We don’t generally think about the changing needs we have of our furniture as we age. Indeed, for many there’s a lack of knowledge about how and why furniture can help. There’s also the associated cost and upheaval of change. However, the right furniture can help to reduce the risk of falls, provide greater support and comfort and even help to reduce anxiety in a dementia patient.
At our care homes in North Devon and Somerset, we understand the vital importance of furniture when providing care for the elderly and those with dementia. At our Raleigh Mead home particularly, we use innovative and pioneering research regarding furniture design and provision.
However, there are also changes you can make at home for a visiting elderly relative, or in their own home for one seeking to retain their independent living.
Changes in mobility or health bring challenges in the daily living environment. Before we come on to furniture for the elderly itself, there are some good general rules which will help you to get the best from your space and furniture.
As we age, certain physical difficulties are more likely. Most notably, reduced mobility, poorer eyesight, less flexibility, slower cognitive processing and circulation problems are all more likely in the elderly population. The furniture we choose must consider how to reduce the impact of these difficulties.
The most important item of furniture to consider is the elderly person’s chair. Whilst it is essential that this is both comfortable and supportive as it will be used for extended periods, it must also be as easy as possible to get in and out of.
Generally speaking the easiest way to choose a sensible relaxing chair is to consider the height first. The higher the seating area, the easier it will be to both sit down and get up. However, the dimensions which are suitable for this will depend, to some degree, on the height and size of the individual.
Chairs should also be fully supportive for the whole back and include armrests. Wingback chairs are ideal because the ‘wings’ will help to support the individual’s head if they doze off for a nap! Armrests help to support the shoulders and upper back whilst also providing the individual with a secure means of pushing up when they go to stand.
Some elderly people will find that recliners suit them well. It is best to choose ones which are electronically adjusted, rather than manually. Manual recliners require a certain degree of strength and can result in some jolting. Some electronic recliners will also have a lift function to support and aid the individual standing.
All of these considerations are about ergonomics. It is vital to consider ergonomics in all furniture we use regularly, even if we aren’t elderly. However, an elderly individual is likely to spend long portions of their day sitting in a chair. It is therefore even more important to choose a chair with excellent ergonomics.
Lastly, consider the upholstery. Choose fabrics which can be cleaned easily. Again, we recommend choosing a relatively plain chair if your loved one is easily confused or has sight problems. Patterns can be bewildering and cause unnecessary confusion. It is also worth choosing a colour which is in contrast to the shade of the floor and walls around it.
Along with the chair, the individual’s bed should be a primary consideration.
In excellent care homes, like our Eastleigh Care Homes, you will discover that, especially for nursing provision, adjustable beds are usually provided. There are many good reasons for this.
Adjustable beds allow the individual to both get in and out of bed easily, and to adjust their sleeping position. If the individual receives nursing care then the bed can also help the carer to protect their back.
You should also consider rails and supports which attach to the bed.
It is important that, where possible, an individual is encouraged to move around their living environment and not be restricted to their bed or chair.
To facilitate this you should give thought to a table and chair area for them.
Round tables can help in terms of comfort. Additionally, choose ones with rounded edges. These tables are less likely to cause injury to fragile older skin in the case of a bump or fall. The same applies for both dining and coffee tables.
Definitely avoid glass top tables. Not only is the glass a hazard, the reflection can also pose difficulties.
Choose a table and chair set which is the right height. It should be comfortable to sit at to eat and perhaps play games, draw or paint. Again, consider a chair with arms to help support the individual and help them get up again.
When considering other furniture you should primarily consider storage. Providing cupboards and drawers which are easy to open and easy to organise will help the individual retain their independence.
For this reason, consider handles which contrast with the main colour and which are large enough and easy to grasp.
Avoid options such as low or under bed storage. Likewise avoid cabinets or shelving which is too high. Additionally, make sure that all large items of furniture such as wardrobes, bookcases and chest of drawers are secured to the wall.
You shouldn’t have to sacrifice the looks of the furniture simply because you need an ergonomic and elderly-friendly design. However, the costs of obtaining the right furniture can be overwhelming.
When you choose a residential home or a nursing home for your loved one, the furniture will have been a key part of the design and set-up. As you visit a potential home, look at the furniture and assess it in terms of both practicalities and looks.
At our Raleigh Mead home, we have created a pioneering environment in terms of lighting and furniture. This helps our elderly and dementia patients to feel safe, secure and comfortable. We are proud of leading the way in care homes in North Devon and Somerset. If you’d like to come and take a look, please call on 01769 573166.