Surprising and Helpful Tip for Aging in Place

Joe Just Met: What do you do for a living?


Susan Rains: Interior Design for Aging in Place.

 

Oh, that old standby question. What do you do for a living? When meeting someone for the first time, many of us blurt this out. I go to networking events regularly, so I get this question a lot. The conversation usually goes a little like this:

 

Joe Just Met: What do you do for a living?

Susan: I'm an Interior Designer who helps people to create a home that is beautiful and safe for their changing needs at every stage of life.

Joe Just Met: Oh that's great, do you have a specialty?

Susan: I do, I specialize in helping people 50 plus who are planning ahead and want to make their homes easily livable for as long as possible. It's called aging in place.

Joe Just Met:: Oh yeah, grab bars.
 

 

Sure grab bars are very helpful but they are just the tip of the iceberg and not the most important thing for aging in place. When making your home more accommodating to your changing needs.

Don't get me wrong grab bars are great but did you know that your stairs are far more important?
 

Here's why I think that is. Most falls happen during our everyday activities, and we use the stairs far more often than we use the shower or bathtub. Despite all the attention bathrooms get, most fall occur on the stairs, or ramps, landings, and floors. In the US, falls are the leading cause of injury that results in a visit to the emergency room. This is in part due to the natural aging process that changes our eyes and often changes how we walk. Our stairs need to be paid considerable attention.


I have a few examples of changes to our eyes that we are all likely to experience. It varies from person to person, and I can already attest to the difference between my husband and me. It seems like I need to turn on twice as many lights to see what I'm doing at night. However, he can clean the kitchen in what looks to me like an incredibly dim light.

The dim light issue is because our pupils become smaller and more fixed in size, making them slower to respond to changing light levels and less able to discern things in low light.

LIGHTING YOUR STAIRS is really important. My favorite lights are the sensor type that turns them on automatically when you get close to your stairs. If you don’t light your stairs have on-off switches at the top and bottom and use at least a 60-watt bulb.

 BEAUTIFULLY LIT STAIRS. IDEALLY I'D ADD ANOTHER RAILING ON THE WALL.

BEAUTIFULLY LIT STAIRS. IDEALLY I'D ADD ANOTHER RAILING ON THE WALL.

Another reason to pay particular attention to your stairs is an increase in difficulty with seeing the delineation between two things or the contrast between two colors. It's due to the lenses of our eyes becoming a bit yellowed, less elastic and less dense.

My stairs are all the same color wood, and I can see the separation between tread and riser now because of the riser’s shadow. However, the shadow is so subtle I'll need to add something to the tread or paint the riser so I can see the difference clearly. If you have the same issue, among other solutions to creating contrast you can consider using non-skip tape or rubber stair treads.


CONTRASTING COLORS are crucial to making sure you can delineating the riser and the tread.

 A GOOD EXAMPLE OF CONTRAST BETWEEN RISER AND TREAD.

A GOOD EXAMPLE OF CONTRAST BETWEEN RISER AND TREAD.

For a long time, I obsessed with the idea of installing a beautifully patterned carpet on our stairs. I'm glad we waited because I've changed my mind in light of my education on aging in place.

I've worn glasses since I was 17 and fully expect my vision to get worse as I go along. If I don't have my glasses on that beautiful stair carpet may have started to make me dizzy.

Feeling dizzy is good enough reason to skip the pretty pattern, but if I also experience yellowing of my eyes and my color contrast is compromised the pattern may start to hide step edges, making it look like the step has ended but it hasn't. Not good.  

WHEN AGING IN PLACE SKIP PATTERN CARPETING, there are so many good reasons why.
 

 BAD IDEA FOR STAIR CARPETING. I'M DIZZY JUST LOOKING AT THIS PICTURE.

BAD IDEA FOR STAIR CARPETING. I'M DIZZY JUST LOOKING AT THIS PICTURE.

I'll end this list with one that might seem a little obvious, but it has to be said, non-slip, non-glare stairs are a must.

When I'm wearing socks, my wood stairs can be a bit slippery. Not only is the wood a potential problem but because the Cornea of our eyes become thicker, flatter and less smooth, it causes light to be scattered and make our eyes sensitive to glare.


REMEDY SLIPPERY OR GLARE RIDDEN STAIRS with the installation of a new anti-slip, anti-glare material like vinyl or linoleum. Vinyl is plastic and not eco-friendly or you could choose Linoleum which is made from linseed oil and is eco-friendly. Both come in a variety of colors, faux wood, and faux stone. 

If you want to keep your non-carpeted stairs as is; you can always coat them in a skid-resistant treatment. Also, please remove any rugs from the top or bottom of the stairs.

When someone asks me what I do for a living and then mentions grab bars, for good conversation sake, I refrain from launching into all the reasons why they are not priority number one for aging in place. It's been good to write this for you and I hope my examples illustrate just how much there is to think about when designing a home to be the home we'll stay in for the long haul.

It's not just an issue for adults but making sure your stairs are as safe as they can be is good design for everyone and that's why I love universal design.

If you have any questions about aging in place or otherwise, pop them into the comments below. Please share this with everyone you think might find it valuable.


 

 

Susan Rains

Susan Rains Design, 408 Spring Road, Havertown, PA, 19083