Jauson Almer, Director of Design, Arthur Shuster Interiors

What is active aging?  It can mean many things to different people.  The International Council on Active Aging explains it this way: “[One] can change the way we age by staying active, to the fullest extent possible, within all areas of life: physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, professional, environmental and social.  Aging within these dimensions of wellness keeps us involved, alert and enjoying a productive life.”

In designing senior living communities, I’ve come to understand that environmental and social are two very important dimensions.  Residents need to feel safe and supported in their community living environment so they feel comfortable venturing out of their personal living space.

By placing an increased emphasis on the social aspects of living, seniors gather more often and are more physically active.  A combination of staff supported programming and interior design can help facilitate this.

Safe and supportive environments incorporate comforting details of home while reinforcing a sense of security for residents.  Wayfinding cues help those who might feel intimidated by spaces they cannot easily navigate.

I often develop color schemes around flooring to use as a visual identification system.  I don’t use strong pattern contrast in carpet, as that could give residents a sense of disorientation.  Also, using a dark colored flooring next to a light one could be perceived as a hole or step hindering mobility for those with restricted vision and poor depth perception.

We all know that flush transitions from one flooring material to another helps prevent tripping, but it’s good to put this in practice.  Remember that high gloss flooring is often seen as slippery. Plus, as people age, shiny surfaces become less tolerable since the eye is less able to adapt to the change of lighting.  Fear of falling can immobilize an older person.

It’s no secret that social gathering encourages activity.  And senior living communities offer great potential for many different gathering spaces, from large rooms for group events to small intimate spaces for families and friends.  Fitness areas promote movement and wellness.  Different dining destinations offer residents a choice — whether it be a large dining room or small café/bistro.

I like to break up large spaces with a change of flooring materials to create smaller gathering areas.  It’s also good to use different patterns of carpet in smaller spaces to define one space from another. Fiber construction for cleanability and moisture barrier backing for incontinence are critical to the selection and design of carpet, depending on the level of care needed and type of activities in an area.

The challenge for senior living communities is to combine both living and care functions.  I’m convinced that subtle cues in the flooring and interior design can have a big impact on helping seniors preserve their independence as long as possible.
Opportunities for meaningful engagement will be missed if residents are anxious about getting out into the community in which they live.  That’s why the need for spaces and activities that encourage active aging is paramount to preserving quality of life as people age.  Nobody wants to get old, but Robert Browning said, “Grow old with me!  The best is yet to be.”

Jauson Almer is Director of Design for Arthur Shuster Interiors in St. Paul, MN. She has specialized in the field of senior living design for 20 years and began her career with Arthur Shuster Interiors in 1996. Jauson joined Encompass Interiors in 2005 and has recently made 
the move back to Arthur Shuster Interiors. She has been a Certified Interior Designer in the State of Minnesota since 2007. www.shusterinteriors.com

The Villa at Suffield Meadows | Warrenton, VA
Changing the flooring pattern with the same material serves as a wayfinding cue and delineates the corridor from the dining room while avoiding high color contrast.

The Villa at Suffield Meadows | Warrenton, VA
Carpet insets within luxury vinyl plank flooring define smaller seating areas within a large space and creates multiple gathering spaces.