Senior Living Sleepovers Provide Insight Into Better Senior Living Design

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 29 October 2009

senior_sleepoverI stumbled upon an absolutely fascinating study while browsing the latest ProAging e-newsletter. It’s called the Sleepover Project. Architects and designers from the Baltimore-based firm CSD (Cochran, Stephenson & Donkervoet) launched the project in March of this year. Here’s the project’s purpose from the CSD website:

With the long-term goal of providing better design and building more responsive communities, CSD is sending each member of its senior living architectural design team to stay overnight in a senior living community. Between March and September 2009, as many as 36 “Sleepers” will be assigned to a diverse range of communities – both geographically and demographically- from Boston to Los Angeles, Seattle to Miami; in urban, suburban and rural locations; and with accommodations ranging from modest to high-end.”

In addition to receiving their facility assignment,”sleepers” are given an identity and must assess and evaluate the environment as such. For example, one sleeper, a 32-year-old landscape architect, was asked to take on the role of an 81-year-old woman recovering from gall-bladder surgery at a rehab facility in Baltimore. The sleeper was asked to use a wheelchair during her stay and eventually transition to walking again before leaving the facility.

OK, I’m almost 31, so I can imagine that it would not be easy to maneuver myself through my daily tasks from a wheelchair (especially at the pace I move most days), much less if I was pretending to be an 81-year-old recovering from surgery. But what extraordinary insights this architect must have gained! And how much better informed will senior living design teams be, having received this valuable data? Here’s a highlight from Sleeper #2′s blog entry:

“While shuffling around, and even at a stand still, the simplest daily motions posed the greatest challenges from the seat of the wheelchair. While reaching for items normally at shoulder or head height, Sleeper #2 found herself at a complete loss. Without a stick to knock things off shelves and desks, there was no way to be self-sufficient in grabbing items stored 4 off the ground or higher.”

Given Sleeper #2′s real-life role as a landscape architect, I found her assessment to be very interesting in terms of how she looked at the view from the window. Think about how many senior living residents sit in front of a window, either in their private unit or a common sitting room. If you’ve ever worked in or visited someone at a senior living community, you know that this is a familiar scene. She offers some great ideas around “opening up the view and extending the life of outdoor spaces” in the piece.

The Sleepover Project is definitely worth checking out, whether or not you’re interested in design. Perhaps you are considering a facility for a loved one. Think about how different the environment of a senior living community really is in comparison with your loved one’s home (and we wonder why often our senior family member resists the idea of moving in?).

Tour the facility with that in mind – it’s so easy to get wrapped up in what the place smells like or how lavishly it’s decorated or how many friendly smiling faces greet you at the door. Those things are all very important, but you must also consider the loved ones who have to live there after being comfortable in their own home for 50 years or more. Think about it from their point of view, and if you need some help putting yourself in their shoes, read a few entries from The Sleepover Project.

Seniors for Living has also done a few blog posts about the importance of senior-friendly design – check them out at: Aging in Place Designer Style and Design Makes a Difference in Today’s Senior Living Homes.

-Michelle Seitzer


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