Our most rapidly growing population is also our most vulnerable one. The pandemic has exposed the difficulties that already existed in protecting our seniors in residential care homes and shown a drastic need for change.
Immediate design solutions helped contain the virus, but left residents isolated and loved ones separated. Now we must consider future design solutions that protect our seniors, promote a healthy environment and consider the impact on mental health.
Immediately, designs called to reduce the amount of cross-contamination between residents and staff. Separate entrances and vestibules were created to allow staff to change personal protective equipment, high traffic was reduced in shared areas like corridors and lunchrooms, and residents were encouraged to get outside as much as possible.
The entire industry was put to a halt in an attempt to keep residents as safe as possible. Upgrades were made to ventilation systems, the number of visitors was reduced and stringent cleaning protocols were put in place. These reactionary design measures saved lives, but how did they prepare for the future of long-term care? How can design help reduce infection rates without making a residential care home feel like a hospital?
Lifting the restrictions that the immediacy of the virus placed on design is paramount for the future. Instead of scheduled and regimented outdoor time, create individual balconies in every room. Rather than isolating individuals from one another, design spaces as small “villages” or “neighborhoods” that allow people to communicate with one another while making contact tracing simple. Reduce staff visits by embedding technology like smart sensors that allow residents to communicate critical information in real-time.
These strategies need to be planned. Homes can be designed with better wayfinding in corridors, one-directional hallways, and access to outdoor space on every floor. Separate rooms for deliveries, exterior pods, and individual entrances can all contribute to protecting residents from viruses without forced isolation. By combining these innovative solutions with improved HVAC systems, UV disinfection technology, and operable openings, we can create an environment that encourages social interaction.
Managing Mental Health
The benefits of a community cannot be understated when it comes to the mental health of residents. As important as it is to keep everyone safe, it’s equally important to keep everyone happy. Design can help with that.
Creating shared spaces like kitchens and laundry rooms for each community gives residents a sense of responsibility while increasing interactions. Resting areas in hallways can facilitate one-on-one time. Design also plays a role in helping residents with dementia. Memory stations like gardening areas and music zones can help with cognitive functions while themed rooms, fish tanks and puzzles can all help stimulate the senses.
We can also facilitate workout classes outside, televised concerts and events and simulating routines by incorporating small but meaningful tasks like getting the newspaper or sending a postcard. Considering these activities, design is critical to a new space or retrofitting an existing space to managemental health.
Investing in our Seniors
A committed and considered design approach comes not just with a cost, but active participation from all stakeholders involved. The demand for change will continue as our population ages and it’s up to all of us to push forward with design opportunities that help to protect the physical and mental well being of residents