A Guide for Assisted Living - Designing Living Spaces for the Elderly and Vulnerable

A Guide for Assisted Living: Designing Living Spaces for the Elderly and Vulnerable

With life expectancy rising, people will spend longer periods of their life in their own home and therefore need the best design and technology solutions that help them maintain their independence, lifestyle and dignity. Home alterations such as widening doorways and providing sufficient space to manouvre a wheelchair or zimmer frame are standard, but what does the future of designing for the elderly and vulnerable hold? And how should the individual needs of a client be assessed?

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the BRE launched guidance for architects and other built environment professionals involved in the design and adaptation of residences that meet the needs of the elderly and the chronically ill, to enable them to live active, independent and dignified lives.

The RIBA/BRE report, A Guide for Assisted Living, demonstrates how intuitive design and assistive technology can improve the quality of life, wellbeing and autonomy of individuals, and be delivered in effective, scalable and affordable ways.

The guide details key design requirements such as:

- Facilitating access and entry to the home through the provision of distinctive visual landmarks in external spaces, such as trees, coloured or scented plants, and the use of contrasting materials and colours on the entrance door.
- Facilitating access and entry to the home through the provision of distinctive visual landmarks in external spaces, such as trees, coloured or scented plants, and the use of contrasting materials and colours on the entrance door.
- Ironmongery that is comfortable and effortless in operation, particularly door handles and locks which should also be consistent throughout the property.
- Smooth, even and non-slip surfaces throughout the home.
- Adequate space for efficient circulation routes.
- Easily accessible plug sockets and light switches, particularly those that are located at the top and bottom of stairs.

New and future technologies are highlighted, including the use of flooring sensors that raise an alarm when movement is not detected or if a person has fallen, and intelligent toilets that can analyse waste materials and send data reports directly to an individual's doctor.

The document also sets out a briefing process for the designer to accrue the client's specific needs, for example if a person spends a considerable amount of time in their bed, the following aspects could be considered:

- Can the occupant see who is at the front door when the bell rings?
- Is it possible to turn on a pivot screen television whilst lying in bed?
- Can a laptop be used in bed comfortably?
- Can the person open and close the windows?
- Is it possible to eat comfortably in bed?
- Can the lighting be adapted to the occupant's reading habits?

"Good design has a vital role to play in helping elderly and vulnerable people live dignified and independent lives, and supporting the capacity and effectiveness of professional care providers to meet the needs of those they are looking after," said RIBA President Ruth Reed. "The UK's population is ageing rapidly; one third of Britons are expected to reach age 60 or over in twenty years' time and this will demand a new way of delivering care efficiently. If people are to be supported to remain in their homes for as long as possible, then adapting the physical environment and the way in which it is designed to meet the needs of people with different levels of mobility and capability throughout their life is essential."

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