Understanding the needs of senior living facilities in order to specify the correct floorcoverings.

The face of senior care is changing. From new support for aging citizens to naturally occurring retirement communities, our society is becoming more creative about how to best support people as they age. Senior living organisations are continually innovating how they deliver care. As residents with dementia, including Alzheimer’s, become a larger segment of the population, senior living facilities are rushing to develop special care units and stand-alone facilities to address their needs.

An estimated 5.3 million Americans of all ages were estimated to have Alzheimer’s in 2015, including 5.1 million people age 65 and older. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, currently one in nine people age 65 and older (11%) and about one third of people 85 and older (35%) suffer from dementia. Longer life expectancies and the aging of the Boomers will increase these numbers rapidly. By 2025, the number of people 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to reach 7.1 million, a 40% increase from today’s numbers.

The increase in the development of memory care units is not entirely altruistic. These facilities are profitable and maintain high occupancy rates. They are being rapidly developed because the need exists. Assisted living is generally private pay, often offsetting losses that occur in the nursing care units due to lower Medicaid reimbursement and subsequent operating losses.

According to Ross Wilkoff, chairman of dementia services at Menorah Park Centre for Senior Living, “There are two groups of people in assisted living. Some are physically well and not mentally alert; some are mentally alert yet not physically well. These two groups are very different.” Flooring for memory care rides a line between the types typically used in assisted living and those required for a nursing environment, due to the higher level of perceptual issues in residents with dementia.

Flooring choices for any given area in a senior living environment present a balance of properties and trade-offs. In some situations, there is a clear case for soft or hard floorcovering. In others, it is a question of preference, and of balancing product attributes. Carpet tile is one example. It offers many key solutions, such as ease of maintenance and replaceability, and a range of wonderful looks, yet has the downside of seam permeability.

Starting from the ground up, the subfloor condition is key. According to Melinda Avila-Torio, associate and managing interior designer at THW, “In many cases our clients can’t afford to seal the concrete, which makes carpet tile not the best choice for areas with frequent incontinence episodes. There have been several projects where the owner specifically asked for carpet tile in certain areas. Collectively, we all discuss and review the pros and cons of the carpet tile solution. It is important to clearly understand where this product will perform the best for the operator.”

Memory care dining rooms, in many cases, will have hard surface flooring as opposed to soft. Yet an operator may want carpet for its acoustic properties and home-like feel. In this case, carpet tile presents a good solution. It is important to keep the dining rooms peaceful and quiet, both for ease of conversation during meals and for nutritional reasons (Alzheimer’s Association studies report that noisy dining spaces have been linked to reduced food intake). Resident rooms may use carpet with a moisture barrier or vinyl flooring. While sheet vinyl is very easy to clean and offers the visual warmth of a plank wood floor, LVT plank flooring in a wood visual is also a popular choice.

Owners often prefer porcelain tile for private bathrooms and public bathing or spa-like areas. However, many communities may not have the financial ability to purchase this hard surface flooring. Sheet flooring with slip resistant characteristics is a well-accepted alternative for bathroom environments. Typically, this is vinyl sheet flooring with an integrated base. Two colours of vinyl may be welded together so that the integral cove base has the appearance of traditional cove base, while helping the resident distinguish the edge of the walls and floor.

Colour & pattern

Colour requirements for assisted living memory care units are very similar to any senior environment. Typically the carpet is neutral overall, with low contrast combinations of light, clean shades. Jennifer McDermott and Joseph Hassel, associate principal and principal at Perkins Eastman, respectively, approach colour for memory care in a variety of different ways—keeping in mind changes in visual perception of the residents, using colour to create energy and excitement, and at the same time taking into account how the colour palette relates to outdoor views.

Although it is commonly known that perception changes with aging, memory care residents tend to have a more extreme degree of perceptual change. The most difficult colours to see are blue, turquoise and green. Avila-Torio always has her design team look at materials and colours through yellow tinted glasses when selecting both colour and pattern of floorcoverings. “Patterns can be interpreted as something else, increasing an unsafe feeling for the senior resident,” says Avila¬Torio. “When looking through the yellow film or squinting, one can see how colour appears and how the elderly may perceive the pattern. In most cases, soft organic patterns or linear striations may not create a lot of movement.”

High contrast in a pattern and strong borders are generally avoided, so that a resident does not fear tripping or falling into a “hole.” At the same time, some degree of colour contrast between flooring and cove base or baseboards can help a resident with dementia discern the edges of a room and feel more comfortable. In order to make sure the best flooring is chosen, designers need to determine that they have a large enough sample so they can try out material in the actual space that is occupied by staff and residents.

Many flooring manufacturers will work with the design team, sending these samples to the site so that the staff and residents can see them first hand and be able to move around on preliminary floor selections.

Sustainability in senior living

Sustainability is a key consideration when specifying materials. Designers and operators understand that the physical environment, especially for healthcare, is paramount to a successful delivery of care. They have also learned that manufacturers have raised the bar on product sustainability. Though communities may not be able to participate in pursuing LEED certification, design teams are committed to selecting products that offer a high quality of indoor air, ease of mobility and optimised maintenance regimes.

Acknowledgement and thanks go to www.floordaily.et for the information contained in this article.