Key design strategies help make senior living facilities feel more like home

By Kris Cotharn  

Creating a space that doesn’t just feel like home, but is home to residents, is a challenge design teams face on every senior living project – largely because such facilities require medical equipment reminiscent of a hospital. I’ve worked on several such projects – independent living, acute- and long-term care facilities, etcetera – all of which have different requirements that pose challenges. However, three general strategies can help owners elevate any senior living project from being just a care facility to a place where residents can settle in and be at home.  

1. Lighting for function and individuals

A variety of lighting options can create the ideal environment for a comfortable, functional room. Using task lighting with workspace controls for caregivers helps them read charts and administer medication during the night shift. Designing built lighting, instead of using portable lamps, creates a comfortable environment for residents that is easy to manage. Tunable white lighting controls the color temperature of lighting that can positively affect patient health by reducing stress and anxiety, regulating sleep patterns, and minimizing the symptoms of sundowners (a state of confusion or anxiety that occurs in the afternoon and evening).  Mindful lighting not only enhances the home, but helps it function for residents and caregivers.  

2. Make systems invisible  

By making medical functionality and systems inconspicuous, seniors can entertain their visitors in a residential setting while receiving the care they need. Spaces can be designed that fully function to provide the care and services the residents need without the continuous awareness that they are being monitored. For example, some senior living facilities send text messages to caregivers for patient alerts or use nurse call lighting that blends in with the décor rather than using a PA system to communicate needs of the residents. 

3. Give seniors control & access  

Allowing seniors to have control over their environment, such as the ability to adjust the room temperature, can return a sense of dignity and independence as well as individual preferences for comfort. Additionally, providing access to outdoor gardens (that are gated and have clear, well-lit pathways) can help restless patients find reprieve in a safe, natural space free of walls.   

These three simple strategies pave the way toward creating a space that eases a person’s transition into a senior living facility – one that feels like a home rather than a healthcare facility.  

Watch a two-minute video Q&A with Senior Living Market Leader Kris Cotharn and visit IMEG’s Senior Living market page.