The Future of Design for Aged Care

South Australia’s ageing population presents a multitude of opportunities, one of which is the increasing demand for more age-friendly infrastructure and tailored accommodation.

The way in which the industry approaches design and architecture to meet this need for more age-friendly infrastructure is a significant opportunity and the rhetoric around this is rapidly changing as the industry evolves. Design principals such as accessibility, flexibility, line of movement, layout and creativity are all coming to the forefront in the quest to ensure older people have the comforts and range of choices that they have always had throughout their lives.

When most people think about aged-care living and services, they don’t typically envisage cutting-edge design. But the reality is that service providers at the forefront of the industry are embracing technology and innovation in spades when it comes to independent living and respite accommodation.

This shift has partly resulted from the industry coming together to dispel dated myths about design trends in aged care. Simplistic and out-dated views – such as a ‘one size fits all’ approach and a perception that only younger people want to live in apartments – are fast becoming a thing of the past.

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Innovation and forward-thinking design is the only way to accommodate our rapidly growing ageing population especially with more and more people wanting to continue living independently and confidently in their own home as they age. Now, and rightly so, these philosophies revolve around a sense of community, connection with nature and environment, and of course aesthetic interior design.

Smart-assistive technology in aged care is also moving at the rate of knots and as a designer it is one of the first things we need to think about in a modern world. From pre-wiring retirement units for iPad apps to tailored environments for people living with dementia, there is so much to think about in order to future-proof our designs as much as possible.

At ECH, we recently completed a new retirement village at Warradale. The design principle for Warradale was to optimise resident independence and wellbeing. The homes achieved a ‘gold’ standard to meet the ‘Liveable Housing Design Guidelines’ and are all dementia friendly. This guideline ensured adequate circulation spaces to bathrooms, suitable clearance to doorways and corridors and a safe and continuous step free path of travel through the residence. Inclusion of smart-assistive technology was also included in the overall concepts and finalised design for Warradale.

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There’s more to good design than simply what goes inside the building’s four walls: the location and layout for new villages needs to be top of mind. They need to be close in proximity to shops and health services, seamlessly integrated into the local community and, of course, designed to be warm, friendly and inviting.

Ensuring villages are built in small clusters of eight to ten units also ensures they have an authentic neighbourhood feel and a sense of community while still providing privacy for residents.

This level of careful planning and design finesse also needs to extend to aged care facilities and respite accommodation.

Late last year ECH opened its first Overnight Respite Centre at Henley Beach, which is specifically designed to support the needs of people living with dementia. The custom-built centre provides 24-hour care from trained staff in a safe, modern and home-like environment.

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Designed and built in collaboration with a highly experienced dementia expert, the centre features six private bedrooms each with ensuite and equipped with personal alarms and smart-sensors to detect movement.

The facility includes visual cues throughout to assist with everyday tasks such as dressing, personal care, meals and making tea and coffee, while an easy to navigate floor plan reduces confusion and aids movement.

Understanding how a person living with dementia interacts with their physical surroundings is a key requirement in designing dementia-enabling environments. A well designed environment, planned with cognitive impairment in mind, can help maintain abilities and meaningful engagement by providing essential prompts, accessibility and reduce risks to support a person living with dementia.

Innovative design in aged care, whether it’s retirement villages or care facilities, can make a significant difference to a person’s independence, quality of life and wellbeing, ultimately encouraging them to lead a life as full as possible.

The design movement in aged care is providing resounding benefits throughout the community and I am very excited to see where it will lead in the coming years.

Damien Smith, ECH Design & Property Manager

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