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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Sahagun-Van Nostrand

12 assisted living decorating tips that can improve safety and boost the mood of your loved one

Original article from USNews here.

Decorating can ease the transition into assisted living.

Helping someone to move into an assisted living facility can be an emotionally fraught experience. Collaborating with loved ones to decorate their new living quarters is a way that helps protect their physical safety and boost their emotional outlook. It can also assist them in their transition, says Julia Bailey, senior associate and interior design project manager with Denver-based OZ Architecture. "Moving into assisted living often can feel like a loss of independence and privacy for your loved one, but thoughtful interior design can go a long way toward improving happiness and well-being for the resident, as well as improving overall functionality of the new living space," Bailey says.

Here are 12 assisted living decorating tips that can improve safety and boost the mood of your loved one:

1. Imagine yourself living in the space.

If you're the person about to move into an assisted living community, "try to see yourself in your new space before moving in," says Kendra Stevens, senior vice president of sales for Atria Senior Living. She's based in Louisville, Kentucky. Atria Senior Living operates independent living, assisted living, supportive living and memory care communities in more than 400 locations in 45 states and seven Canadian provinces. "Take floor plan measurements to decide which pieces of furniture to keep," she says. "Measure windows for curtains so the new space becomes homey right away. We design our apartments for ease, comfort and style so that older adults can enjoy decorating their new home. For those with dementia, Atria apartments intentionally have lighting, artwork and safety features to maximize awareness and orientation. We know from research that environmental factors can greatly influence quality of life and people’s ability to feel at home."

2. Involve your loved ones in design details.

It may seem most helpful to prepare the new living space for your loved one before he or she moves in, Bailey says. Instead of decorating unilaterally, involve the incoming resident in the process of personalizing the space. "Give the resident some say over which photos, keepsakes and personal items to move to their new residence, and where to place them once they arrive," she says. "Letting your loved one help with the smaller aspects of designing his or her new space can help increase their sense of involvement, pride and ownership of their new home."

3. Remove potential fall hazards.

There are some basic, specific things you can do to improve safety in an assisted living unit, says Teri Dreher, a registered nurse who's president of NShore Patient Advocates, LLC in Chicago. She notes that some elderly people have trouble keeping their balance. "A flat, even surface is key to keeping falls to a minimum," Dreher says. "For elderly people who might have balance issues, it doesn't take much to cause a tumble." She recommends keeping floors free of throw rugs that could present trip hazards and installing hand railings wherever possible to make getting around easier. Color code the edge of steps with brightly colored tape for greater visibility.

4. Promote a home-like environment.

To promote a more home-like environment in their assisted living room, remove harsh lighting when possible, and instead use pretty lamps, advises Rita Mabli, president and chief executive officer of United Hebrew of New Rochelle, a campus of elder care, including two assisted living facilities in Westchester County, New York. "In areas where overhead lighting is necessary for safety, we like to use dimmers so we're able to adjust to softer and more calming light," Mabli says. "We also include accents like throw pillows in different patterns and textures, which add a nice, tactile experience."

5. Bring the outside in.

Besides being attractive and interesting, natural elements in home decor can improve mood. There’s just something calming and uplifting about being surrounded by living, growing greenery. In addition to the aesthetics – beautiful plants really add style to a living space – exposure to nature can provide a boost to our mental health, Mabli says. A review of studies published in 2019 in SAGE Journals, which publishes scientific research, suggests that exposure to natural environments has been shown to boost:

  • Attentional-control tasks.

  • Cognitive flexibility.

  • Working memory.

Research published in the journal Science Advances in 2019 suggests that exposure to nature can contribute to better sleep and stress reduction. "Plants can also give older adults who care for them a sense of accomplishment," she says. "Plants such as orchids, succulents, snake plants and bromeliads emit oxygen at night, making them perfect plants for the bedroom. Plants and flowers have a way of making a home feel comfortable and lived in. But don’t worry if you don’t have a green thumb – today’s artificial flowers and plants look much more realistic than they used to and can be incorporated into decor without any maintenance needed."

6. Include personal touches.

"Adding your own personal touches will improve your happiness in any space where you will be spending a lot of time – an office, a dorm room and certainly an assisted living space," Bailey says. Personalizing the space to trigger memories is an important part of improving a resident's mood and should be one of the first things you do, she says. Personal items of the resident can include:

  • Artwork.

  • Awards.

  • Diplomas.

  • Photos.

7. Organize to promote convenience.

Designing spaces that are convenient can improve the mood of residents and make it easier for them to function day-to-day. "Make sure the resident has easy access to the exterior environment or community spaces shared with others," Bailey says. "Also, think carefully about the layout and furniture placement in the space – make sure rooms and hallways are easy to navigate." Many people who move into an assisted living facility have health concerns related to their:

  • Memory.

  • Mobility.

  • Vision.

"You can help ease these challenges with thoughtful interior design," Bailey explains. For example, items that are used on a regular basis should be placed on easy-to-reach shelves that don’t require bending or stretching. For people with memory loss, consider cabinets on glass doors, so the resident can readily see and locate stored items.

8. Think about including a power recliner.

A power recliner will make life easier for an assisted living resident, Dreher says. A piece of furniture that lifts a user to a standing position can be especially helpful when illness or injury makes it difficult for a resident to get in and out of a chair on his or her own. For example, if you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, joint stiffness may make it difficult to get up and down, and the condition can decrease your range of motion. "The chair the resident already has may be a favorite, but with age, they may become weak to the point that using leg muscles to push a recliner closed can be nearly impossible," Dreher says. "Better to stick with an electric version that includes a battery backup in case the power goes out."

9. Make the bathroom safer.

Watery and slippery bathroom surfaces are accidents waiting to happen, Dreher says. "Install non-slip tiles on bathroom floors and add slip-proof decals to tubs or showers," she advises. "A sturdy set of grab bars are also a good idea for the shower." Many assisted living facilities are outfitted with bathroom grab bars. Consider a raised toilet seat to help residents stand up, Dreher says. People who have weakness in their legs might have difficulty getting up from a low seat. If the bathroom isn't outfitted with a raised toilet seat, you can ask for a home visit by an occupational therapist, who can make recommendations to improve independence and safety. The occupational therapist may recommend the addition of a raised toilet seat and other adaptations.

10. Be mindful of electronic cords.

Electronic devices and entertainment are important to have when one moves into an assisted living community, says Dawn Rivera, a sales manager for St. John's, a full-service senior care provider in Rochester, New York. St. John's provides a wide array of services, including nursing home care and programs for people with dementia. "Daily news programs or radio shows are often the only consistent audio stimulation seniors have before moving into a community," Rivera says. "Take the electronics (to the assisted living facility), but make sure to hide the cords. Multiple cords from electronic devices can often create tripping hazards and fall risks for seniors. Not only can their footing get caught, but medical equipment such as walkers, scooters, wheelchairs and canes can also hit a cord and cause a fall." To lower the risks of falls, adhere electronic cords to the wall with mounting strips, or find a stylish basket to keep them in.

11. Consider voice control technology.

It's important for assisted living facility residents to be able to control the cooling and heating settings in their home, Rivera says. Consider investing in devices that let the resident control their heating and cooling settings by using an electronic device, or even his or her voice. For example, there are products that allow you to change thermostat settings using your cellphone, laptop or tablet. "With voice control, a resident doesn't need to keep getting up to adjust the temperature control and can rest comfortably in the desired heating or cooling setting," she says.

12. Leave space to entertain.

About 25% of Americans age 65 and older are considered socially isolated, according to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Maintaining social connections to family and friends is vitally important for residents in assisted living, says Grace Ferri, chief marketing officer of United Hebrew of New Rochelle. "A sitting area with a cozy sofa and armchairs to entertain guests can facilitate social gatherings and help residents stay connected to each other and the world around them," she says. "Residents may also want to consider creating space for pursuing hobbies, such as a small table where they can craft, complete puzzles, paint or draw. Organize any needed supplies in bins nearby. Encourage family members to add decorative touches in their loved one’s room, especially if they are treasured items from the past." Be sure to include cherished heirlooms such as framed family photos or memorabilia. These personal effects and creative spaces will help to create a home-like environment and provide a sense of comfort for the resident.

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