KEPHART was recently invited to participate in an ongoing conversation series hosted by The Eden Alternative – an international organization focused on creating a higher quality of life for Elders. The conversation surrounds the challenges senior living communities are facing as a result of COVID-19, ways to navigate through these tumultuous times and how together, we can create a better, new normal. We were inspired to see that senior living communities, even in times of struggle, continue to be a great solution for older adults and a space for them to create meaningful, healthy lives. We heard powerful, first-hand accounts from staff members and residents that occupy these communities about their needs – insight that will help us shape the way we design future senior living communities. Here is some of the feedback we heard:
What improvements would be helpful right now during the COVID-19 crisis?
– Staff members perform routine checks on residents at night and have to ‘gown-up’ and ‘un-gown’ upon entering and exiting a room. This often wakes residents from their sleep. We should consider adding interior windows from corridors with blinds to respect the privacy of the residents, while still allowing staff to observe their health and safety.
– Shared dining spaces are currently closed and residents are unable to dine together, though they still want and need interpersonal connection. In lieu of an indoor dining area, a courtyard or outdoor space could be converted into a socially-distanced space to dine, providing residents the opportunity to connect with other people and with nature. Creating opportunity for residents to easily access the outdoors is crucial, particularly in a time when personal connection is limited.
– Residents are isolated and lonely and are not currently able to be with their families. Staff members are looking for solutions to enable residents to safely visit with others. Are there design solutions that would allow for this type of interaction?
– Residents who are affected by COVID do not have a contained space to quarantine. This not only puts the individual but all other residents and staff members at risk. It was proposed by one community to turn a memory care wing into a quarantine neighborhood for these patients to help control spread of infection.
– Rather than responding reactively to situations like the COVID crisis, residents encouraged the architects to work with building code officials and trade associations to create proactive solutions to potential problems when designing a space.
What changes would you like to see architecturally?
– Residents expressed that they would like a space to be a balance of traditional and modern styles, with a lot of natural light. Their suggestions reiterated the importance of offering a connection to nature.
– Spaces that have the ability to adapt as a person’s abilities decline are desirable, as they would be able to stay in one home for a longer period of time.
What new ways are you seeing residents connecting with each other and team members right now?
– To maintain connection with one another, residents have been organizing daily Zoom gatherings, creating bird watching groups, or pulling chairs in front of their doors to play bingo, hear music and watch movies projected at the end of the hallway. Both staff and residents have been forced to get creative and have found inspiring ways to bring people together while maintaining safety and appropriate social distance.
Throughout our discussion, we were reminded that the individuals who occupy the spaces we design are our best source of feedback and inspiration. The insight they provide helps us become more thoughtful architects and create homes that promote healthy living and connection, even in a time of social distancing.
Watch the whole conversation below: