Geriatric-Friendly Health Care Facilities

Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Image: hands interlocked

Q&A: Designing for the Geriatric Community

The geriatric community, defined as adults who are 65 years of age and older, is made up of more than 40 million Americans. In this blog post, Kathryn Gallagher, MS, RN, BSN, NE-BC, discusses the importance of designing for this growing population.

Gallagher is a clinical liaison with the Department of Real Estate and Design at the University of Pennsylvania Health System. She communicates with staff, patients, and the community during design projects with the goal of creating safe, quality facilities that provide excellent clinical care. Gallagher holds a master of science degree in strategic and organizational leadership and is a current member of the Facility Guidelines Institute’s 2018 Health Guidelines Revision Committee.

Why is it important to design health care facilities for the geriatric community?

A: (Gallagher) The percentage of adults who are 85 years of age and older is growing at three times the rate of the general population. In the next few years, it will be more important than ever that health care facilities provide geriatric-friendly design accommodations to improve the standard of care for this rapidly increasing population.

How will geriatric-friendly design change in the coming years?

A: (Gallagher) In the coming years, people are going to be living well into their 100s so we are going to be designing for patients in their 90s and 100s versus their 70s and 80s. Adults at this age typically present much greater challenges, and facilities will need to be designed to maximize their functional ability.

What types of challenges do geriatric patients face?

A: (Gallagher) Older adults often have sensory impairments such as reduced hearing, vision, taste, and smell. They tend to have decreased mobility and may require assistance with walkers, wheel chairs, canes, and handrails. Some geriatric patients may have poor light and depth perception.

What are some of the design elements that can help improve the standard of care for geriatric patients?

A: (Gallagher) Clearance for wheel chairs, easy-to-operate nurse call devices, high toilets with grab bars, and doors in colors that contrast with walls are just a few design features that can make physical health care environments safer and more accommodating for geriatric patients. From a comfort standpoint, lighting, noise levels, room temperature, and furniture are all important elements to consider. Additionally, geriatric patients often find it beneficial–if not necessary–to have a caregiver or family member accompany them to a health care facility. Consequently, geriatric-friendly spaces should be designed to accommodate additional people.

What are the benefits of designing geriatric-friendly environments?

A: (Gallagher) Besides improving the standard of care for geriatric patients, facilities that provide geriatric-friendly design accomodations often experience lower readmission rates, are able to better allocate resources, and see a decrease in iatrogenic complications.

Who should a health care facility planning team communicate with to ensure plans are geriatric friendly?

A: (Gallagher) It’s imperative that planning teams regularly communicate with the clinical staff working in the facility undergoing a new design. Frequently consulting with geriatric experts in the field will provide further insight and guidance during the planning process.

What resource will attendees receive at your 2019 PDC Summit session, “Design Insights for Geriatric-Friendly EDs”?

A: (Gallagher) Attendees will receive a comprehensive checklist that can be utilized to evaluate patient care locations in new construction or existing emergency rooms and freestanding emergency facilities to ensure they effectively meet the needs of geriatric patients.

Join us at the 2019 PDC Summit for more on this topic. In the session “Design Insights for Geriatric-Friendly EDs”, Gallagher will present some of the challenges of caring for the geriatric community in emergency departments and will discuss how collaboration, communication, and smart design can improve the standard of care for these patients.