The United States population is aging, with people over 65 growing from “35.0 million in 2000, to 49.2 million in 2016, accounting for 12.4 percent and 15.2 percent of the total population, respectively” (Newcomb & Iriondo, 2017). Because older adults are becoming a larger part of the population, designers need to focus more on how to design for the elderly. Many changes occur when one ages. These changes, such as decreases in hearing, sight, and mobility, impact how one interacts with a system (Kroemer, 2006). In the home specifically, designers need to create spaces that allow older individuals to live safely and reduce age-related difficulties. Below I have outlined some considerations designers should think of based on changes in hearing in an aging population.
Difficulty hearing and design
Products that have auditory alerts such as ovens and phones should always have the option to change their volume. This way, as a person ages they can simply change the volume of the alert instead of buying an entirely new product. It could be very dangerous if an older person were to forget that their oven is on because they can’t hear it beep.
Also, homes should be designed to reduce background noise “so that speech and important auditory signals have sufficient ‘penetration’” (Kroemer, 2006). There are multiple ways to reduce home background noise. For one, rugs can be placed to dampen noise. Also, home owners can apply Serenity Sound Reduction Coating, which is a type of paint that helps soundproof rooms. One issue with this however is that it can be rather difficult to apply. To the left is an image of the application process, showing that individuals must be able to spray on the paint. This could be very difficult for an older individual who has arthritis and less muscle mass and strength (Nagaratnam, Nagaratnam, & Cheuk, 2016). In order to make this tool more usable, the spray could be turned on with a foot peddle. Another solution to background noise issues is to buy a refrigerator that produces less noise. An article by Jeon, You, and Chang recommends that people always look at the noise rating of a refrigerator before purchasing it, as refrigerators are a main cause of ambient noise in homes (2007). Finally, one could buy the Netatmo (shown below) which is a home tool that measures ambient sounds. With this tool, an individual can understand the amount of noise pollution and see if they need to make any adjustments to their home.
Jeon, You, & Chang. (2007). Sound radiation and sound quality characteristics of refrigerator noise in real living environments. Applied Acoustics, 68(10), 1118-1134.
Kroemer, K. (2006). Designing for Older People. Ergonomics in Design: The Quarterly of Human Factors Applications, 14(4), 25-31.
Nagaratnam, N., Nagaratnam, K., & Cheuk, G. (2016). Musculoskeletal Systems. Diseases in the elderly: Age-related changes and pathophysiology, 275-286.
Newcomb, A., & Iriondo, J. (2017). The Nation’s Older Population Is Still Growing. Census Bureau Reports United States Census Bureau. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2017/cb17-100.html