5 Ways Design Can Improve Senior Living
Written By AD&V®
ABOUT THE AUTHOR | AD&V® is dedicated to advanced and energy-efficient sustainable architecture & interior design that enhances people’s experience of the world and improves their lives.
PLACING YOUR LOVED ONE IN A SENIOR LIVING FACILITY CAN BE A DIFFICULT DECISION TO MAKE.
Many families worry their loved ones won’t receive proper care if placed in a senior living facility. A well-designed living facility that is created to support the residents’ physical, mental, and emotional health can bring peace of mind to those who want the best for their senior relatives. Here are five ways that design can improve senior living.
1. NATURAL ELEMENTS
One of the most important and often overlooked aspects of a well-designed senior living facility is the outdoor spaces. Studies show that senior citizens with access to nature show increased participation in outdoor physical activities, improved mental health and cognitive function, and social interaction with those around them and their community.
Ideas for outdoor components include having an outdoor garden with seating areas and walking trails with many trees, plants, flowers, and greenery. Another way to encourage senior citizens to go outside is by adding a swimming pool. Aquatic physical therapy has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, improve cardiovascular health, increase range of motion, and strength and balance to reduce falls.
Signage and wayfinding are critical in senior living facilities more than in any other space since these facilities serve a specific population with a range of cognitive disabilities such as dementia and visual impairment. According to research, 40% to 67% of individuals diagnosed with dementia will enter an assisted living facility.
Unfortunately, most existing assisted living facilities’ design is outdated and not designed to accommodate those with cognitive impairments. Seniors residing in these outdated facilities can have trouble with spatial recognition and difficulty getting oriented in their environment. This is why including signage in an assisted living facility is so important. There are a variety of different ways to make a space recognizable to people with those types of disabilities, including:
Floor plan design
Senior living facilities should be designed with short, straight hallways with clear visual endings, lots of windows, and opportunities for natural lighting. Apart from this, residents with cognitive impairments benefit more from straight circulation corridors with no change in direction rather than a circulation layout with shifts.
Visual cues or landmarks
One of the most used strategies to assist seniors in successfully finding their way through a built environment is through the use of landmarks. Landmark navigation allows individuals to travel from one landmark to another while learning directions and turns based on the route created between landmarks.
Color & light
Proper indoor lighting is crucial for spatial orientation in assisted living facilities. Well-lit spaces make navigation easier and stimulate brain function in dementia patients.
Color also plays a vital role in independent navigation for patients with cognitive impairments. The color scheme of a senior living facility should have medium contrast with soothing hues since muted tones can make spatial orientation difficult and bright. At the same time, high-contrast colors can be too overwhelming for senior individuals.
3. FUNCTIONALITY & ACCESSIBILITY
Individuals residing in senior living facilities usually deal with physical impairments such as arthritis. Because of this, things should be designed to be functional and easily accessible. One example of design modifications that assist people with arthritis is to include latch-style doors.
Latch-style door handles are easy to grasp and help residents open and close doors easily. Another design element that can help assist residents with arthritis is the use of rocker-type light switches. Flip switches can be hard to grasp. Rocker-type light switches allow an individual to easily tap the light switch to turn the lights on or off.
4. VISITATION SPACES
Well-designed visitation areas for family members are essential for maintaining residents’ mental health through socialization. It’s important to provide spaces where people can come and visit their elderly family members and have fun!
Amenities that make senior living facilities more attractive to visitors include having a playground or media room for the little ones, outdoor seating areas to catch up, and spaces to eat and drink outside their room or apartment. Having fun, colorful and welcoming spaces can motivate families to visit their senior loved ones more often and make the overall experience more enjoyable.
5. HOME-LIKE FEEL
Moving into a senior living facility can bring up feelings of homesickness in new residents. Since many of these facilities are outdated, they can feel institutional or like a hospital. To ease this transition, designers can do various things to make living facilities feel more like home. For example:
Holding space for residents to personalize their room or apartment
This can be providing extra shelving for memorabilia, potted plants, picture frames, or intimate objects that can help a senior make the place their own. It can also be letting residents choose the décor of their own space.
Providing a variety of spaces to dine
Having various dining options is very important to making residents feel at home. An example of this can be designing a bar space for seniors to feel comfortable eating alone. Other options can be having a café that’s “grab and go” so they can sit and enjoy their food outside or in the comfort of their private space. The idea is to have lots of varied seating options so they have the flexibility and liberty to choose. This gives residents autonomy and choice.
DESIGNING FOR A BETTER QUALITY OF LIFE
A well-designed senior living facility can provide an enriching environment for elders by encouraging independent mobility, socialization, physical activity, and connection with nature. A senior living facility designed with the residents’ physical, mental, and emotional health as the top priority can maintain not only their quality of life but also improve it.