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Bad design practices that need early retirement

  • Published at 08:00 pm January 23rd, 2019
AT - January 2019
Photo: Yoshua Giri

How to make your home more elderly friendly

Aging comes with lots of challenges, both psychological and physical. Often, a few steps from the bed to the balcony or toilet require a huge amount of mental effort and physical exertion. What makes this harder for the elderly is the traditional interior constructions that were built with no consideration for their needs.

Avenue t spoke to Salauddin Ahmed, Principal Architect at Atelier Robin Architects, says Dhaka as a city lacks structural features that facilitate easy movement for the aged as well as children and people with disabilities. 

Ahmed knows from his experience as an architect that these flaws are often noticed after an accident happens. 

The situation is compounded by an unfortunate absence of care towards fellow elder citizen. This seeps into every facet of life, including the building commercial apartments by developer companies. With developer companies usually working with tight funding, elderly-friendly interior does not enter their equation even, said Ahmed. They are reluctant in investing money for building features for aiding elderly. 

Buyers, too, seldom want to instruct the developers to include such features into the building. But all of this is not due to lack of empathy, some should be attributed to ignorance about what can be done to facilitate healthy living for the elderly, as well as others, Ahmed said. 

Knowledge about what is effective for harmonious living could enable people to make better choices, added the architect. 

Bathrooms shouldn’t be slippery slopes to fractured bone

“Most tend to opt for marble tiles for bathrooms. Using non-slippery tiles, installing grab handles vertically and horizontally beside the toilet and inside the shower area and separate shower area for keeping floor dry are effective ways of avoiding accidents that doesn’t just cause mental distress, but may very well cost you significant amount of money for paying the medical bills,” Ahmed said. 

As an easy solution to better floor grip, he advised applying slip-resistant mats in the bathroom as a must. 

Additionally, he suggests, consider providing seating with appropriate height within the shower area if space permits it. Instead of a fixed shower head, height-adjustable hand-held shower heads are better. “Sink height should be favourable to users. All toiletries for shower and other uses needs to be properly  shelved and be within the reach,” he said. 

Ahmed suggests installing water geyser, without which it becomes quite difficult for the elderly during the winter season. “I always advice keeping an emergency telephone beside the toilet. This is a good prevention tool in cases of emergencies, but doesn’t require much spending if there is already a PABX system in the building,” said Ahmed. 

Air supply

Cross ventilation is important not just for physical comfort, but also for psychological well being, a consideration that seems to escape builders. “There must be specifically designed passages for air and light. Lack of proper flow of air takes an emotional toll on the residents. The psychological effects might not be very visible, but it is there. People who lived in properly ventilated housing can tell the difference,” said Ahmed. 

He also emphasizes on making arrangements that allow the elderly to live close to nature such as having a small garden in the balcony. 

A welcoming kitchen 

There must be sufficient space for moving around in the kitchen area. A golden triangle model for the kitchen is very effective with the burner in the centre and sink and refrigerator positioned within reach. 

“One thing that should get prioritized is the keeping storage space for everyday-use items within reach by arranging proper shelving for kitchen utensils,” said Ahmed. This facilitates getting things done without having to bend over or reaching up to get things. 

It is also important to not make the kitchen high-maintenance, and keeping it hygienic. 

Let there be light

Lighting can be employed in different ways. There is direct lighting, warm lighting and soothing lighting.  Ensuring that each and every hallway, doorway and room is adequately lit is very important. 

However, Ahmed said that bright illumination should be used only when it is required. “It is better to avoid direct lighting as much as possible and ensure light bulbs aren’t visible and bare as that might produce glare and may strain the eyes for everyone, but it can be particularly harsh for the elderly,” he said. 

Using bright white tube light is a common practice in Bangladesh, which is stressing for the nerves. Care also should be taken to make light switches easily accessible from the door. 

Flooring essentials

The current trend of lifting up the height of living room floor one step can be a cause of accidents, the principle architect of Atelier Robin Architects said. 

“If there is no need for doing so then it’s best to not do this for aesthetic purposes,” he said. 

The criterion for good flooring is that it should be slip-resistant, level and provide smooth transitioning between rooms. Steps in the entryway or thresholds dividing rooms are common tripping points, and should be removed to aid the elderly. 

Mode of entertainment

Salauddin Ahmed advised not having television inside bedroom. “If you have TV, it should be placed in an area that can bring members of the family together,” he said. Gadget oriented entertainment zone should be separated.

The nature of seating should also be taken into consideration. You should think about an arrangement with ample back and arm support as well as suitable height so they don’t need to be assisted.  

Being fair to the wheelchair

“For accommodating wheelchair use, there is a need for working on everything from the door size, switch board placement, bed height, kitchen counters to bathroom set-up. Everything has to be measured to suit the wheelchair user. But in reality, elderly citizens often struggle from a lack of such arrangements,” Ahmed explained. 

Standard door size is 30 inches in Bangladesh, which is not enough width for wheelchair access. Also vitally important is that doors should swing to both sides. 

Kitchen counters should be lower than the standard height and there should be access below kitchen counters and sinks so that the wheelchair bound person can perform tasks like chopping, can be seated whilst cooking and cleaning. Even though traditionally, elderly people with such condition get things done for them in Bangladeshi society, it is still useful to have these adjustments. This allows the elderly person to be more active.  

But toilet access is an absolute necessity. “If someone has a three-room apartment and decides to take care of an elderly family member, one toilet out of three it should be large enough for wheelchair access,” said Ahmed.  

If there is any steps, then ramp should be added for elderly. 

The designs most commonly used are mostly graphical, as opposed to purposeful designs. “People who are designing this never experienced what it means to be disabled or elderly. This is why it is essential to learn about established good practices and implement them in the design.” 

Unfortunately, said Ahmed, thinking seriously about these things are not practiced and encouraged in the Bangladeshi society. 

The accessibility and ease of living for the elderly prevalent in developed country, came into existence through establishment of strong citizenship. Ahmed thinks It has to come from a societal awareness, how society is being informed and how demands can be raised for these needs. 

“This is not how a city should be laid out,” said Ahmed. “But we are neither concerned, nor are we demanding these changes to be made.”