How Aged Care Design is Improving Living Spaces for Australia's Aging Population
It’s projected that by 2057, 22% of the Australian population will be aged 65 years and over. With Baby Boomers currently entering aged care facilities in droves, there has been a redefining of aged care design and lifestyle quality, with residents demanding more beautiful and comfortable living environments, more community and independent living, more low care options and more affordable accommodation.
This is also reflected in the Australian federal government’s Aged Care Quality Standards which recognize the importance of residents being treated with dignity and respect, with identity, culture and diversity valued, and all residents being able to make informed choices about the care and services they receive.
It’s not just the residents who benefit from this shift in aged care design trends. Improved aged care living spaces also mean that the staff are proud of their working environment and family members enjoy visiting and therefore do it more often. Everyone wins.
Here are some of the emerging aged care design trends:
Designing for Dementia: creating spaces that are easy to understand and enhance way-finding.More aged care facilities are incorporating dementia specific spaces, where the interior design accommodates the needs of residents with cognitive impairments. These residents may have difficulty interpreting their surroundings and interior design strategies can help. Doorways can be made more obvious by increasing contrast around them. The delineation between floors and walls can be improved by avoiding busy patterns on carpets and wall coverings. Landmarks can be provided to assist in way-finding.
The behavioral impact of colour and textures, particularly in furniture upholstery fabrics, is also an important consideration for those living with dementia. Studies have shown that the simple act of touching velvet once a week improves verbal fluency in people with dementia, as it stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain. This translates to choosing softer textured upholstery fabrics for furniture used in aged care settings.
Furniture upholstery fabric should also have patterns that are easy to understand; if a pattern includes objects like flowers, it may cause a resident to pick at them in an attempt to touch or hold the object that they are looking at, causing frustration.
Designing for falls prevention: creating service environments that promote the safety and mobility of aged care residents.It’s estimated that at least one-third of people aged 65 years and over fall one or more times a year. Interior designers on aged care projects must ensure their work promotes safety and mobility of aged care residents, particularly when it comes to fall prevention. This is vital to the health and wellbeing of residents because not doing so can reduce an elderly resident’s confidence which may limit their motivation to remain active.
The challenge in aged care design is to create a warm, home-like environment while also incorporating aids such as handrails or sturdy furniture that will assist residents in moving around their home.
Falls can occur from trip hazards, unexpected changes in elevation and compromised depth perception. Considering the lighting plan for an aged care facility can help to minimize falls risks, ensuring that there is ideal ambiance in all areas throughout the day and night.
Interior designers may also like to consider ensuring that the flooring materials or material thickness used throughout a space is consistent. The use of a single flooring material throughout an entire facility may not be possible but ensuring that transitions are flush can improve the safety of residents.
Creating home-like spaces: creating comfortable aged care service environments for residents, their family and staff.Elderly people have always lived their lives in family homes and moving to a large institution can be problematic if the space they are moving to is completely foreign to them. Continuity is the key and the best way to do this is to provide an aged care space that is homely and feels normal for them. For example, intimate lounge settings with furniture upholstery fabric featuring familiar colours and patterns, cozy fire places and accessible facilities for all residents including tea stations, dining rooms and cinema rooms all contribute to a sense of home and independence.
Creating spaces that are non-clinical, with a residential feel will contribute to a decrease in disruptive behaviours that can sometimes occur with residents who live with dementia.
Building spaces to encourage community: creating spaces that help avoid social isolation, optimizing the health and wellbeing of aged care residents.Many elderly people are at an increased risk of isolation and removal from social networks, including their own family. Data from 2018 suggests that those over 75 are more likely to be lonely than any other age group and other research has found that living in a residential aged care facility can potentially contribute to these feelings of loneliness and social isolation (Neves, Sanders & Kokanović 2019). This highlights the need for aged care service environments to accommodate family visitations, encouraging intergenerational involvement beyond just watching TV together. Aged care service environments should have shared interior spaces that promote social interaction and encourage craft activities and games. By encouraging inclusion, aged care facilities help counteract the social isolation felt by some elderly residents.
Supporting diversity within aged care: creating inclusive aged care spaces that meet the diverse needs of all residents.With more than one third of Australians aged over 65 being born overseas, diversity in aged care is becoming increasingly relevant to both aged care residents and those who care for them. Meeting the needs of older people means meeting the diverse needs of all older people and diversity is more than just multiculturalism; it also includes gender, sexual orientation, religion, and social backgrounds.
Interior design strategies for aged care can go a long way to accommodate older people from diverse backgrounds. For example, colour symbolism within different cultures can influence choices for furniture upholstery fabrics and floor coverings. Service environments can be designed to accommodate different cultures, religious practices, daily routine rituals and lifestyles. In Sydney there is an Italian development with a communal kitchen where the Nonnas gather to make pasta and bake. For many cultures, there is a large focus on extended family and service environments can accommodate extended family by making spaces for socialization with them. Service environments can also support lifestyles such as the LGBTI community with research suggesting that design for this demographic needs to feature shared communal spaces and an interaction between private and public spaces to help avoid isolation and encourage a feeling of community.
Aged care design: creating service environments that truly support the needs of Australia’s aging population
Aged care design has a significant impact on the well-being of all members of the aged care community; including residents, the staff who care for them and the families who visit them. Getting it right is about understanding the diverse needs of the population and being responsive, inclusive and sensitive to a person’s physical, cultural, language and spiritual needs.
Furniture is a key player in any interior design strategy and having a furniture solutions provider who understands your service environment is vital. With over 20 years of experience in the aged care furniture manufacturing industry, we bring solutions to our client’s unique circumstances; it’s what we do best.