- 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
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
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.