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Changing trends in senior living design

Senior living environments have come a long way in the last 20 years.  Once regarded as institutional settings with a focus purely on physical wellbeing, we now know much more about how senior living interiors can impact on recovery, mental health and specific conditions like dementia.  

As a result, care home owners and managers are placing more emphasis than ever before on innovative interior design that is supportive and stimulating as well as being clinically functional.

This process of evolution has been further accelerated over the past 12 months, during which care homes have quite literally become the whole world for their residents. The pandemic has shone a light on shortcomings in a sector that had already been earmarked for major investment to help it cope with the future demands of an ageing population.

With increased funding coming down the track for long-term care, the coming months and years will see a significant number of new care homes being built as well as existing homes being refurbished – and it’s never been more important to get the interior design of these environments exactly right.  Here’s a look at some of the trends we’re seeing in senior living, and how they can help enrich the lives and wellbeing of residents and staff alike…

An outward focus

We’re learning more and more all the time about the positive impact outdoor environments can have on human health.  It’s well-documented, for example, that surgical patients recover more quickly when their room has a view of a green space.  This theory is being adopted across all industries and sectors, from healthcare to education and even corporate – organizations everywhere are investing in outdoor resources that can improve the physical and mental health of their people.  

Of course, this is nothing new in long-term care – many senior living environments already have private gardens and walkways, and outdoor activity programs for residents.  However, after a year of lockdowns we’re predicting that care homes will become much more proactive about bringing the outside in, particularly for residents who aren’t able to get out and about so much.

Biophilic design is one way care homes can do this.  Biophilic design describes the concept of increasing connectivity to the natural environment either directly, by bringing natural elements indoors, or indirectly, by replicating natural conditions in an indoor setting.  

This can be done using architectural design to maximise natural light or to allow a seamless transition from an internal to an outdoor space using bi-fold doors and step-free access.  It can also be done by bringing natural elements – such as ornamental trees, pot plants and even water features, into an interior setting.

Biophilic design can also be entirely man-made – care homes can use daylight bulbs to create a natural light effect in dark spaces, and the use of digitally-printed wall coverings can be a wonderful way to create a ‘room with a view’ even in an inner city setting.

Flexible spaces

When Covid-19 hit in March 2020, many care homes found themselves scrambling to create isolation bays in order to stop the spread of infection, or repurposing space to create additional patient capacity.

This idea of versatility and adaptability is something that’s likely to become a permanent features of care home settings.  While we all hope to never see a repeat of the last year’s events, pandemic preparedness and a more proactive approach to infection control will be central to the design of these interiors in the future.  

The addition of partition infrastructure – particularly curtain track and mobile privacy screens – gives care home interiors the ability to adapt quickly should the need arise.  This creative approach enables homes to add extra patient capacity in times of need, to isolate residents showing signs of infection – particularly in shared occupancy rooms or supported living apartments – and to make sure external visiting is as safe as possible.

Seamless cleanability

Care home interiors have always specified a more warm and domestic feel than hospitals, because this is proven to increase residents’ sense of attachment, which in turn can benefit their mental wellbeing and reduce the symptoms associated with conditions like dementia.  

To create this kind of ambience, designers rely heavily on interior finishes that are naturally tactile as well as having good acoustic properties, which is why care home environments often have an abundance of wood and textile finishes that you would never find in a more clinical setting.  But again, the events of the past 12 months have made it clear that these types of porous surface are also an infection risk for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.  As a result, care homes are already looking to replace fixtures like wooden handrail with a more cleanable alternative.

While it’s important to prioritise hygiene, it’s also vital for residents not to lose that feeling of warmth that makes a care setting really feel like home.  As a result, demand for faux wood finishes on handrail and wall protection has increased dramatically in recent months – a trend that looks set to continue.

Textiles are another key focus.  We’re already seeing more and more antimicrobial fabrics coming onto the market, particularly for items like privacy curtains that are subject to regular handling but aren’t easy to launder on a daily basis.

Overall, the design of care home interiors is becoming more complex; the more we know about the relationship between health and the built environment, and the more we understand about infection control, the more these spaces have to walk a fine line between ‘healthcare’ and ‘home’.  

At Belroc we have considerable expertise helping care homes to achieve their objectives on psychological and emotional wellbeing as well as physical health, while creating spaces that support clinical excellence and a safe, functional environment for residents and staff.

To discuss your next project, get in touch.