Because the majority of our homes are designed as if we are never going to grow old, most of us will need to modify our home as we age. That’s if you want to stay put, which is what most older people say is their preference. An easy to read and nicely presented report from Centre for Ageing Better in the UK gives an excellent overview of how home modification improves quality of life, mental health and overall independence. All good reasons for universally designing our homes from the start for the whole of our lives so modifications aren’t needed or are at least easier to do. Dwellings might be a “product” to property developers but for the rest of us a “home” is the pivot point for living our lives.
A great quote from a study participant to reflect upon, “You don’t get taught, at any point in your life, how to become an older person. It just sort of happens, you know…”. So waiting for consumers to ask for universal design isn’t going to work.
For a more academic take on a related issue of housing quality and health see a longitudinal study from UK.
The latest newsletter from Lifemark in New Zealand points out how many people fall and injure themselves at home. They also cut and burn themselves badly enough to need hospital treatment. How could such injuries be avoided? The newsletter article on Better Design, Safer Homes, has tips for stairs, bathrooms, kitchens, and entrances. There are more universal design tips in the Homescore self assessment tool. The article concludes, “A safer home benefits all occupants (and visitors), not just older people. Children, in particular will benefit from a design that recognises and addresses risk areas and by doing so creates a more liveable space for everyone”. There is more in their June newsletter.
Dementia Australia has produced an app for tablets and smartphones to help with creating a dementia-friendly home. It uses interactive 3D game technology which provides carers with ideas on how to make the home more suitable for people living with dementia. Most people with dementia live in the community and many enjoy everyday activities and stay engaged with their communities. Suitable home design is key to staying active and involved.
The App is based on the ten Dementia Enabling Environments Principles and prompts carers and others to think about many of the small inexpensive ideas that can make a big difference. Technology solutions such as sensors for lighting are also covered. Tips include removing clutter and changing busy patterned wall or floor coverings to help with perception and confusion. You can also see some of the research underpinning the Dementia Enabling Environments Principles. To see what it is like to live with dementia, have a look at the Virtual Dementia Experience.
Some home appliances are difficult to use if you can’t see the small details like the print, or the label. With no physical buttons to push, and a reflective surface, flat panel appliances are particularly difficult if you have low vision. In the absence of inclusively designed appliances, home remedies are called for. Ideas such as bright nail polish to highlight buttons on the tv remote, are just some of the ideas in the Beyond Accessibility website post: 10 Ways to Make Homes Easier to Use. There are more similar resources on their website. It would be good if industrial designers consulted users before committing their designs to manufacture. No-one really wants to put nail polish or sticky labels on their new kitchen appliances.