It’s About the Residents, or Is It?

Of course it is about the residents!

Every person involved in the senior living industry, whether it be a marketing director, caregiver or housekeeper, has to have a passion for the senior resident, or else their work is just like any other meaningless job.

The Assisted Living Federation of America’s (ALFA) supports the unique philosophy that distinguishes assisted living from other long term care options. The goal of assisted living is to both provide resident-centered care, and provide that care in a residential setting. The philosophy provides residents freedom of choice, independence, and the opportunity to live; aging with dignity, privacy and respect. In contrast to other long term care options, Assisted Living embraces quality of life as well as quality of care, and supports the resident’s decision to live and die in the place they call home.

Manse on Marsh, San Luis Obispo CA

We don’t live in “facilities” we live in a home, in a community, in a neighborhood. I literally cringe when I hear the term “facility” used to describe where our seniors reside. Wikipedia’s definition of facility: A commercial or institutional building, such as a hotel, resort, school, office complex, sports arena, or convention center. Certainly not where I would like to live, how about you?

Our environment influences every aspect of our life from the moment that we are born. Many studies have been completed on how the interior environment affects our psychological, sociological and physical well being. An interior designer must take into consideration the individuality of various occupants of an environment; their likes, dislikes and personal histories. Understanding that a senior living community is comprised of residents from varying backgrounds and lifestyles; with similar and dissimilar health risks and health requirements are key to good design. How then, can an environment be designed to appeal to every resident? The reactive answer is that it can’t. But of course it can; if designed with the resident in mind.

Thoma-Holec Design is often asked to design a community with a specific theme: Tuscan, territorial, country, modern, etc. Typically this theme is established by a group of individuals who will never live in the community, but represent other interests: the builder, developer or management team. The theme may have been established from the demographics of the surrounding area assuming that the particular style would appeal to the residents. But, not all residents will have the same demographic, social economic status, education level, or life experience. Not all will be comfortable in the environment that their next door neighbor prefers. Each person is an individual with individual tastes and desires.

Design is always subjective, always moving, always changing. Themes come and go, styles change with the economy. Why then, would we expect our senior residents to be comfortable in an environment that is trendy today, or a color scheme that fits the climate in another region, or a theme that intrigues the developer?

Manse on Marsh, San Luis Obispo CA

As a designer I have the opportunity to tour a multitude of communities in all states and cities. Often I see a theme that has been established and that theme is contiguous throughout the community. The same carpet and style of furniture is carried throughout three floors of the building. Multiple lounges and common areas are available for the residents to enjoy and utilize, but all with the same color scheme, furniture style and finishes package. If a resident is uncomfortable with the theme or color scheme, there isn’t a location to enjoy other than their own apartment.

A creative and motivated interior designer will take the opportunity to vary the theme, change the colors, and invigorate the space with new themes and destination locations throughout the building. Creating a ladies lounge in appropriate colors, a masculine sports lounge with the favorite team memorabilia, a theater in a classic style, a bistro that is lively and socializing will require thought and research.

After all, it IS about the residents, isn’t it?