Home Ergonomics & Senior Care

April 6, 2018

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The goal of in-home senior care is to make aging in place easier, safer, and more comfortable for the elderly. Home ergonomics play an important part in this process. Even though most people think of caregiving as a series of tasks and activities — like making meals, running errands, and assistance with dressing and bathing — aging in place can’t happen in an unsafe or uncomfortable home. A successful senior care program depends on ergonomic, senior-friendly home design.

While ergonomics can greatly impact senior care, many families struggle with this aspect of caregiving. Most ergonomic furniture is designed for younger adults, and it’s hard to find advice on ergonomics for the elderly. There’s also the challenge of age-related physical impairments, which may require specialized furniture, devices, or home modifications.

So how can family caregivers create an ergonomic living space for senior care recipients? Here’s one approach you can take. First, learn the basics of home ergonomics. Next, familiarize yourself with common ergonomic challenges faced by seniors, along with common solutions to those challenges. Once you’re equipped with this information, shift your focus to your loved one’s specific ergonomic needs.

To help you get started, we’ve compiled some ergonomic basics, plus some tips and tricks on senior-friendly home design.

Ergonomics 101 for Family Senior Care Providers

Ergonomics, sometimes referred to as “human factors,” is a field centered on the relationship between people and designed objects. Ergonomic design makes objects safer, healthier, and easier to use.

For example, an ergonomic chair will optimize your comfort and encourage healthy posture when you sit in it. This has been shown to substantially reduce the risk of developing chronic spine, joint, and muscle problems. For people who already have these conditions, an ergonomic chair will reduce the frequency and intensity of pain caused by these conditions.

It’s easy to see why ergonomics are important for seniors and family senior care providers. As we grow older, our joints, bones, and muscles weaken. Our risk of developing chronic physical conditions increases. Many seniors also cope with mobility difficulties, impaired vision, and reduced coordination. Any of these issues can make everyday household objects more difficult to use — and more dangerous. But with senior-friendly ergonomics, we can reduce these difficulties and dangers.

There are few “one size fits all” solutions in elderly ergonomics. If you provide senior care for a loved one, you’ll need to tailor design choices around your loved one’s individual needs and concerns. With that said, here are a few of the most common ergonomic interventions recommended by senior care experts:

  • Ergonomic seating is one of the smartest senior care investments that a family can make. Sofas and chairs should have high backs with lumbar support. Cushioning should be comfortable, but firm enough to support healthy posture. Avoid low seating and chairs without armrests.
  • Make everything your loved one needs easily accessible, within arm’s reach when standing. Avoid placing objects or fixtures anywhere that requires kneeling, stooping, stretching, or reaching.
  • Avoid purchasing items, tools, and utensils that require significant levels of strength. Pay particular attention to objects that require a strong grip and/or hand strength, which is a challenge for many seniors, particularly those with Alzheimer’s.
  • Handheld items should be comfortable to hold and easy to grip. Hand tools should have a rounded and cushioned grip that is contoured to your loved one’s hands.
  • Explore the market for specialized products designed for senior home ergonomics. A number of companies offer furniture and equipment that is specially tailored to senior living, including equipment you can use to modify your loved one’s existing living space at a far lower cost than a full-scale redesign would require.

Before redesigning your loved one’s living space, speak with any healthcare professionals who work with your loved one. They will be able to provide specific recommendations, tailored to your loved one’s current health, well-being, and fitness.

You may also wish to contact a local senior care agency. Many agencies provide detailed home safety assessments, along with recommendations for changes you can make to improve the safety and livability of your loved one’s living space. By hiring senior care services, you can also make sure that your loved one has the support and assistance that he or she needs to age in place as safely and as comfortably as possible.

Written by Larry Meigs
Visiting Angels is America’s choice in home care. Since 1998, Visiting Angels locations across the country have been helping elderly and disabled individuals by providing care and support in the comfort of home. In addition to senior home care and adult care, Visiting Angels provides dementia care and Alzheimer’s care for individuals suffering from memory disorders. There are now more than five hundred Visiting Angels locations nationwide.

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