Constructing care

Care homes have been a hot topic of late, with the quality of care and patient safety taking centre stage, says Steve Watts, regional director of building services at Patrick Parsons

Due to the ageing population of the UK, the sector has seen a significant amount of change in how care home facilities are designed and built to ensure they can provide high quality residential care for the elderly and people with dementia for years to come.

We have recently been heavily involved in a number of multi-million pound care home developments around the country for dementia sufferers, and have experienced first-hand how a variety of bespoke features are being cleverly worked into these developments. Many are looking externally for expert advice, bringing on board leading clinical advisors as well as interior designers to provide consultancy services.

The incorporation of these bespoke features is intended to aid the memory and quality of life of those suffering with dementia. Spaces are now being designed as ‘memory lane communities’ for residents, featuring old photos of the Queen and Union Jack-themed furniture to provoke memories and encourage them to reminisce with others of a similar age, and that’s just one of the key changes taking place to the interior design of care homes.

For example, corridors - which have traditionally been painted in bland colours - have been transformed as a result of research that shows the positive effects of brighter tones. In new care home developments, bedroom doors are being painted in the same colour as residents' front doors at home, helping them to settle into their surroundings and making it more likely they will be able to recognise which room is theirs.

Other features that help residents to feel at home include en-suite bedrooms – with views of the gardens and homely additions to the bathroom such as pictures of boats and sponges hanging up – Sky TV in rooms, access to computers and relaxing background music. There are also quiet lounges, hairdressers and restaurants on-site, plus sensory gardens and kitchens where residents can cook and cooking classes are hosted for the paying public. Family members can even stay over, with the idea being for residents to feel completely at ease and not as if they are in either a hotel or clinical environment.

There is also a great deal of new technology being implemented to ensure the safety of care home residents and to reassure families that their relative is being well looked after. These include pressure plates that go off if residents get out of bed, sensors that monitor movement around the room, alarms on doors that sound if someone ventures out of their bedroom during the night and step-free access throughout.

Door codes around the care home are often disguised by incorporating them within pictures hung next to the doors, allowing staff in and out but preventing residents from accidentally or intentionally leaving the building.

In addition to the above developments, there is now a strong emphasis on sustainability and energy efficiency in care homes. Use of environmentally-friendly materials is key, as is the use of renewable and natural resources such as daylight, solar energy and free cooling techniques.

The market is becoming more and more ‘premium’, with care homes being much improved over the past few years and now far better than the impression that many people still have of them. For the cost being commanded for care home residency, families are expecting the accommodation to be of high quality and want to be confident that their loved ones will be comfortable and looked after in their new surroundings.

With even more studies being commissioned into dementia care services, I believe that this trend is set to continue. The priority is to ensure residents are safe, happy and encouraged to keep active, so I’m sure we will see even more groundbreaking features being incorporated into new developments over the coming years in order to achieve this.

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