I came across this article a few days ago, discussing the use of “granny pods” as a way to keep older adults out of facilities but near family. These cottages are designed for older adults, with grab bars, and softer flooring in case of falls. They also have a smart house component with sensors and cameras to monitor various health metrics, like vitals, weight, and blood pressure. Depending on zoning rules, the pods are connected into pre-existing gas, sewage, and power lines.
It is an interesting concept. To be able to have your own space in the backyard of your children or caregiver that is truly separate from the rest of the house could provide a sense of independence that a mother in law suite may not provide. The article discusses how some see it has warehousing seniors, but the description already sounds safer than some senior living buildings I have been in! I would be curious to see the inside design and if other features related to aging in place are present, especially in the kitchen area.
What is your take on the “granny pod” concept?
I just came home from a trip to Hungary. My family always jokes about the tiny “Euro-vators,” and as an OT, I often wonder how people manage these smaller, and by our standards, inaccessible areas.
However, I noticed the light switches in our short term stay apartment one night. I had my arms full of luggage and groceries and realized I was hitting the light switches with just the side of my body. Eventually, I was able to take a closer look at them.
These are amazing. They are large, and require very little effort to activate in either direction. I used my finger, palm of my hand, elbow, and even just the side of my body to flip the switch. This makes it useful for people who have arm and hand weakness or paralysis. The other detail I appreciated is the icon in the bottom right hand corner indicating whether the switch was the light or the doorbell. I could see this being useful in my assisted living buildings, where we end up putting tape over the light switch that controls the electric outlets to differentiate it from the switch that controls the overhead light. If the icon was larger, it would be easier for those with low vision to see.
I saw this design everywhere we went in Hungary and Serbia.
What do you think of the European light switches?
As an AOTA Emerging Leader, I have been completing work with the AOTA focusing on home modifications. My mentor recently sent me this link to an Australian organization. They compiled an excellent resource on home modifications and considerations for people with dementia.
Each room of the house is highlighted with various principles, ranging from the physical construction of the room to the color/pattern choice in the furnishings and decorations.
In my practice, I often work with older adults who have dementia and are living with a caregiver. Many people attempt to remain at home, though I also work with this population in facilities. I have seen a wide variety of decor and room arrangements in lock down memory units that can be confusing for people. Busy patterned carpets are a common issue. One building does take advantage of the inability to process visual information properly by hiding the code out of the unit in a picture that is darkly colored and busy in design! As an OT, I look at the environment to reduce a risk of falls and attempt to manage behavioral symptoms, especially agitation, which can occur when someone has difficulty understanding the world around them.
What do you take into consideration when designing environments for adults with dementia?
I came across this article today on Yahoo!News. It talks about an alternate living environment for older adults, and some innovative communities in Boston that allow for people to stay at home or in a facility they can afford that allows them more dignity and independence than a nursing home. It is an interesting model and read.
What stands out particularly to me is the emphasis on community. A lack of community is a common theme I hear among my patients. Just the other day, a 92 year old I work with wants to move into a facility so she doesn’t have to care for her home anymore, but does not want to be around “those people I don’t know.” She also was lamenting a lack of reliable help from the local NORC and people she tries to hire in her current home. But a model as outlined in this article with a reliable and steady stream of volunteers and fellow aging neighbors to look out for each other would allow for people to feel independent and safe.
Now we just need to make sure their homes are safe enough to stay in as well!
Feel free to share your impressions of the article in the comment section!
Continuing on the windows trend, I had noticed something interesting about the windows in my assisted living this past week. They are fond of using the crank style windows, except the ones in the main hallway of the building have the crank about 1/4″ from the windowsill. It is very difficult to get ahold of the crank in order to open the window because there is simply not enough space.
The cranks in the hallway are also hard to turn, probably because no one actually can. I have never seen those windows open. People with arthritis in their hands or shoulders would have trouble with the crank. In addition, someone with problems with coordination would have trouble acquiring a grasp and turning it since with such a small space between the crank and the windowsill, there is little margin for error. What do others suggest in order to fix this situation?
Earlier today, Jane Blanchard wrote a fantastic piece about window choices for older adults from a designer perspective. I found it an interesting piece to see how different types of windows are considered for specific spaces of the home.Windows are overlooked in many homes and facilities I visit. I have had patients post a fall due to attempting to open a window and am often asked to “be a dear” and open/close windows for them.
From my viewpoint as an occupational therapist, I agree with Ms. Blanchard that all the windows are viable options for a home for an older adult. I would consider the latches and opening mechanisms when helping advise for types of windows based on where the window is in the home. For example, I would consider a Smart Touch opening system appropriate for a patio door (often a source of balance loss), but not for a regular room window. I would recommend rotary handle or automated windows for regular room windows as they would allow the person to stay centered over their feet to open the window and reduce strain on their arms. In addition, a rotary handle is easy to adapt and make larger in the case of someone with arthritis or hand deformities.
This is just one example of how a designer and an OT can work together to create an attractive yet functional living environment for an older adult.
This week, I am pleased to introduce a guest blogger, Jane Blanchard, who has written a piece on different types of windows for older adults. Jane Blanchard is a blogger, home design geek, and graphic designer from Savannah.
Best Window Options For Seniors
By Jane Blanchard
Sometimes windows can be very difficult to open. Luckily, there are a number of easy-to-open windows available. Whether you’re looking for great window option for a home occupied by seniors or if you’re just sick of wrestling with your windows, here we will present some of our favorite easy-to-operate window styles. With these options, you will not need to compromise style for ease-of-use.
The SmartTouch® lock system designed by Milgard Windows & Doors provide an easy way to open, lock, and operate windows and doors. The locking mechanism on SmartTouch windows is incorporated directly into the window sash, creating a sleek look. The lock is easy to operate, opening or closing with a single touch. Also, you can see whether your window is locked with a quick glance. The SmartTouch system received an International Design Excellence Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America as well as an Arthritis Foundation Ease-Of-Use Commendation. The SmartTouch system is available on the Tuscany® and Montecito® vinyl windows and patio doors as well as on the Milgard Essence Series® wood windows. Because of these numerous options, there is a SmartTouch window that will accentuate any home.
Rotary windows by Marvin Windows And Doors have a unique look that makes them especially appealing. The rotary window design has a sash that rotates easily a full 360 degrees to allow in natural light and fresh air. While these are especially helpful for tight spaces, they are also great for seniors as they are easy to open.
For the easiest window operation, fully automated windows are the best option. These automated systems are also available from a variety of retailers nationwide. In addition to having fully automated windows, complementary automated systems for window treatments allow for easy overall operation.
Easier to use than traditional window locks that require a user to lift, push, or pull the window, rotary handles provide a simpler means for window opening and closing. Rotary handles are small handles that are easily turned to crank the window open and then simply reversed to close the window. They come in a variety of finishes and are available from nearly any window retailer.
Transitional windows work similarly to transitional lenses found in eyeglasses, darkening in response to increased sunlight. While transitional windows do not increase ease of opening and closing of the window itself, they do reduce or eliminate the need for window treatments that may be difficult to operate for many seniors. Transitional windows also reduce energy consumption by helping maintain the temperature of the home. Transitional windows are available from a number of retailers nationwide.
To find more design inspiration, check out Modernize.com.
The other day, I was sitting in my assisted living building when I saw one of the residents attempt to get her mail. The resident probably is about 5’2″ tall, and unfortunately for her, she was assigned a top mail box in the cluster of P.O. box style mailboxes of the facility. As a resourceful woman, she was using a long wooden back scratcher to reach up and into the box while on her tip toes and holding onto her walker with one hand. It took her about 4 minutes and considerable effort, but eventually, she removed all her mail. I might add here that I did offer to help her, but was refused, so was staying nearby, just in case.
As you can imagine, this is quite a fall risk. In addition, for someone with arthritis any kind of shoulder injury, or a wheelchair, reaching into a mail box that is about 5’10” above the floor is not a viable option. Under Hallways, I put a picture of the mailbox in question.
I have seen other ideas in different facilities in regards to mailboxes. Some facilities hand out the mail directly to residents through the staff. Others have lower P.O. boxes that run wider so that no one needs to reach too high or too low and potentially fall. One of my favorite set ups was having wooden boxes at the entrance to each room to hold mail until the person is able to check it.
Perhaps this will become less of an issue as the current generation age, given we are taller than the Greatest Generation, but shoulder problems and needing wheelchairs will still prevent the use of high mailboxes.
This was a question posed to me during my doctoral defense. How do we encourage interprofessional collaboration in students?
I firmly believe that educating students on the value of other disciplines and the power of interprofessional collaboration is integral for the development of all our professions in the future. By catching them at an earlier stage in their professional development, they will be more open to the ideas and perhaps more willing to work together in the future.
There is a lot of research on this topic in healthcare education. It is a popular buzzword nowadays. While I was studying for my Master’s in Occupational Therapy, our school focused on collaboration with other health professionals. I have heard that since then, the healthcare collaboration program continues to exist, but now, there is a special lab in our environmental modifications course that involves industrial design students. Another university in Philadelphia has projects with OT and architecture students. Really, the combination of professionals is limited only by our imaginations.
In the end, the research shows that projects that have a common end goal and allows for students to have a shared interest will create collaborative relationships. It is important to note that each person involved needs to have the same level of interest in the project. I saw this in my program; contributions to the project were graded in the OT program, but the medical students had no such incentive. As a result, many groups had difficulty getting the same level of commitment out of the medical students when compared to the other students who were being graded.
To support development in the education arena, I have added a new page to the website for educators and students where I will post citations to articles on various projects going across the country and ideas on how to create a similar program for yourselves.
New pictures have been added to the Bathroom and the Hallways and Entryways pages. They are located at the bottom. A new current event (the CAPABLE Project) has also been added. Be sure to check them out!