- The population in the United States is experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of older adults and this trend will continue with the aging of the baby boomer generation. Many of these older adults want to remain independent in the community, however, when physical or mental health needs do not allow this, purpose-built facilities provide alternative housing/residential care options. The most rapidly growing type of residential care for older adults in the United States is assisted living facilities. It is important for design practitioners and researchers to understand whether current purpose-built housing for older adults, such as assisted living facilities, are addressing their shelter and healthcare needs.
The purpose of this study was to explore if and how specific interior spatial features (light, color, floor covering, and furniture) in the kitchen, dining, and sitting areas of two assisted living facilities in Oregon influenced space use and perception of space of the facilities’ occupants. Based on Weisman, Chaudhury, and Moore’s (2000) Environment and Aging Model, the study explored two specific research questions: 1) Is there a difference in observed behavior of residents in the kitchen/dining/sitting areas of the two facilities? and 2) How do residents and staff perceive the interior spatial features in the kitchen/dining/sitting area of each of the two facilities?
The methods used in this study were photographic analysis, behavioral observations, demographic surveys, and semi-structured participant interviews. Behavioral mapping was used for the observations to examine occupant use of the space. Participant interviews provided resident and staff perception of space data. Information from both observations and interviews was used to create annotated floor plans and photographs indicating positively and negatively perceived interior spatial features.
Results indicate that there is a relationship between interior spatial features and how residents use the space. Layout, circulation, accessibility, and furniture type are aspects of the physical environment that affected space use. Aspects of the social environment affecting space use included social interaction among residents and between residents and staff, along with the dining area being the social hub of the facilities. Autonomy and resident involvement are the aspects of the organizational environment that emerged in this study.
Results indicated a mix of positively and negatively perceived environmental characteristics. Features perceived positively at both sites include the small scale of the buildings, the dining table arrangement, non-white walls, a connection to nature, social interaction in the space, and resident choice in level of involvement. Features perceived negatively at both sites were noise, carpet flooring in the kitchen work space, the sitting area upholstery, and the aesthetic of lighting fixtures.
Limitations of this study were sample size selection, time, individual differences, and varied location of interviews. Based on the findings from the observations and interviews, practical implications are discussed, as well as suggestions for future research.