The Best Tips For Senior Dining Room Design

Key Points

  • Suitable senior dining room design features senior-friendly furniture, flooring, lighting, and tableware.

  • Choose sturdy and stable tables and chairs that support you when you sit or stand.

  • Bright lighting and colorful plates improve your appetite and healthy food choices.

  • The best senior dining room design is adaptable as your needs change with age. 

Whether you enjoyed a lifetime of large gatherings around the table or quiet meals at the end of a work day, the dining room often holds special memories. Senior dining room design tips enrich your life with a beautiful space and furnishings for creating new memories.

Aim for a senior dining room design that is beautiful, safe, and functional; your room should adapt as you navigate your senior years.

The Dining Room

Many dining rooms serve only one purpose: sharing elaborate meals on special occasions. You might use this room less as you age or even convert it to another use entirely. Many seniors like to have a space to sit down to enjoy a meal — whether at a private repast or a group celebration.

The Multi-Purpose Room

Many dining rooms serve double duty as a home office or craft space. It makes sense: You only spend an hour or two each day eating your meals so that space can have another job for the rest of the day. 

Add storage spaces to the room so your table is clear and ready for mealtime to make this hard-working space perform. Use storage containers and areas you can reach without bending or stooping; between hip and shoulder height is usually easiest.

Having a functional space to enjoy your work or hobbies adds to your enjoyment of your home.

Plenty of Space

A dining room within an open floor plan is often the most adaptable for aging in place. The open layout provides the one feature you can’t change about your dining room — space.

Open layouts give you more space for the clearances you need for mobility equipment, and it’s easier to navigate to adjoining rooms like the kitchen and living room.

If you don’t have an open floor plan, ensure the dining room entry is at least 42" wide. Wheelchair and scooter navigation is possible but much more challenging when the doorway is between 32-36 inches. 

It would help to have enough open area within the dining room to maneuver with mobility aids. Plan for 42-48" between the table, walls, and other furniture. Remember that if a wheelchair or scooter needs to pass behind seated diners, measure 42-48" of clearance from the pulled-back chairs.

Lastly, plan an area of 30-48 inches around each seat at the table for easy maneuvering.

Flooring That Prevents Falls

More than one in four older adults report a fall each year. In 2020, 36,508 adults aged 65 and older died from preventable falls, and over 2.8 million received treatment in emergency departments. 

Many falls and the subsequent loss of mobility and functioning are preventable. Flooring choices make a big difference in your ability to stay on your feet, so look for options that reduce your risk.

Here are some tips to keep in mind for dining room flooring.

Smooth Transitions

Transitions between flooring types often create a raised edge or ridge, which is just enough to catch a toe on and tumble or block the wheels of your mobility equipment. 

Many older adults drag their feet or shuffle due to muscle loss, balance changes, or neurological disorders like Parkinson’s. This gait creates an increased risk of tripping and falling.

When you need a transition piece between flooring materials or rooms, keep it flush with the flooring or at a minimal height. 

Area Rugs

Area rugs are undeniably beautiful, adding color and texture to a room. However, rugs are also a common cause of trips and falls for older adults.

Your best option is to avoid area rugs entirely. If you insist on having one, use double-sided tape or tacks to fasten the edges flat.

Keep the Floor Dry and Slip-Free

A wet spot causes any solid floor to become slippery. One wrong step can lead to a fall, so wipe up spills immediately and allow the floor to dry thoroughly after cleaning. 

Floor waxes and finishes also create a slippery surface. Choose non-slip surface finishes for your solid floors.

Plenty of Lighting

A 60-year-old requires three times as much light as a 20-year-old and can adapt less to different light levels and intensities when moving from room to room.

In the dining room, you need clear, bright lighting that is easy to control. Place a central light 30-36 inches above the dining table, and add a dimmer or remote control switch near the entrance. Sconces, table lamps, and recessed lighting add ambiance and light the room's perimeter.

You’ll get the benefit of light for your safety and health. People dining in brightly lit rooms have a heightened sense of taste and make healthier food choices.

A Clutter-Free Path

Since the dining room is usually only used a few hours a day, it’s easy to become the repository for clutter. Piles of papers, boxes, or small decor items pose a serious tripping hazard.

Keep your dining room open and spacious. Free up space along the walls so there is plenty of room to navigate — mainly if you use mobility aids or other medical equipment. 

Secure all cords and wires to eliminate tripping hazards.

Storage and More Storage

You probably have things you want to store in your dining room, such as precious antiques or crafting supplies. Choose functional and accessible storage — like sideboards or low shelves — to keep everyday items within reach and reduce your need to stretch down or stoop. 

Store heavy and infrequently used items in closed drawers or a credenza to avoid falling or breaking. 

A simple tray on your table or sideboard makes it easy to keep frequently used items — salt and pepper, a notepad and pens, or a deck of playing cards — close by and easy to move.

Senior-Friendly Furnishings 

Your dining room furniture is the room's star, setting the style for your decor. It works hard for casual meals or dinner parties with friends. Follow these tips to choose furnishings that work for you.

Start With the Dining Table

A pedestal-style table is best for maximum legroom and easy maneuvering — especially if you use a wheelchair. Look for a sturdy table top that is well supported; you might need to balance yourself with it as you sit or rise or if you lose your balance.

Choose a table with rounded edges, and avoid glass-top tables that could shatter and cause injury. Round tables fit easily into smaller rooms and offer the most versatility for chair positioning. Choose a table with about two feet of eating space per person.

The standard height for a dining table is 29-30 inches high, but you may want 34 inches for easy clearance if you use a wheelchair. If the table has legs rather than a pedestal, aim for at least 32 inches between the legs. 

Wheelchair access requires 27 inches from the floor to the bottom of the apron. Even if you don’t use a wheelchair, you might need one later or entertain a guest who uses a wheelchair. 

The Perfect Chairs

Look for firm, supportive chairs with comfortable cushioning that make it easy to sit and exit. 

The seat height should be 17-19" from the floor; this height is comfortable for reaching the table surface, and rising from a higher seat is easier if you have leg or mobility problems.

Aim for a depth of 20" with a slope — front to back — no greater than one inch. You want your seat cushioning to be firm enough that you don’t sink into it.

Your chair should be solid enough to bear your weight but not too heavy to move or pull back from the table. Choose chairs with an open space beneath the seat so you can bend your legs beneath you when you stand up. 

Strong chair arms around 26" tall give you a solid grip to help you stand but still fit under most tables. Chairs with cut-outs at the crest rail provide a handhold for aid to grip and assist you when needed.

Consider your dining room flooring, too. If the chairs sit on the carpet, look for front-leg casters that enable you to push yourself to or from the table without assistance. A chair with casters on all four legs is unstable and could roll out from under you when you're trying to sit or stand. 

If the chairs sit on a hard surface, look for large metal “easy glides” on the bottom of the legs. The nickel glides are usually as wide as the base of the chair leg and slide easily on all surfaces.

Adaptive Tableware

Have you noticed you have lost strength or coordination in your hands? After age 60, your grip strength declines by as much as 20-25 percent as you lose muscle fibers. Your thumb muscles that stabilize during strong pinch grips lose function with age, making gripping and fine motor coordination more difficult.

Declining strength in your hands doesn’t have to interfere with your quality of life. Numerous products help you use your hands more effectively to retain your independence.

Senior-friendly dishes and flatware — known as adaptive tableware — make meals easier. Choose from flatware designed for adults with tremors and shaking hands, colorful plates that are easy to see and stimulate your appetite, and stylish plastic dinnerware that is lightweight and shatter-resistant. 

A rolling cart makes it easier to carry heavy serving dishes to the table and reduces trips to set and clean up your table. 

Accident-Proof Linens

Tablecloths protect your table, give your dining room a soft and elegant look, and require maintenance. If you have difficulty eating or often drop food, your tablecloth will need frequent cleaning. 

If you want to use your table for another activity like working or crafting, you’ll face an extra step to remove the tablecloth first and make space to store it. 

Perhaps most importantly, a tablecloth is a hazard if you accidentally tug or pull it; everything on your table can spill off the side!

Instead, consider leaving your table bare and add a decorative table runner or centerpiece. Placemats and colorful napkins liven up your decor without risking a table upset.

Trade Wax Candles for Flameless Battery Candles

Candles add ambiance and soft, flattering light in your dining room, but they're also a common cause of house fires when left burning or unattended. Flameless candles provide up to 1000 hours of gentle illumination on a single battery, and you don’t have to worry if you forget to “snuff it out.”

Bibs Are for Grown-Ups

When you think of a bib, it might conjure images of a baby slathered in creamed peas. Bibs aren’t just for babies; often called “clothing protectors,” bibs are also designed for adults.

A clothing protector shields your apparel if you eat a messy meal or have trouble feeding yourself or swallowing.

Clothing protectors for adults come in fashionable fabrics, making meals less stressful if you drop food or have excess saliva. In addition, bibs simplify cleanup. 

Create a Dining Room Fit for Your Senior Years

Your dining room might be a dead and infrequently used space, or it can be the heart of your home. When creating a dining room to form treasured new memories of enjoyable meals, plan for safety and mobility.

Use these tips to design a dining room for your senior years.

Follow GoldYears for more helpful ideas for your home.

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