Decorating can ease the transition into assisted living.
Helping someone move into an assisted living facility can be an emotionally fraught experience. Collaborating with loved ones to decorate their new living quarters in a way that helps protect their physical safety and boost their emotional outlook can assist them in their transition, says Julia Bailey, a senior associate and interior design project manager with Denver-based OZ Architecture. “Moving into assisted living often can feel like a loss of independence and privacy for your loved one, but thoughtful interior design can go a long way toward improving happiness and well-being for the resident, as well as improving overall functionality of the new living space,” Bailey says.
Here are 11 assisted living decorating tips that can improve safety and boost the mood of your loved one.
1. Involve your loved one in design details.
It may seem most helpful to prepare the new living space for your loved one before he or she moves in, Bailey says. Instead of decorating unilaterally, involve the incoming resident in the process of personalizing the space. “Give the resident some say over which photos, keepsakes and personal items to move to their new residence, and where to place them once they arrive,” she says. “Letting your loved one help with the smaller aspects of designing his or her new space can help increase their sense of involvement, pride and ownership of their new home.”
2. Remove potential fall hazards.
There are some basic specific things you can do to improve safety in an assisted living unit, says Teri Dreher, a registered nurse who’s president of NShore Patient Advocates, LLC in Chicago. She notes that some elderly people have trouble keeping their balance. “A flat, even surface is key to keeping falls to a minimum,” Dreher says. “For elderly people who might have balance issues, it doesn’t take much to cause a tumble.” She recommends keeping floors free of throw rugs that could present trip hazards, and installing hand railings wherever possible to make getting around easier. Color code the edge of steps with brightly colored tape for greater visibility.
3. Promote a home-like environment.
To promote a more home-like environment, remove harsh lighting when possible, and instead use pretty lamps, advises Rita Mabli, president and chief executive officer of United Hebrew of New Rochelle, a campus of elder care, including two assisted living facilities in Westchester County, New York. “In areas where overhead lighting is necessary for safety, we like to use dimmers so we’re able to adjust to softer and more calming light,” Mabli says. “We also include accents like throw pillows in different patterns and textures, which add a nice, tactile experience.”
4. Include personal touches.
“Adding your own personal touches will improve your happiness in any space where you will be spending a lot of time — an office, a dorm room and certainly an assisted living space,” Bailey says. Personalizing the space to trigger memories is an important part of improving a resident’s mood and should be one of the first things you do, she says. Personal items can include photos, artwork and awards — any item that holds sentimental value for the resident.
5. Organize to promote convenience.
Designing spaces that are convenient can improve the mood of residents, and make it easier for them to function day to day, Bailey says. “Make sure the resident has easy access to the exterior environment or community spaces shared with others,” Bailey says. “Also, think carefully about the layout and furniture placement in the space — make sure rooms and hallways are easy to navigate.” Many people who move into an assisted living facility have health concerns related to their mobility, memory or vision, she says. “You can help ease these challenges with thoughtful interior design,” Bailey explains. For example, items that are used on a regular basis should be placed on easy-to-reach shelves that don’t require bending or stretching. For people with memory loss, consider cabinets on glass doors, so the resident can readily locate stored items.
6. Consider firm chairs and sofas.
Sofas and chairs should provide a more firm seat that will allow residents to easily get in and out of a chair or love seat and help reduce the risk for falls, says Chelsea Rolf, an interior designer with Medline Industries Inc., which manufactures and distributes medical supplies. The company and Rolf are based in Northfield, Illinois. “Additionally, recliners should be upholstered in (stain-resistant fabric) or a vinyl.” Stain-resistant fabric offers a moisture barrier backing and a top finish that aids in preventing soils and liquids from seeping into the fabric or cushion beneath, Rolf says. Vinyl is easy to clean and, if used correctly, prevents liquids from spills from passing into the upholstery.
7. Think about including a power recliner.
A power recliner will make life easier for an assisted living resident, Dreher says. A piece of furniture that lifts a user to a standing position can be especially helpful when illness or injury makes it difficult for a resident to get in and out of a chair on his or her own. For example, if you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, joint stiffness may make it difficult to get up and down, and the condition can decrease your range of motion. “The chair the resident already has may be a favorite, but with age they may become weak to the point that using leg muscles to push a recliner closed can be nearly impossible,” Dreher says. “Better to stick with an electric version that includes a battery backup in case the power goes out.”
8. Make the bathroom safer.
Watery and slippery bathroom surfaces are accidents waiting to happen, Dreher says. “Install non-slip tiles on bathroom floors and add slip-proof decals to tubs or showers,” she advises. “A sturdy set of grab bars are also a good idea for the shower.” Many assisted living facilities are outfitted with bathroom grab bars. Consider a raised toilet seat to help residents stand up, Dreher says. People who have weakness in their legs might have difficulty getting up from a low seat. If the bathroom isn’t outfitted with a raised toilet seat, you can ask for a home visit by an occupational therapist, who can make recommendations to improve independence and safety. The occupational therapist may recommend the addition of a raised toilet seat and other adaptations.
9. Be mindful of electronic cords.
Electronic devices and entertainment are important to have when one moves into an assisted living community, says Dawn Rivera, sales manager for St. John’s, a full-service senior care provider in Rochester, New York. St. John’s provides a wide array of services, including enhanced assisted living, nursing home care and programs for people with dementia. “Daily news, programs or radio shows are often the only consistent audio stimulation seniors have before moving into a community,” Rivera says. “Take the electronics (to the assisted living facility), but make sure to hide the cords. Multiple cords from electronic devices can often create tripping hazards and fall risks for seniors. Not only can their footing get caught, but medical equipment such as walkers, scooters, wheelchairs, and canes can also hit a cord and cause a fall.” To lower the risks of falls, adhere electronic cords to the wall with mounted strips or find a stylish basket to keep them in.
10. Consider voice-control technology.
It’s important for assisted living facility residents to be able to control the cooling and heating settings in their home, Rivera says. Consider investing in devices that let the resident control his or her heating and cooling settings by using an electronic device or his or her voice. For example, a product like a Nest Learning Thermostat allows you to change thermostat settings using your cellphone, laptop or tablet. You can combine this kind of device with an Echo Dot (which includes the ubiquitous voice of Alexa) to control your settings using your voice, Rivera says. “With voice control, a resident doesn’t need to keep getting up to adjust the temperature control and can rest comfortably in the desired heating or cooling setting,” she says.
11. Leave space to entertain.
Create a small seating area where you can have a guest, says Jennifer DiOrio, assisted living director at Glenmere at Cloverwood Senior Living, an assisted living facility in Rochester, New York. Providing such space can encourage social interaction, which can help fight loneliness. The space can also be used to display photos of family or awards that are important to the resident. “Special, meaningful photos, mementos and awards are what provide comfort and a piece of home for the individual,” she says. These are the items that will stimulate or encourage conversation and can help fight loneliness, she says. “Socializing with old friends and new, as well as family members, by welcoming them to their new home can provide a sense of pride and comfort in their new space,” she says.
Here are 11 assisted living decorating tips:
— Involve your loved one in design details.
— Remove potential fall hazards.
— Promote a home-like environment.
— Include personal touches.
— Organize to promote convenience.
— Consider firm chairs and sofas.
— Think about including a power recliner.
— Make the bathroom safer.
— Be mindful of electronic cords.
— Consider voice control technology.
— Leave space to entertain.
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