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Hospital & Agedcare - Oct 23, 2014

Aged care and mental health: the design crossover

Interview with by Cath Muhlebach, Senior Associate

“It’s a problem when you look at facilities, particularly those that cater for dementia, when boredom can aggravate residents’ conditions, which can lead to aggression, depression and unhappiness.”

Caring for the mental health needs for residents in age care facilities is vital and is increasingly expected by consumers, says an industry design expert. According to Senior Associate Cath Muhlebach from Melbourne architecture firm ClarkeHopkinsClarke, it is now imperative for age care providers to consider how to design their facilities factoring in mental health considerations.

“Operators are now increasingly needing to deliver their services within a more desirable environment, and one that caters for the whole person, including their mental and physical needs,” Ms Muhlebach said.

“There is and always will be a strong demand for high quality physical care but increasingly in age care we are designing and catering for the emotional and mental health needs of residents.”

The design of age care and mental facilities requires an intimate understanding of the experiences of all users. She said the most popular and vibrant facilities not only have high quality architectural design but also provide mental and physical care within a sensitive and stable environment. Management of basic services, utilities, the time and energy of staff and suppliers must be successfully accommodated in the design. But so too must resident mental health.

“Operators and architects are increasingly collaborating to create more vibrant communities that better support the emotional and ‘whole person needs’ of residents. 

“Quality building design is one point of difference that is helping create an improved sense of place and belonging, and moving with community expectations of mental health is a large factor in community function.”

“Considered design can reduce the unease felt by residents as they transition into a less familiar environment. Quality design can present them with a variety of lifestyle options in which they can establish new school connections.”

October marks Mental Health month when we consider broadly how to best support patients in hospital and age care settings.
Ms Muhlebach said the increased focus on the mental and physical wellbeing of residents reflects the growing understanding of mental illness in the wider community.
She said community perceptions had led to an increase in consumer influence on architecture and building for age care resulting in an emerging expectation of hotel like services. 

“Anyone in any community likes to be inspired and delighted, and residents of age/or mental health care communities are no different,” she said.

“Once it may have been taboo to openly talk about mental health in the wider community or the age care sector, but thankfully now there is a sensitivity and understanding of how built environments must cater to both the body and the mind.”

Services such as meal upgrades, broader digital entertainment options and social activity areas are considerations operators are increasingly demanding architects incorporate into building designs. 

“We now, more than ever, have to design shared and private spaces which offer opportunities for engagement, excitement and community interactions, “she said.
Ms Muhlebach said lifestyle experiences such as cafes, sport bars and hairdresses, and manicure and pedicure services within facilities were emerging as a key point of difference for the discerning needs of residents. 

“Facilities can provide a link for a vibrant community to exist, and allow for a varied and happy life,” she said. 

“Providers of these services are turning to architectural design to support and enrich their resident’s lives rather than just looking to boost nursing care standards.”

Ms Muhlebach said Prom Country’s Men Shed program was one example where a purposefully designed facility enables gatherings of residents and for purposeful activities, which benefit the emotional and mental health of residents. 

“There are shared experiences which people value and remember, rather than just the delivery of a standardized purely physical care they can get in their room.”

“The reality of age care is a variety of services are provided to a broad range of residents, some may be physically declining but mentally alert and others may be affected by conditions such as dementia.” 

“It’s a problem when you look at facilities, particularly those that cater for dementia, when boredom can aggravated residents’ conditions, which can lead to aggression, depression and unhappiness.” 

“This applies to any community but perhaps by age care facilities creating a desirable and varied environment, providers can nurture mental health to the degree we understand it should be.”

“it’s crucial to care for the whole person, and with a strategic approach to the planning and design of age care and independent living facilities we have the potential to deliver many long-term benefits to residents, staff and operators.”


March, 2019