• The corridors should be around 920-mm wide, making it easy to turn around in a wheelchair.
  • The usual size of the toilet in Japan is about 780 mm but the appropriate size for a wheelchair is 1.69 metre.
  • A clear contrast between floors and steps are important for the elderly to clearly distinguish the junction point.

Getting old but staying mobile

lifestyle September 15, 2018 01:00

By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
The Nation Weekend
Shizuoka, Japan

5,088 Viewed

A Japanese company leads the way in making homes safe and secure for the greying population



WITH 26 per cent of its 127-million population now over the age of 65, Japan is today classified as a “super-aged” society. It also has some six million single-person elderly households and a worryingly high proportion of dementia sufferers that tops five million. 

Faced with these statistics, the powers that are working hard to provide facilities and products to make homes as safe and secure as possible, a crucial undertaking as 77 per cent of accidents among the elderly occur in the household and almost half of these in the bedroom and living rooms, according to Japan’s Cabinet Office data.

Visitors can try to walk or sit in a wheelchair in a model house designed with comparative barriers as well as barrier-free at Noda Showroom in Shizuoka.

“The first step to make a safe and secure home is to identify the inconveniences and difficulties in daily life and start to address them. The most common are steps, lighting, size of the toilet and the width of door and stairs. Falls and bone fractures make up the majority of home accidents as about 77 per cent of the elderly fall from a standing position causing femoral neck fracture,” says Shiro Izawa, director of Noda Shimizu Showroom of the Noda Corporation.

Flooring materials that absorb shock and are anti-slip, a door that can be opened from both inside and outside without force, walk-fit stairs with supporting handrails and luminescent strips are among products manufactured by Noda, a leading Japanese company that produces building materials for the elderly housing market.

Vittakarn Chandavimol of AP (Thailand) drops a bowling ball to test the shock-absorbing floor tile designed by Noda.

The company’s factory and showroom in Shizuoka – a three-hour drive from Tokyo – doesn’t only offer a wide range of products to improve safety at home for seniors, but also a simulation zone where visitors can experience first-hand what it’s like to be old.

Designed to reduce the risk of fractures when falling, the company’s pride is its 13-mm-thick shock-absorbing floor tile composed of different layers ranging from a special laminate sheet, polyurethane foam cushion material to high density fibreboard, and non-slippery and ammonia-resistant paint. 

Izawa demonstrated by dropping a bowling ball from different heights onto the test floor. The floor responded by flexing on impact, rather than a cracked surface. 

Visitors are invited to try on an age-simulation outfit to experience the debilitating effects of ageing.

To experience the debilitating effects of old age, visitors are invited to try on an age-simulation suit. Here range of movement-restricting strapping is attached around the main joints – ankles, knees and wrists to reduce flexibility. The outfit is completed with noise-deadening headphones, earplugs and a pair of spectacles recreating different kinds of visual disabilities. The visitor then tries to walk or sit in a wheelchair in a model house designed with comparative barriers as well as barrier-free.

 The doorway has a foldable stool attached to facilitate putting on and taking off shoes.

“I feel like I’m 70! The steel-weighted suit makes walking and turning round more difficult. I can’t hear well and my visual field is a white mist. It slows me down and reduces any flexibility and I feel quite anxious when going up and down stairs. I realise how it is important to make improvements to a house that are well suited to older people’s needs,” says a visitor in her 30s.

In the model house, the doorway has a foldable stool attached to facilitate putting on and taking off shoes. The floors and the steps are designed two ways for comparison – in similar colours and in contrasting shades.

A clear contrast between floors and steps are important for the elderly to clearly distinguish the junction point. 

“As people age, many changes occur that affect vision and colour perception. There should be a clear contrast between floors and steps so that the junction can be distinguished easily,” adds Izawa.

Stairways with high and low steps can also be tried out. For people with limited mobility, stair width should be about 990 mm, with step height and width 160 and 267 mm respectively. Solid handrails and luminescent strips that glow in the dark along the stairway are also important. 

The corridors should be around 920-mm wide, making it easy to turn around in a wheelchair.

In remodelling a home for elderly residents, Izawa suggests that corridors should be around 920 mm wide, making it easy to turn around in a wheelchair. The company also has universal design doors – sliding, folding and two-way – that can fit limited spaces. The doors can sport a clear frame in which pictures of people can be inserted, helping those with dementia to recognise which is their room and their caretakers to look inside the room. Electric wall sockets should be about 40-45 cm for the low position and 90cm-1m for the upper. 

The usual size of the toilet in Japan is about 780 mm but the appropriate size for a wheelchair is 1.69 metre.

“The usual size of the toilet in Japan is about 780 mm but the appropriate size for a wheelchair is 1.69 metres. We also have L-shaped easy-access toilets with sliding and assisting doors, allowing more space for both an elderly person in a wheelchair and a caretaker. The maximum opening size should be one metre,” he says.

The L-shaped easy-access toilet with sliding doors, allowing more space for both an elderly person in a wheelchair and a caretaker. 

In Japan, the share of single-person households, already the largest at 34 per cent as of 2015, is expected to grow further to 39 per cent by 2040, according to a report by the Japan Times. Meanwhile, households with married couples and children, which used to account for more than 40 per cent of the total, are projected to slip to 23 per cent. With these projections underlining the changes in demographic make up and the strong increase in the greying population, Japan is being urged to develop improved security structures to support seniors living on their own.

The door can be opened from both inside and outside without any force.

Thailand’s current population is estimated about 68 million and the number of people aged 60 or over currently stands at about eight million, accounting for 13 per cent of the population. The country is set to become a super-aged society in less than two decades when elderly citizens (age 65 and over) will exceed 20 per cent of the total population. 

The United Nations’ World Population Ageing data covering countries in Asia also show that in 2030, the proportion of elderly people in Thailand will increase to 19 per cent, putting it in third place after Japan and Singapore.

 Stairways with high and low steps can also be tried out.

To learn how Japan is coping with its ageing society so it can keep up with the growing senior population in Thailand, real estate developer AP (Thailand) is expanding its urban condominium portfolio catering to Generation X, defined as those between 37 and 57 years old and born between 1961-1981.

“Gen-X accounts for 32 per cent of the total population and they will become what we call the ‘young old’ in the near future,” says chief of corporate strategy and creation Vittakarn Chandavimol. “These people have different behaviours from the baby boomers. They’ve learned from their parents’ experiences, so they are financially prepared for retirement, open to technology and social activities and lead an active lifestyle. They don’t expect their children to care for them and so their main concern is self-care.”

Residences and communities for the elderly are often located deep in the provinces and far from urban conveniences, but homes for the “young old” wanting to maintain an active lifestyle should be in the urban area, he says. AP is planning to launch a pilot condominium project in 2020 in the Sathorn-Taksin area, only five minutes away from Wutthakat Skytrain station.

Shiro Izawa of Noda suggests the appropriate height of electric sockets.

“The design concept is based on intergeneration living with three core ideas. Rethink Space is where universal design principles are used to design a space for all generations. Redefine Living is to deliver prime urban location, larger common areas and the use of technology to make life convenient and safe. Remodel Community is to develop a physically and psychologically healthy life,” says Vittakarn.

The estate segment in providing houses designed for people in the active ageing category is growing. Housing of this kind can incorporate a universal design that is suitable for all family members living with elderly parents. 

Kasikorn Research Centre estimates that investment in large retirement community projects between 2018 and 2020 will reach about Bt6 billion, leading to accumulated investment of about Bt27 billion by 2020.

Kasikorn adds that many investors have seized on the potential of businesses that cater to the growing number of senior citizens, whose ranks make up almost 20 per cent of the population. The investment in retirement estates in suburban Bangkok and other provinces between 2012 and 2017 was Bt17.7 billion.

The writer’s trip was made possible courtesy of AP (Thailand).