Aged care shouldn't mirror hospitals rather than homes

Hamilton Wilson is managing director of Wilson Architects and Adjunct Professor at the University of Queensland.

TT: It seems as if the perception of seniors 'housing has often been about merely about where to 'park' the elderly for their supposed twilight years.???

HW: Well, it's no secret that Australia has an ageing population and it is clear that as the country's median age increases, so too do the expectations of high-quality design, comfort and community living. The built environment now plays a vital role in the future of seniors living design - a future that doesn't compromise lifestyle. When designing a seniors living project, we need to understand we're designing someone's home - places we'd like to live in, want our families to live in, or we'd like to visit.

TT: Have we concentrated on the health aspects of aging????

HW: Too often, aged care environments emphasise the efficiency of care provision to the detriment of occupant experience. These aren't mutually exclusive - as architects, we must provide an environment where technology, furnishing and materiality facilitate all care functions, while creating an environment that feels just like home. The latest education market research shows students value a sense of community and a feeling of belonging more than almost anything else when choosing a university. This is no different for seniors moving into aged care.

TT: What can be done in terms of design????

HW: Our proposed new aged care development with Aspire Aged Care, indicates the growing need for high-quality design and community living. At the core of our design is a communal building, which connects to a series of elegant, domestic-scaled residential buildings. We've undertaken extensive research into dementia care, and have incorporated this into our design. An example includes landscape walks specifically designed for dementia sufferers, revolving around particular scents, colours and patterns. The use of greenery is also highly effective. Patients with dementia often experience confusion in highly disorienting environments such as hospitals and aged care facilities. Effective landscape design creates a space that reduces stress in these patients, and evokes a sense of serenity, calm and gentle engagement.

TT: is there science behind these concepts????

HW: Indeed, evidence-based dementia design emphasises the importance of wayfinding, simplicity and familiarity, and engaging the senses with colour, touch, texture, smell and sound. Studies show that even images alone of greenery are proven to produce a soothing effect in stressful situations. Blood pressure, brain activity, respiration rate, and the production of stress hormones all decrease. The ability to integrate nature through gardens or views to gardens has been shown to reduce stress and improve the cohesion of mind, body, and spirit.

TT: Aged care facilities are often banished to the fringes of cities where space is at less of a premium, is this sustainable?

HW: Increasing concern within society with urban densification has led to an increasing trend towards high-rise models for advanced aged care (including dementia). Many forward-thinking aged-care providers are already integrating seniors into inner-city and suburban centres as well as around schools.

TT: so what will we see in design in the future????

HW: Baby boomers will no longer tolerate residential care environments that mirror hospitals rather than homes. Rather, they seek aged care that will support them to live a normal life, and remain active within their communities. Technology will also improve elderly support without being intrusive and allow a real sense of independence and dignity.

Tony Trobe is director of the local practice TT Architecture. Is there a planning or design issue in Canberra you'd like to discuss? Email tonytrobe@ttarchitecture.com.au

This story Aged care shouldn't mirror hospitals rather than homes first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.