In the recent years it is palpable the progressive aging of the population. Medicine and the improvement of the quality of life allow a person to enjoy an average of 15-20 years of retirement.
In 2015, 17% of Spanish people are over 65 years and it is expected that during the next 50 years this percentage will be increased to 37%.
The challenges of increasing the average age of the population in relation to development and maintenance of more stable economic and social society, are one of the main concerns of the developed countries and, in this sense, the World Assembly on Ageing established recently guidelines for action to achieve the objective of ensuring that society age in a dignified and safe manner.
As part of these conditions of dignity and security, creating quality spaces for the elderly appears, in which the architectural design takes a leading role.
The building types for the care and improvement of the quality of life of our seniors are varied and range from specialized medical centres, day centres, nursing homes or assisted living apartments that guarantee the independence of the individual.
In this sense, today we wanted to analyze the design of residential centres, both in public health centres mode and assisted living apartments, two booming types that have been implemented with great success in the United States for several decades and in the recent years are beginning to be implemented as an alternative in Europe and South America, where traditionally the care of the elderly remains at home.
Types of spaces and services for the elderly
Alternatives to home care -whether in a relative’s house or at our own home-are nursing homes and assisted living apartments, according to the level of dependence on the old person.
In both cases, as we shall see, the architecture and design of the spaces will play a key role in the welfare and quality of users’ life.
The assisted living apartments
Sheltered housing for older residential areas are maintaining the independence of the resident but enjoy a range of specialized services and for ensuring the safety and welfare of the user.
These centres may be located in the city centre and connected with the services of the city itself or be isolated units that have their own services such as supermarket, hairdresser or medical assistance. In both cases the common areas will play an essential role in the formation of a stable community of residents.
The houses are designed to be comfortable and safe, thinking of retired or close to retirement that “elderly” or elders can not sit people; they are active and seek a pleasant and safe place to spend a few months a year or live permanently.
The design of the spaces as well as being fully adapted, takes into account natural lighting and ventilation, especially in common areas, and the creation of shaded outdoor areas for easy outdoor activity for most people.
The supervised apartments also can be adapted to the physical requirements of each case, such as housing for people with impaired vision, hearing or motor skills.
In all cases, supervised apartments are designed for people with a certain level of independence and may be connected to a residence for dependents that allows the tenant to maintain his residence in the same complex should go to need temporary or permanent assistance in their daily lives.
The health centres
The health centres differ from sheltered accommodation as to the autonomy of its members.
In the supervised apartments we find people with absolute independence to perform daily tasks of hygiene, food and even are able to carry more complex market activities.
In the health centres, the situation is of greater dependence and requires the continued assistance of medical professionals and nursing. The technical requirements of this type of design centres and the applicable rules are similar to those of a hospital.
As for types of centres, they differ depending on the time and the conditions under which shall assist the elderly.
On the one hand, hospitals and day centres for people with a certain level of autonomy, requiring prompt attention but after returning to the family home may appear.
Then there are nursing homes or long-term, in which users remain 24 hours a day and require a comprehensive space planning day and night.
What key aspects in the design value of health centres?
As with any project of architecture, design of a welfare centre requires assessment of multiple aspects, from the urban integration in the urban core to energy efficiency or finished materials and furniture.
Today we, however, focus on those key aspects that will make a difference in relation to the quality of life for users in the centre and are the indoor environment and the psychology of space, see in detail each of them:
The indoor environment
The lighting is always a key factor in any architectural design, but is especially relevant in environments where they reside sick, sensitive or aged people.
First, it is essential that there be input from direct sunlight in rooms and in common areas. Is not only important to open the windows for solar heat on the skin, it is also necessary direct contact with the outside through the design of gardens, walking areas and paths along sunny spaces.
For its part, the sunscreen will also be important to ensure comfort, the whole contribution of light and solar heat needs to be controlled through window guards to ensure proper lighting and radiation in both summer and winter as well as in the outdoor spaces should be provided with shaded areas to rest.
Another factor to consider in relation to the sun’s radiant heat, a renewable energy source that is optimal for space heating and also will mean energy savings.
A level of artificial lighting, as long as we talk about health centres is important to ensure various types of lighting, depending on the activity. In this type of indirect lighting prioritize centres and points of light for reading activities, manuals and other works.
With regard to ventilation, you remember that older people tend to reduce their lung capacity and thus the supply of oxygen to the blood, which is essential to keep active and awake.
For this reason, it is necessary to ensure continuous air renewal remembering that a person needs 30 to 60 m3 of air per hour.
In the case of health centres it may be advisable to install a mechanical ventilation system, which can be through a heat exchanger system-a high energy- efficiency or through an automatic opening windows to generate fast and effective cross ventilation .
Finally, in relation to the temperature, it is best to maintain a relatively low temperature to keep active. This does not mean that the user get cold, because the bottom line will be to ensure comfort, but it can be regulated by zones according to the needs of users and that, especially in the areas of day, prioritize the contribution of solar heat or radiant heat and keep a comfortable temperature about 22 degrees.
It is important to consider the feelings conveyed by the space either through materials, colours or spatial distribution.
Think spaces for seniors is to think simple and easily recognizable spaces, given that we are designing for people who have reduced their powers and their mental, visual or sound sharpness.
You also need to remember that a home is not a hospital and that is where many will spend years of his life. People who live there identify the space as their own home and this should be taken into account in the choice of finishes and furnishings as many of these centres are more like long-stay hospitals to residential centres.
One should think holistically space valuing not only the health, hygiene and safety factors but they will get the resident feel at home.
Another important aspect in relation to the psychology of space will be receiving spaces resident visiting family and relationship with the rest of the urban environment.
It is important not only to promote spaces that allow the centre to present an open and welcoming place, with common spaces for community activities such as gardening or a civic and community activities centre architectural level.
From home only we took over 25 years designing hospitals and our experience in design environments for older people has led us to understand the need for the involvement and joint work of developers, designers and the community where they will locate the centre residential to ensure project success.