home is designed to be wheelchair-friendly. This unit comes with one bedroom; there is no kitchen. An adjustable recliner bed comes in handy for the elderly who have difficulty pulling themselves up from the bed. The bathroom can have grab bars and be fitted with a panic button.
The three show homes for non-assisted aged-care living, semi-assisted aged-care living, and fully-assisted aged-care living will be featured at the Home Decor and Design Exhibition (Homedec) which will be held at Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur, from Oct 22-25 and Oct 29-Nov 1, from 10am to 8pm.
Make your home senior-friendly
Most homes are not age-friendly. Some homes have split levels, the toilets are too small, and switches and doorways are not conducive to the elderly.
“As the elderly age, it is no longer safe for them to stay in a typical house, especially upstairs if they are much older,” said Susan Suah, deputy president of the National Council of Senior Citizens Organisations Malaysia (Nacscom).
Ideally, the elderly should have a room downstairs if they live in a double-storey house. Some turn the maid’s room or storeroom downstairs into a bedroom for their aged parents when climbing the stairs became too arduous for them.
A retired interior designer, Suah said there should be better awareness on aged care living, particularly on how to improve our homes if we have ageing parents. Accidents can happen at home, involving the elderly. When old people fall, they can sustain serious injuries which can lead to deteriorating health.
Suah also voiced her concerns about the elderly who are single or married without children: what would happen to them as they age?
“Most of us like self-help. If we can do that and have a living environment which can assist us, we can maintain our dignity,” she said.
Ten years ago, Suah cared for her elderly parents before they passed away. She could feel the discomfort of her late father who had to be helped by the daughter-in-law or maid when he needed to go to the toilet.
“After my mother’s death, my dad’s health deteriorated very fast and within a few months, he too was gone,” said Suah.
“We need to look ahead and be prepared. Many working people in their late 40s and 50s may soon find themselves in the first phase of ageing. I’m sure they want to remain useful and independent.
“Anyone who wishes to renovate their homes to make it age-friendly, should have one room with a built-in toilet downstairs.”
Suah urged developers of new housing or condominium projects to incorporate such a room in their design, besides providing safety features to cater to the elderly.
“Toilets and kitchens should have sliding doors, not swing doors. Grab bars in the bathroom are very useful for the elderly,” added Suah.