FURNITURE SELECTION FOR SENIOR HOUSING





Creating a homelike setting with materials that are industrial strength and function well for the elderly is a challenge. Social interaction significantly contributes to the quality of people’s lives, and a building’s design should promote easy social interaction. Appropriate color, texture, and furniture arrangement can increase meaningful social activity.


When it comes to seating arrangements, being seated at right angles to another person has been shown to be more psychologically comfortable than being face to face or side by side. For older adults, seating arrangements are especially important because many have hearing impairments and mobility limitations. Seating shouldn’t be too far apart. In large rooms, smaller seating groups are more comfortable than one large one. For people with dementia, it’s important not to rearrange furniture, because they rely on a familiar environment. Older people often find it difficult to rise from a sofa, particularly from the center of a sofa where there’s no arm for support. The same is true of chairs. They’re often too low, too soft, and too deep.


Aging unfortunately involves arthritis, loss of balance, fatigue, loss of hearing and eyesight, and other issues. It’s very important for older people to remain as active as possible for good health. Designers should incentivize people to move with opportunities to socialize and visual interest as one moves from place to place. For residents to feel secure in moving about, designers must provide lots of places to sit and rest.


The elderly tend to sit for extended periods of time, so good chair selection is crucial. It’s important to specify chairs with the right seat height, pitch of back, and arms that extend beyond the seat that make them comfortable and easy to get in and out of. A variety of chair styles and sizes should be specified for people of different sizes. Rocking chairs can stimulate circulation and stimulates the vestibular canal in the ear which gives people a sense of balance and creates a calming effect. Hip fractures often result from elderly people trying to rise from a chair that is too low, too soft, too narrow, and too deep. Ideally, chairs should have an opening under the front of the seat to allow one foot to be placed underneath it to push off from when rising out of the chair. Seat heights should be between 18 to 19-1/2 inches. Seats should ideally have smooth edges, rounded corners, and have plenty of space for a person’s body to fit.


Dining chairs should offer arms for support while rising, and they should fit under the table. They should have continuous back support from the seat all the way to the top of the back. They should be lightweight and easy to pull away from the table. Casters are too unstable.


When selecting tables, the base should allow wheelchairs to fully fit underneath them, so the person can get as close to the table as possible. Dining tables must be between 28- to 34-inches high to accommodate guests in wheelchairs, and the distance between the floor and the table's frame must be no less than 27 inches. Further, 30 inches of clearance is required between the legs of the table. A 42-inch table provides adequate room for wheelchair accessibility. For socializing, tables seating two or four residents are preferable. Square or rectangular configurations allow combining tables when needed. Straight sides to a table allow residents to have their own territory unlike round tables. Placemats help to define the space even more. Elderly people often use furniture for balance and support, and dining tables should not tip when someone puts weight on its edge. Having a contrasting color border to a table is helpful. All edges should be bullnosed or rounded. Tables with a raised, rounded rim prevents spills.


In bedrooms, a bedside table with a light is important next to a bed. Headboards provide a home-like feel. Dormitory beds are not appropriate for the elderly. They are longer than a twin bed and not as wide. Because they’re a slightly different size than what people are used to, they create a risk of falling off the bed.


Moisture barriers prevent penetration of fluids that are a source of odor and mildew. Since upholstered fabrics must serve as fluid barriers and still meet fire codes, furniture manufacturers provide many options to meet this need. Crypton is a new type of fabric that is water and stain resistant, antimicrobial, antifungal, antibacterial, extremely strong, and breathable. It’s not a coating, but is encased in every fiber of the material. The major advantage of Crypton over vinyl is that the fabric breathes and fire blockers and moisture barriers are laminated to the back of the fabric, leaving the fabric face with the original texture. Fabrics retain the look that feels more home-like. The fabric performs best when laminated in Intek Firegard or Kevlar. Crypton passes the California Technical Bulletins 116 and 117 which applies to care facilities, and dictates flammability standards for upholstered furniture. Only the manufacturer can certify that their products meet California's requirement. Other states have similar standards.


Furniture for a residential care facility should be “contract” quality which is sturdier than residential furniture and can tolerate more abuse.