Aged care design guidelines

Designing aged care facilities is a specialised endeavour but it can include some universal design thinking, such as co-design processes. Some aspects of these specialised designs have application in the design of mainstream homes and neighbourhood places and spaces. The new National Aged Care Design Principles and Guidelines are worth looking at for that reason.

Design Principles:

  • Enable the person
  • Cultivate a home
  • Access the outdoors
  • Connect with community

Plus, co-design processes involving all stakeholders.

Front cover of the National Aged Care Design Principles and Guidelines. Yellow background with black text.

The Aged Care Design Principles and Guidelines is a comprehensive, evidence-based resource designed for anyone with a stake in residential aged care. This includes accommodation providers and design professionals, staff, regulators and policymakers, and older Australians and their families.

The four design principles underpin the guidance which includes residents with dementia. Around half of aged care residents have dementia and half have reduced mobility. As expected, the designs benefit others with age-related health and care needs. Staff needs are also included. The key point is the importance of ‘home’ to residents – a place that reflects people’s needs and aspirations.

Six Personas

Personas cannot take the place of real people, but they are useful for explaining design ideas. That’s because they often provide the ‘why’ of a design. The guidelines use three resident personas, and three staff personas.

Each design principle has an objective and details on how to achieve it. For example, the objective for ‘Enable the Person’ is to support people to maintain health, wellbeing and sense of identity. Scenarios for residents and reasons why some things are important lead to checklists and a narrative for positive outcomes.

Mainstream applications

Considerations such as noise and clutter are just as relevant for people with dementia living in their own homes. Acoustic comfort is especially important for people with hearing loss, and everyone benefits from clean air and good lighting. Tonal or colour contrast becomes more important as people age rather than the fashionable all-white colour schemes.

The guidelines for bathrooms, ensuites and kitchens also have elements that help people in their own homes as well as home care staff. The main point is make them safe without looking like a hospital.

The title of the guideline is, National Aged Care Design Principles and Guidelines. The guidelines include design checklists and links to supporting evidence. Photographs enhance the publication.

Think about the windows

Guy Luscombe cover pic

Architect Guy Luscombe recently returned from a study trip in Europe focusing on living arrangements for older people.  His comprehensive report featuring case studies from Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and Netherlands, reveals eight key design features important to older people. Windows was top of the list.

He says, “The traditional ‘nursing home’ and ‘retirement village’ are not only outdated, they can actually foster separation and ‘otherness’, isolating people from their family, friends and interests. The aim of this project is to explore how architects can design better environments for older people that improve their enjoyment of life. It starts with rethinking some of our design language.” Many in the universal design movement would agree with this.

Luscombe found 8 key design features with windows as the first priority for both light and seeing out into the neighbourhood. He makes some good comments. For example,

“Aged-care buildings are necessarily beset with constraints and regulations, some good, some outdated. However, many of the regulations put in place to ‘protect’ older people are very often seen as key design features of the building. They become the ‘end’ product. Buildings are seen as either compliant or non-compliant, rather than, say, promoting wellbeing and liveability.”

Download Guy Luscombe’s report which includes several excellent photos. It’s titled the NANA report

Accessibility Toolbar