How to Select Furniture Appropriate for Older Adults

Preserving their independence is a strong motivator for senior adults. Independent and assisted living facilities study the effects of aging and its relation to longevity, and the environment is crucial to prolonging life, leading many residences to allow guests to furnish their quarters with their own furniture. Whether you're redesigning a personal home or moving to a group-living situation, furnishing appropriate for senior adults often means changing out what is familiar, broken in and filled with memories for pieces that are practical for a senior with limited mobility or eyesight. The environment must be inviting -- and safe.

Considerations for Senior Adult Furnishings

Ease of transition is the key to selecting the right furniture for a senior adult.

When designing rooms for senior adults, the physical placement of furniture is crucial. More space must be devoted to walking room, and, while wheelchairs and walkers may not be an immediate consideration, planning ahead is vital since familiarity with your surroundings eases transitions. Eliminate unnecessary furniture and accessories; instead, concentrate on the pieces that serve a function. Also, eliminate bulky sofas and chairs, replacing them with more streamlined models. Make sure all the furniture has curved edges instead of sharp corners.

Spatial Planning

Older adults have more difficulty sitting down and getting up. Appropriate seating means the actual seat is 22 inches high and no more than 20 inches deep; the arms must reach the front of the chair or sofa to provide leverage when getting up. Transferring from a wheelchair to a chair is also a consideration, and choosing seating that is high enough for an easy transition is advisable. Consider a loveseat instead of a full-sized sofa so two adults can benefit from the armrests. When placing furniture, keep in mind that the standard wheelchair measures 26 inches wide.

Furnishing the Bedroom

Beds should also be high rather than low, but not so high that stairs are required. A power-bed is ideal for seniors. Not only can the back recline; its height is also adjustable. Some power-beds are equipped with side rails that protect the senior while he sleeps, but can be hidden when not in use. A chair or bench at the foot of the bed helps when dressing. Side tables should be reachable when lying in bed, with light switches placed close by. Removing doors from closets makes dressing easier for a senior using a wheelchair or walker.

Upholstery Fabric Choices

Upholstery is another consideration when designing for a senior adult. Fabrics with anti-bacterial properties are available and suitable for adults who may suffer occasional incontinence. They are also water- and stain-repellent for ease of maintenance. Attached cushions are safer than the loose variety. Down cushions are lovely, but they may trap an older adult. A seat that’s comfortable but firm is recommended.

Colors Matter

A monochromatic palette doesn’t provide the definition an older adult needs as eyesight diminishes. This is especially true in a bathroom. Color code toweling and daily-use items for easy identification. In the kitchen, colored hardware identifies the contents of a cupboard, and bright countertop appliances make them easy to find. Switchplates that are either colored or lit make finding them easier. The same holds true for furniture. Differentiate colors on chairs and the sofa, as well as in the dining room so identification of place is made easier.

Additional Considerations

Area rugs are dangerous if they're not glued onto the floor. Wheelchairs have a hard time crossing carpet and rugs, and walkers can lift the rug and trip the user. If carpeting is preferred, select a low-pile, stain- and mold-resistant brand with soft padding underneath to cushion for falls. Hard tile floors are easy to maintain but can be harmful when an older adult falls. Wood or laminate floors cushion falls and are safer and have no grout lines to make wheelchair or walker travel bumpy. In the bathroom, install no-slip tape to the inside of the shower and tub, along with railings. A raised toilet is also suggested for ease of getting up and down.

About the Author

Jann Seal is published in magazines throughout the country and is noted for her design and decor articles and celebrity *in-home* interviews. An English degree from the University of Maryland and extensive travels and relocations to other countries have added to her decorating insight.