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Reimagining aged care environments: Design impacts residents’ well-being

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Design flaws in Australian nursing homes are adversely affecting residents’ health and quality of life, leading to increased isolation and preference for personal rooms.

The design of Australian nursing homes is taking a toll on the health and quality of life of residents, according to a study by QUT researchers. The research reveals that a significant number of residents prefer spending long hours alone in their rooms rather than engaging in social activities in communal areas.

Conducted by industrial design researchers from QUT School of Design in collaboration with Dr Claire Craig from Sheffield Hallam University, UK, delved into the experiences of residents and staff in nursing homes in Australia and the United Kingdom. The team partnered with LifeCare Furniture, which funded the study, to use designs to enhance the living environment and overall well-being of aged care facility residents.

Professor Thea Blackler of QUT highlighted that the studies focused on the significance of personal possessions and environmental design in residents’ efforts to feel “at home” in aged care, and how these factors affected their quality of life. The research underscored the influence of personal possessions on residents’ identities and the impact of communal area design on their willingness to spend time there.

One particular aspect explored was the attachment residents had to their chairs and personal belongings when transitioning into nursing homes. The study found that personal chairs held high value for residents, regardless of their design suitability.

However, safety assessments conducted by staff were necessary before residents could retain their personal chairs. Issues related to the arrangement and functionality of recliner chairs and footrests also arose, with considerations needed to mitigate risks such as falls and deep vein thrombosis.

The research sheds light on the tendency of residents to retreat to their rooms for extended periods, only venturing into communal areas for scheduled activities or events.

Factors contributing to this isolation included cleanliness concerns in communal areas and layouts that impeded conversation and failed to create a homely atmosphere. The study emphasised the need for improved design and personalisation options in both private and communal spaces, allowing residents to maintain their sense of identity and truly feel “at home” in the facility.

The findings have already spurred action, with LifeCare Furniture developing a new furniture system to address the issue of easily changeable, hygienic chair coverings. Their collaboration with QUT aims to create comfortable, safe, and home-like furniture for people residing in aged care homes. The research team’s work contributes to the ongoing efforts to enhance the well-being and quality of life of aged care facility residents.

The study, titled “Making a ‘home’ into a home: How design of aged-care homes impacts residents,” was published in the Journal of Aging Studies. The research team comprised Professor Thea Blackler, Dr Claire Brophy and Dr Fatima Kamali from QUT’s School of Design and School of Information Systems, respectively.

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