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North America’s rapidly growing 65+ population has drastically impacted senior living and the processes behind the design and architecture of its communities.

In order to design effectively for our senior population, it’s vital to understand the many ways that aging is likely to affect residents and their perceived physical environment. The physiological changes associated with growing old alter how we perceive the environment around us and are often accompanied by declines in our sense of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. When these senses are dulled, the environment is more difficult to understand and navigate, making normal daily tasks stressful and frustrating.

As people age, they can lose their peripheral vision, undergo color and night vision changes, or can experience problems with glare and blurred vision. In addition, the aging eye lens changes, making all colors appear more yellow and about 20% less saturated.

Walls and floors with similar colors can make it difficult for seniors to differentiate the beginnings and ends of each surface. Contrasting colors between all surfaces, especially with steps and landings, can reduce accidental trips and falls. In bathrooms, for example, contrasting colors between the floor and the toilet can help residents navigate safely and help reduce the risk of a fall.

A person’s ability to move is impacted by the aging process, which can result in unsteadiness while walking, difficulty getting in and out of a chair, or even a dangerous fall. Any muscle weakness or joint problems can also contribute to mobility issues. To decrease falls, the proper flooring and lighting, with handles and other safety measures, must be included.

Architects and designers will be increasingly called upon to design supportive, livable, helpful, and safe senior living accommodations to remove stress and confusion from an aging person’s everyday life.