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Design Principles for Elderly Health and Wellness Communities

An alternative way of design thinking and execution is needed to balance practical needs with the humility of aging.
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Twenty-first-century American cities and towns were not designed to support the quest for wellness.

Health care specialists, gyms, organic grocers, and therapists are rarely brought together under the same roof. This adds to the challenge of attaining, and then maintaining, wellness for people of limited mobility or advanced age. But this problem also opens the door for opportunities while driving impactful change in the elderly healthcare market.

Bergmeyer recently took on this community wellness challenge when designing health centers with our client, Edenbridge Health (Cherry Blossom PACE). Edenbridge’s mission is to allow frail elderly people to “age in the location of their choosing and continue to lead connected, meaningful lives.” They accomplish this by bringing some healthcare services into people’s homes and implementing neighborhood wellness centers that become a hub of health care services while creating a sense of community for their users.

The health centers we designed for Edenbridge look nothing like the neighborhood health centers for the general population. Why? Because an alternative way of design thinking and execution is needed to balance practical needs with the humility of aging.

We drew heavily from our experience in hospitality and multi-family residential design to create environments that were welcoming, approachable, and community-focused. The layout, material palette, furniture, and lighting– even in the offices and examination rooms – were chosen to purposefully recall home and the sense of what home means to each participant.

Many design principles emerged from our work with Edenbridge. These include:

  • User Experience: If creating community is the goal, the user experience must be the design driver. To do this, we put the people first, not the providers. The security and the information desks enact their critical roles with a more hospitable touch. Minimizing the high-level directional signage and bright lighting typically found in hospital lobbies softens their placements without diminishing accessibility.
  • Messaging: The facility’s primary visual messages needed to be warm, inviting, and casual. Residential cues in finishes, details, and furnishings were very important – which meant the designers needed to understand and reflect the lifestyle of the center’s intended market.
  • Adaptability: Adaptability was a critical design parameter. Service offerings change, and different types of personal services need a variety of spaces in which to function. Similarly, public user-oriented programming requires common spaces that can be reorganized and refurnished.

Ultimately – a space that truly sponsors community and wellness must thoughtfully and intentionally respond to the needs of its users. Simple detail-oriented considerations like a variety of different seating and gathering spaces, easy access to home-like amenities such as small kitchenettes, bookshelves, and gaming tables, and even the presence of a place to hang your coat and to put your feet up make for a better user experience.

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