Comment: Designing caring environments

Kate Waterston of Construction Specialties discusses how wall protection systems are vital to address visual and mobility issues among people with dementia

Door protection and corner guards are vital for high-traffic areas such as hospitals and health centres

In this article, KATE WATERSTON, UK sales manager for Construction Specialties, discusses how the latest wall protection systems offer a cost-effective way of addressing visual and mobility issues in dementia care facilities while maintaining a safe and healthy environment

In recent years, the nature of accommodation for older people has undergone significant change, offering individual apartments with care provision ramped up as and when residents need it, and a natural progression to supported community living at an appropriate stage.

The design of these buildings has to encompass a wide range of needs and abilities. By their very nature, homes must provide for different ambulatory and usage skills, with many elderly people having significant mobility issues, visual impairment and reduced awareness of their surroundings.

When designing for dementia sufferers in particular, consideration needs to be given to the symptoms of the disease to create an environment that is not only stimulating but also comforting and familiar

When designing for dementia sufferers in particular, consideration needs to be given to the symptoms of the disease to create an environment that is not only stimulating but also comforting and familiar. In fact, research has shown that stimulation and socialising can actually slow the progression of the disease.

Dementia units are often laid out to facilitate ‘wandering with a purpose’, a condition that many sufferers display. Corridors with small lounges at their ends give a destination, as well as providing reference points for the residents. Visual clues can also help, using colours, simple shapes and graphics in the walls and theming of floors for easy identification and recall of location and demarcation of areas with a different purpose, for example leisure and other activities.

With many residents using wheelchairs, canes and walking frames, protecting walls from daily damage, thereby reducing maintenance costs, is another important consideration. The materials used in these areas must be durable as well as being easy to maintain and clean, both from a cost point of view and to comply with infection control guidelines.

With many residents using wheelchairs, canes and walking frames, protecting walls from daily damage, thereby reducing maintenance costs, is an important consideration

Health Building Note 00-10 Part B: Walls and ceilings, specifies the performance requirements and the types of finishes for different areas. It also gives guidance on the types, location and level of impact protection that should be used. Health Building Note 00-04: Circulation and communication spaces also provides design guidance and includes supporting information on doors, handrails and wall protection.

Choosing the right kind of impact protection should consider the most-appropriate materials for the expected damage and the best height for corner guards and positions of crashrails and handrails. All must have rounded corners and edges to prevent residents hurting themselves, and should be tamper proof and of anti-ligature design where required.

Of course, handrails are particularly important in supported living environments and should be fitted in main communication routes and corridors.

HBN 00-04 specifies the finishes and dimensions of handrails, plus the necessary clearance from walls and other protection systems. It is worth noting that in places (for example for handrail dimensions), HBN 00-04 guidance varies from, but for healthcare environments supersedes, BS 8300 and Approved Document M. All variations are included in Appendix 2 to HBN 00-04.

In high-traffic areas, impact resistant wall protection sheet and panel systems, such as Construction Specialties’ Acrovyn Sheet and Acrovyn Imagine, provide a cost-effective way to create a long-lasting and welcoming environment, are easy to clean, and are robust enough to cope with every day wear and tear.

Choosing the right kind of impact protection should consider the most-appropriate materials for the expected damage and the best height for corner guards and positions of crashrails and handrails

Wall sheet protection systems can be cut into different shapes and used in different colour combinations to achieve visual contrast, with the added benefit that they can brighten up rooms and corridors and reduce the ‘institutional’ feel of a building. Acrovyn sheet and panel systems have ‘through colour’ and are specifically designed to minimise and hide the effects of impact damage. Acrovyn imagine also allows high-quality images or artwork to be embedded, creating bespoke floor to ceiling designs in high traffic areas, removing the worry of damage.

A key element to consider is internal door design. Care environments are particularly tough on doors and, with traffic flowing through them 24 hours a day, damage is inevitable from trolleys, beds, wheelchairs, staff and residents. This can compromise both hygiene and in the case of fire doors, fire safety.

As resident safety is of paramount importance, damaged doors and frames have to be repaired or replaced as soon as possible, often at great expense. Choosing a door that is not only impact resistant, but is also durable and easy to clean is therefore essential.

With an ageing population, the demand for homes that offer both independent living and residential care is sure to grow. These facilities must ensure older people with a wide range of care needs feel, and indeed are kept, safe and secure, which requires considered interior design and careful selection of materials.

Fortunately, there are a wide range of high-performance products on the market that can be used to create welcoming, comfortable and stress-free environments, without compromising on hygiene or resident safety, and that can also reduce maintenance and whole-life costs.

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