Give the elderly their space
Long, long ago, in ancient India, when people grew older, they took up Vanaprastha. The elders would go away to live in the forest by themselves and spend their time in spiritual pursuits. When living in civilised societies became the order of the day, the members of an extended joint family shared the responsibility of caring for the elders in the family. With industrialisation, India urbanised in a big way and paved way to nuclear families.
Over a period of time, the young population has been finding it increasingly
challenging to take care of its senior family members at home. Nevertheless, the need to protect our elders and to be there for them when they need us has not changed.
Architects and interior designers have come up with some brilliant ideas to cater to the needs of senior citizens. Although some of us may have introduced one or two of the elderly-friendly features, it will be a jolly good idea to incorporate them all at least in one room of the house. After all, everyone of us has to go through the norm of getting old and feeble at some point in the future. Here is a list of features that can be introduced in your homes, elder care centres and geriatric wards in hospitals and nursing homes:
The first step forward would be to hire a creative carpenter, electrician, plumber and a good mason to make some necessary and useful alterations. A fairly large room with an attached bathroom can be allocated for the purpose. It will be ideal if windows and doors are situated either in the east or west, if not on both sides. This measure can ensure natural and healthy ventilation and lighting. Fix mosquito nets for all the windows and ventilators.
Having staircases, steps or threshold within the house should be avoided as far as possible, to facilitate free movement. It will be a good idea to make provision for a lift or a wheelchair-friendly ramp instead of stairs, to prevent this problem. A lovely carpet along the incline can prove to be a boon to everyone in the home. The toddlers, if any, around the home will also find it a lot easier to move around without the fear of tripping.
Moreover, moving furniture and other heavy objects around the house will become a cakewalk. If you think that it is a tall order, then at least make it a point to remove the steps or threshold of the assigned premises and make it easier for the resident. Fix door knob grippers for all doors, including that of cupboards and lockers. They are user-friendly and can be operated without strain. These grippers, if stained or soiled, can be washed clean and left gleaming.
If you are renovating existing premises, check the wiring and rewire the room if necessary. This step can help prevent accidents. Bring down the height of the switch box (which houses the switches and plug points) so that it can be operable even while sitting on a wheel chair or crouching over a walking stick.
Fix glow tapes on all switches to enable night vision. Make sure that emergency calling systems or bells are fixed on all the switchboards, which when used can be heard in all rooms of the house. One such bell can be fixed along the bedstead for increased convenience.
The latest trend happens to be the tablet-enabled services calling and video calling system, which can help the distressed call for help during times of emergency. A little protruding rectangular plank of wood along the bottom of the switchboard can make it a charging station for electronic gadgets.
Make sure that you fix two-way switches for electrical appliances like the geyser, fan, air conditioner, computer, television, music system, among other such gadgets present in the room, so that you can shut down the device from outside the room if the person has fallen asleep while using them.
A modern method would be to fix motion sensor lights in the room and the adjoining bathroom. Introducing smart electronic remote system for all switches is another way of keeping tabs on your electricity usage — some of which may be a result of fatigue or forgetfulness. Though we have come a long way from using landline telephones and intercoms, it will not be a bad idea to install a telephone connection in all rooms to facilitate emergency calls.
Fix grab rails along the walls of the room, especially the one leading to the bathroom. Make sure that these rails do a round on the insides of the bathroom. The rails should render good grip besides being strong and reassuring. Wooden, fibre glass or plastic railings can prove to be a good choice. Try and avoid metal railings for the simple reason that they can be cold and unfriendly, especially when someone is in need of warmth and comfort. The towel rod, the soap stand, the little shelf, among other such paraphernalia, should be shifted to a lower level so that they can be reached out from the wheel chair.
Make it a point to lay anti-skid tiles across the living and bath area. These days you get them in a plethora of materials, designs and colours. In fact, you can redo the flooring of the entire home with anti-skid tiles and save yourself a hefty hospital bill that you might incur because of your super smooth shining floors. Place anti-slip mats in wet areas to make it doubly safe.
Once the alterations in the room are done, pay attention to the bathroom. Change to anti-skid flooring, fix switch boards as suggested and fix wide doors that open on the outside to enable wheelchair movement.
If you visit a state-of-the-art shop that sells sanitaryware, it will not be difficult to find senior-friendly health faucets, shower chairs, smart toilets with seat raisers, seat warmers et al. Ensure that the grab rails go around three sides of the toilet which will give immense confidence to the user with slow reflexes.
Do not forget to fix effective electronic pest repellent in every room of your house. Once the spadework is done, give the room a fresh coat of paint. Using glow paints on the bathroom door and in corners can avoid accidents at night.
Finally, attend to the furnishing and decor of the room. It will be ideal to use much loved possessions, which bear the emotional imprints of sentiments and memories for the peace and happiness of the older residents. A collage of family pictures, a favourite music play list that can be easily accessed, a television and a magazine stand that appeals to their taste can make the elderly feel loved and honoured at home.
Sometimes small gestures like introducing an easy chair or a rocking chair — if you do not have one already — can make them feel at ease. All it takes is a little enterprise (and expense) to bring a smile on a loved one’s face. And every effort is certainly worth it.