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Could Architecture Be the Next Frontier for Senior Healthcare?

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Like any other facility where individuals who suffer from contagious illness reside, retirement communities and nursing are, to some degree, prone to the spread of those diseases— no matter how diligent the sanitation protocols and practices.

The very nature of these care facilities– closed environments designed to allow the free movement, ease of mobility, easy access, and navigation of staff and residents– can make the spread of contagious viruses and bacteria unavoidable. Yet the actual design of the facility itself is often overlooked when it comes to addresses the cause of outbreaks.

However, design—floor plans, the materials used to make the structure itself and those used to cover its surfaces, as well as the design of internal systems like heating, cooling, and ventilation—may play a significant role in infection or recovery.

A Confluence of Medical Science and Architecture

Recent studies have found that various microbial and bacterial environments are heavily impacted – and even created and maintained because of– the design and layout of a building.

The flow of ventilation, the layout of heating and cooling systems, and access to and from outdoor environments (or lack thereof) all work to create a unique biome within a building, each with its own population and variety of microbes and bacterium.

Generally speaking, these are the harmless, garden variety bacteria with which contact is common and, in most cases, unavoidable.

In an environments like senior care facilities, the design and layout of the building and space can dramatically impact the way a disease or illness might spread. These facilities, simply by their nature, house residents that can spread an infectious disease at a quickened pace. However, it wasn’t until recently that the variables involved in the design of certain systems within a building, or the layout of its rooms and floors, would have been considered as a possible means of exacerbating an already difficult issue.

While certain precautions and preventative measures are taken in every senior care facility, infectious diseases do spread– though the exact frequency and severity are unknown.

Dealing with Contagion

Advancements in filtration, interior and industrial design are already being incorporated into the architectural plans of any new facilities– though as yet no direct connection as been made between improved health and the advancing technology. However, it’s not difficult to imagine that as studies continue, new methods will be revealed that will help make medicinal and care facilities safe from disease and infection.

Utilizing these findings for the benefit of not just senior care facilities, but also for hospitals and other places of care and wellness may be the most logical next step.

Viruses and infectious diseases spread exponentially in an environment where residents share common sources of air, food, water, and care. Therefore, finding new and effective ways to design, create, and maintain facilities that are used for such vital purposes takes on new meaning.

Stopping the spread of illnesses and diseases like influenza and tuberculosis within a care facility is an important task for senior healthcare.

Strict sanitary and sanitation procedures have been the first step towards prevention in the retirement community. And immunizations and the right medications have helped to ensure that senior communities are able to manage the spread of illness within.

But science dreams of a day when the spread of these airborne contagions are prevented.

It will take time to know for sure if the design – both interior and exterior, industrial and architectural – of any given building, let alone a senior care facility, can have any kind of positive or negative effect on those dwelling within. The evidence is provocative, though, and may lead to some wonderful new design ideas that will help your loved ones maintain a high standard of living, quality of life, and wellness for a long time to come.

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Bryan Reynolds
By
March 22, 2014
Bryan Reynolds is the Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Bryan is responsible for developing and implementing ERS' digital marketing strategy, and overseeing the website, social media outlets, audio and video content and online advertising. After originally attending The Ohio State University, he graduated from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, where he earned a Bachelor of fine arts focused on electronic media. Bryan loves to share his passion for technology by assisting older adults with their computer and mobile devices. He has taught several classes within ERS communities as well as at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute run by the University of Cincinnati. He also participates on the Technology Team at ERS to help provide direction. Bryan and his wife Krista currently reside in Lebanon, Ohio with their 5 children.

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