Understand the design elements that help create the perfect care home in 2022


Due to rapid advances in medical science, we are all living longer and the need to accommodate a Aging of the population will inevitably lead to the need to build more retirement homes in the coming decades.

With a growing body of research supporting what an optimal retirement home should look like, what elements should be considered for a project starting from scratch with a clean slate?

Like many things in life, there is no single silver bullet, but rather a variety of contributions and ideas that key stakeholders, ranging from planners to architects and developers, can bring to the table to ensuring that older people moving into residential care can make the most of their twilight years.

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“Location, location, location” is a well-understood precept in real estate circles and it remains just as valid when selecting the ideal care facility as it is for newlyweds buying their first home.

Unfortunately for potential residents, the default option for developers looking to build new facilities is often to opt for out-of-town greenfield sites, as this allows for the creation of familiar and predictable modular designs.

The downside is that it can cause more jolts for the resident faced with the already difficult decision to leave their existing home and leave them feeling cut off from friends, family and local amenities.

One potential solution for developers is more precise targeting of adaptive reuse projects in urban centers where existing structures are repurposed to create new care facilities.

Not only is this a more environmentally friendly approach, but it can reduce development costs that need to be recouped and maintain a connection to the community.

WJW, a Chicago-based architectural firm specializing in research-based design for populations with disabilities, took this concept one step further in its recent renovation project of the dilapidated former Ravenswood Hospital structure located in the Chicago neighborhood of the same name.

The facility, which opened last year, not only offers state-of-the-art amenities for seniors, but the project has also taken advantage of a law recently passed in Illinois to significantly ease the sometimes painful transition for residents transitioning to senior care.

Under the new legislation, assisted living facilities can be shared with other types of accommodation provided certain parameters, such as separate entrances, are met.

One of the first such projects nationwide, there are provisions for independent living on the upper floors with assisted living occupying the lower floors.

If a resident reaches a point where they need more hands-on care, they can easily move to the other part of the building with minimal disruption while still retaining the tremendous benefit of familiar surroundings and location.

Heidi Wang, partner at WJW, says, “These days, those who move into senior care for the first time still want to participate in their usual community life. They don’t want to be in an old mall on the outskirts of town or in the cornfields because that’s the only new building land available.

She continues: “I think more and more consumers are going to demand these kinds of places. We’re seeing it more and more in the marketplace where older people want to be in more walkable communities.

Understandably, not all large urban sites will be viable for adaptive reuse and Wang says the company must use its expertise to separate the wheat from the chaff – often rejecting more proposals from city officials than they are. accept.

Nevertheless, she is convinced that property developers for the aged care sector need to start being more innovative and open-minded.

“We attend the Environments for Aging conference every year and it’s a meeting full of like-minded professionals trying to advance the cause.

“Ultimately, however, we are not the funders of these projects. We can have all the best ideas in the world, but if the developer doesn’t see the value or understand the ROI, then it falls on deaf ears. It’s our job to show them what the positive impact can be,” says Wang.

It’s what’s inside that counts

Of course, choosing the ideal location and transitional arrangements is only half the battle and WJW has also undertaken extensive research into interior design elements that promote the most accessible living experience possible.

As Todd Wiltse, another WJW partner, explains, “There have been layers and layers of legislation affecting the lives of older people that have been developed since the 1960s, but it’s about recognizing that this is not It’s just a starting point,” says Wiltse.

“Of course we have to comply, but they don’t begin to address the complex spectrum of issues that older people in assisted living might face in managing and manipulating their environment.”

Here the devil is really in the details and could incorporate more obvious provisions like how to evenly disperse the lifts so that some residents don’t have to walk long distances to the sensible placement of the grab bars and inclined rails.

Other elements, particularly related to residents experiencing cognitive difficulties, are much less tangible.

For example, Wang says he observed on one project that some residents found the shadows cast in the dining room by the tree branches outside disturbing.

She also refers to the fact that even something as innocuous as choosing the wrong piece of artwork, like a pattern that might look like crawling snakes or the wrong texture on a piece of furniture, can have unintended consequences.

Wang emphasizes the importance of diligent research and observation:

“The only way to understand what works is to go back and see for ourselves how people use the space we’ve designed and sit down and talk with residents and staff. With Covid we have been restricted in our access to occupied buildings but hopefully we can return as soon as possible,” she says.

With continued advances in connected care, health monitoring using wearable devices, and voice activation through the proliferation of low-cost consumer units like Amazon Alexa, it is unlikely that the workload decreases anytime soon.

The way society cares for those who have given the most over a long life will continue to evolve and change. More predictably, the best starting point will always be that when the time comes to take the step, they find themselves in the most accessible, supportive and welcoming environment possible.


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