Are you starting an ALF? If YES, here are 10 important building codes & factors to consider in your assisted living facility plan design. Architects and builders specializing in senior living deserve immense recognition. It’s without doubt a daunting task to create and design care homes. And in the coming years, those working in the aged care space will certainly have their work cut out for them.

According to reports, there are over 28,000 assisted living residences in the U.S. alone, housing more than one million people. But to house the ageing population effectively, the market will have to almost double by 2050. According to the United Nations, by 2050, one in six people in the world will be over age 65 (16 percent), up from one in 11 in 2019 (9 percent).

But aside from the lucrative opportunities the industry offers, advancement in technology are providing seniors with better levels of care allowing them to live more independently and comfortably.

Important Building Codes for Assisted Living Facilities

In addition, several key standards, codes, and guidelines are beginning to apply to the building and design of senior living. Accessibility issues are addressed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Facility Guidelines Institute (FGI) Guidelines for the Design and Construction of Residential Health, Care, and Support Facilities, published every four years, provides direction on programming in skilled nursing, or nursing homes, and assisted living.

Building inspectors also make use of the International Building Code (IBC), which is updated every three years by the International Code Council. And NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, updated by the National Fire Protection Association every three years, guides fire officials.

For seniors in an assisted living facility, typically designed for single occupancy, an apartment may range from 320 square feet to 650 square feet and contain a bedroom, bathroom, living area, and kitchenette. Dining is mostly communal and a host of shared amenities and services are available. Here are the key factors for architects, builders and interior designers to consider when designing assisted living facilities.

10 Factors to Consider for your Assisted Living Facility Building Plan and Design

1. Make Spaces Flexible

One important factor to consider when designing assisted living facilities is the need for flexible rooms and spaces. Consider design options like movable walls, multi – purpose rooms, and rooms that can be easily reconfigured for community events. Residents and families can even rent out these rooms to celebrate a birthday, host an event or party, and more. This option also allows for additional income generation.

2. Natural Light

Focusing on natural light in senior living design plans can bring many benefits. Aside from the health benefits like vitamin D production, natural light tend to improve the emotional and mental state of residents.

Reports have it that exposure to natural light throughout the day helps regulate circadian rhythms and contributes to setting regular sleep patterns. For the facility itself, maximizing daylight over artificial lighting can also create a more efficient building with reduced operating costs and emissions over time.

3. Floor plans Should Encourage Movement

In time past, assisted living facilities were designed with so much priority on limiting movement between private rooms and common areas as much as possible. However, recent reports have it that walking increases the lifespan of older adults, in addition to improving mobility and decreasing the likelihood of physical disabilities in the future, a more movement – driven design is the new normal.

Note that this entails longer hallways, larger rooms, plenty of outdoor space, and even the addition of a gym are all things that modern senior facilities should take into consideration when developing a design plan. Have it in mind that even if some residents have more severe health problems or mobility limitations, even walking from one end of a long hallway to the other can provide them with a sense of accomplishment.

4. Sustainability

In this age, green concepts are an increasingly important factor in senior living facilities, resembling those being applied to offices and schools. Note that considerations such as improved indoor air quality, energy and water conversation and views of nature, gardens and water are all being taken into account. According to reports, this trend is reflected in the growing number of senior living operators pursuing LEED certification.

5. Control Employee Fatigue With Improved Staff – Only Spaces

Note that architects are increasingly becoming focus on how the facility’s design can improve life for staff in addition to facility residents. Employee or caregiver burnout is especially common in senior facilities, which means a decreased quality of care, higher staff turnover, and in extreme cases, even an increased likelihood of elder abuse.

So to limit this issue, the design of staff – only lounges, kitchens, and even areas where staff can rest when on breaks has become the standard in contemporary assisted living facilities design. Note that these spaces should be large, have plenty of natural lighting, and allow for equipment and medication storage options as well.

Some facilities even include classroom space for staff in their design plans, as it allows for continuing education courses to be taught on – site and gives interns and current nursing students a place to improve their skills away from the eyes and ears of patients.

6. Social Isolation

According to reports, over 25 percent of seniors living in nursing homes feel lonely. One unbelievable fact is that social isolation poses the same risk to one’s health as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. So creating an environment that allows residents to move around effortlessly encourages interaction and builds a sense of belonging. Experts in senior living facility designs believe that easily accessible communal spaces (indoor and outdoor) are a key design element when building senior living facilities.

7. Kitchen as a Community Area

Presently, assisted living facility designers now see the need to make the kitchen a central community area, as opposed to just a standard visitation or common room. Just like a larger overall floor plan designed to boost movement, the idea behind a communal kitchen is to promote engagement and activity.

Note that the kitchen can be used to host cooking classes, have seniors prepare meals for members of their community, and even allow visiting family members to help their loved ones prepare favourite recipes. This creates a home – like atmosphere and encourages collaboration and communication between residents.

In addition, it’s so much better than having residents sit in a common area all day watching television and waiting around for the evening activities to begin. If the facility primarily houses seniors that aren’t capable of preparing food for themselves, consider replacing the idea of a communal kitchen with a small coffee shop or café.

8. Optimizing Space

In any building, every sqm counts and this is especially true in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Open spaces are expected to be allocated for medical equipment and allow for the freedom of movement for residents and carers. Also, private spaces are desired when seniors are undergoing care or sharing moments with loved ones. Getting the balance right requires agile floor plan designs and a smart choice of materials.

9. Apartment – Style Design

A good assisted living architect will also consider the importance of a facility that looks more like a high – end apartment complex than a standard nursing home. Note that today’s residents are opting to live in senior care facilities not only because they need a higher level of care, but also for the comfortable and social environments they provide.

This entails that often, one – room living spaces that consist of little more than a bed and a few personal items are not enough. Howbeit, seniors want their space to mimic an apartment. They will want a kitchen, a living room, a place to entertain friends, and a private bedroom just like they had at home.

10. Consider the Urbanization of Senior Living Facilities

Note that it is not just how you build your senior living facility that matters, but also the location in which you choose to build it. In recent years, there has been a growing demand for senior homes in urbanized central locations. That is because the environment makes residents feel much more independent and much less isolated. They no longer feel “trapped” in the facility or as though they have to wait for friends and family members to bring them the things they need.

Instead, they can catch a play or movie in town, run to the grocery store, and grab lunch at a local hot spot without worrying about getting lost or having to travel too far. Consider finding an area that is walk-able, then install proper lighting along the pathways to help guide residents back home in the right direction.

The way assisted living facilities are built and designed can have a dramatic impact on the quality of life of the residents. So it is imperative for builders, architects and interior designers to address the biggest considerations when it comes to these environments, allowing for a safer and happier future.

Ajaero Tony Martins