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6 ways to help an aging parent set up their space to create positive vibes

It's the little things that can make a big impact

Two older people sitting on couch together while smiling and enjoying a conversation. Credit: Getty Images / Stígur Már Karlsson /Heimsmyndir

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Richard Bitner is intimately familiar with the common medical woes that trouble seniors who are aging in place. He is the vice president of Visiting Angels, a private-duty home caregiver organization.

He believes that recently, the pandemic and social distancing precautions have exacerbated a sense of the blues in seniors and other people living alone—and, he says, that’s just as important a healthcare issue as vision or hearing deterioration.

Bitner and others who work frequently with retirees, however, say there are some easy—and affordable—ways to arrange one’s space to let the sunshine in, both physically and metaphorically.

To be clear, Bitner isn’t offering medical advice, and neither is Reviewed—rather, this is just a way to help those living alone set up their space to create positive vibes, and stay in touch with loved ones.

1. Play host

On left, wooden table with two circular seats. On right, sand colored square ottoman.
Credit: Crate & Barrel / West Elm

Selecting the right piece of furniture can create an inviting space for years to come.

Even if you’re converting to one-floor living, it’s important to keep in mind options for seating to welcome friends over, say Bitner. Lori Bellport, a Certified Aging in Place Specialist and founder of Live in Place Designs LLC, agrees.

Bellport is a fan of built-ins, nesting benches, or coffee tables with nesting cubes underneath, and ottomans. Wall-mounted benches “are not only great for entryways, but fold up to take up little clearance,” she says.

Other solutions are a bit more creative: Foldable chairs can be easily reupholstered so they don’t have vinyl seats, suggests Bellport, and can be stored in a closet. Or, like fold-out ironing boards, foldable chairs can be stacked on the backside of a door mid-way up to be accessible for seniors who “aren’t as strong as they used to be.”

When it comes to gathering with friends from a distance through online social networks, Bitner advises that it’s important to set aside a designated space with a docking station for a mobile device or an iPad—with enough outlets nearby—to make sure you can easily hold Zoom calls with friends and family.

2. Paint it all blue

Hand wearing yellow rubber glove using paint roller to paint wall blue.
Credit: Getty Images / Berezko

True blues that can improve your mood and increase your home value.

Preventing the blues can be as simple as a fresh coat of paint—ironically in cerulean hues.

Barb Mueller, president of Designs Anew Houston, LLC, says, “As we age, we get a yellow film over our eyes. Converting to colors with cooler tones like blues and grays can help mitigate this yellowing and reduce stress and anxiety.” Bonus? These colors are also very au courant, which can increase a home’s resale value.

Bellport says that choosing paint is about more than just color, and she suggests using satin or semi-gloss finishes.

“That reflection can even further brighten up a room,” she says. “For mental health, any way you can add lighting is extremely important.”

Removing heavy, dark drapes and enhancing illumination—especially with less-likely-to-trip cordless lights—are other quick fixes.

3. Incorporate natural, and sensorial, elements

On left, small water fountain on table indoors. On right,
Credit: Design Craft / GKCI

Incorporating new mood boosters into your space is easier than you think. A pleasant aroma or a soothing sound can unlock a new level of happiness.

One of Bellport’s favorite ways to spruce up a space is to invoke the senses, like color-changing lights with aromatherapy diffusers, or babbling tabletop fountains that bring in elements of biophilic design. Whether it’s plants or even images of them, elements of the natural world are easy ways to spruce up a space, the New Jersey-based specialist who has 15 years experience in facility care working with seniors, says.

“Maximizing plants and lights and nature, even if it’s in artwork, has really been proven to improve people’s cognitive abilities, and physical and emotional health,” Bellport explains. “Showing plants, animals, or things that portray groups of people together who are happy bring those feelings to living spaces.”

4. Spend time out of doors

Two people smiling while walking outdoors.
Credit: Getty Images / Lordn

Fresh air works wonders for the mind and the body.

Cape Cod, Mass.-based Certified Aging in Place contractor David Karas thinks one of the most important aspects of living in place doesn’t involve walls—it involves the great outdoors.

“Reconnecting with nature is something that’s tremendous for seniors,” he says. Focusing on planting flowers or vegetables, nurturing them, and watching them grow is a great activity.

Karas installs many ramps to backyard or front yard gardens. “Ramps not only enhance mobility, but can enhance your health, because now you’ve made it possible to get outside,” he says. “That can be where your dog can play or you can go talk to neighbors.”

5. Caring for pets smarter

Person smiling while petting golden retriever dog.
Credit: Getty Images / Monkeybusinessimages

Automatic feeders and self-watering devices make maintaining your furry friend's overall health and wellness much easier.

Finding companionship for seniors who live alone is “largely an individualized solution” says Bellport. Limited mobility can make walking a dog—or sidestepping Fido’s slippery water bowl area—tricky. “It’s all about emphasizing the right pet for your fit,” Bellport advises.

For smaller lap dogs and cats, she often recommends a number of stylish raised beds that prevent lots of bending down for owners.

Or, having pet sofas that are designed for space saving and pull out from under the bed or couch are just convenient as they are safe against tripping.

Putting food and water bowls on a non-slip mat makes cleanup easier, and means everything can consistently be kept in the same corner or closet. A “must” for pet-owners are self-feeders and self-watering devices, Bellport says—and for cats, self-cleaning litter boxes.

6. Don’t be scared of technology

Amazon Echo dot sitting on small table in home. On right, picture frame sitting on small table.
Credit: Amazon / Aura

Intuitive smart technology not only makes your home more accessible, but also more convenient.

There are a few easy-to-use tech tools that Bellport recommends so seniors can stay in touch with their loved ones or listen to tunes to lift their mood.

An Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker, for instance, is commanded by voice so those with arthritis can easily play music, or even have a Skype video call.

A digital picture frame makes it simple to download an app and upload photos of smiling grandchildren to the frame remotely—with unlimited storage.

Doing a trial run to show aging parents how to use Teleparty, which adds group chat to Netflix, Disney, Hulu, and HBO, is a fun way to have a family movie night from a distance, says Bellport.

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