Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Planning a room for your aged parents

Windows, bathrooms, floor, fittings, electric gadgets — every aspect should be planned meticulously while designing a room for elders.

SAFE AND SECURE: Creation of a barrier-free space environment is the primary consideration in the design.

Every house has a good living, a good dining, a comfortable kitchen and toilet but rarely does a house have a comfortable or designer space for the parents, who are aged and are going to spend most of the time in their rooms. Bedrooms for our parents are far more than "Just any other bedroom"; they are a token of our gratitude to them , and need to be treated similar to that of a living room. To ensure that this is not just "any other bedroom," the total experience of this living space must be similar to that of a living room. The volume of the living space contributes greatly to the character of the spatial experience. Even the slightest increase in room dimensions/size would increase the comfort level. However, a room of gigantic scale would lead to lack of intimacy and also give a sense of insecurity. The ideal dimensions for a bedroom of this kind would be 16'0" x 11'0". The room can have a separate entry and also a separate EB meter so that they get to live a more independent life. A small pantry can be provided inside the room in an additional 5'0"x6'0" area.

An alcove space

Changes in floor levels such as elevated or sunken platforms should be avoided in such spaces. A uniform floor is preferred for safety reasons. Activity stimulating spaces (such as an alcove for meditation) would help in creating a sense of belonging for the users,just like the one shown in the image where the light is spiritual and provides a real private space.
Creation of a barrier-free space environment is the primary consideration in the design of room for the aged. Carefully avoid sharp edges for safety reasons.

Washroom safety

Safety is just as important in the design of the toilet. It is essential that the tile drop is very minimal (it's the level difference between the room and the toilet floor, ideally around one inch). Grab rods can be provided one at 2'0" level and at 5'0" level preferably near a water closet for an easy wheel chair transfer. Wall hung water closets with a low seat height of about 1'6" from the finished floor level help in making the toilet safe for usage. Doors that open outwards are advisable as that helps in breaking the door open easily. Glass partitions, transportation cubicles and use of glass blocks should be avoided as they would hinder the privacy. Seated bathing area can also be planned with enough space for an attender, hence a toilet size of 5'0"X8'0" or 5'0"X10'0" is minimum required.

Windows and furnishing

Entry of natural light through large windows with low sills will help in creating a healthy environment. On the contrary, windows are to be avoided in the eastern and western walls thus preventing harsh direct sun. An external west-facing wall is to be avoided as this can transmit enormous quantities of heat into the living space. If there is no other option, that western wall can be constructed as a double wall as this will help in reducing the heat transmission considerably. The choice of finishing material is critical. The floor is to be finished with non-slippery tiles or slabs. The toilet and bathroom floors are to be finished with anti-skid tiles in order to prevent accidents. The vertical surfaces can be finished with a good emulsion or smooth wall paint. The use of fire-retardant materials will increase or elevate the safety standards of the living space.
Easy-to-use plumbing / sanitary fittings, good and safe electrical wiring are all means to achieve better and safe living conditions. Paying attention to each minor architectural detail such as rounding off the edges of furniture would not only mean better comfort but also better safety. Easily reachable A/C control switch and a calling bell are a must in this room. Focus lights are to be provided at the reading area, ensuring better vision. Provision for a concealed safe deposit locker becomes essential in a special room of this kind.

Access from outside

Visual access from outside will help in easy monitoring of the activities of the inhabitants of the room. Additional space or a provision for another member or attender is to be provided within the room space. Calling bell noise penetration into the room is to be avoided and essentially the room has to be away from the kitchen. Physical and visual access to an exterior garden or a landscaped balcony from the bedroom makes it more pleasant. Cutting off undesirable noises from road traffic is important. This can be achieved by buffering the space between the road and the room by effective landscaping.

(The author is the chief architect of Murali Architects, Chennai)

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