Opinion Wellbeing

Caring by design

Commander Brian Boxall-Hunt, CEO, The Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society

Commander Brian Boxall-Hunt, CEO, The Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society

Commander Brian Boxall-Hunt OBE, CEO at The Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society, discusses the importance of considered care home design and the positive impact this can have on residents’ wellbeing.

Care homes are an essential pillar of the care industry. But there’s much more that goes into an effective and successful care home other than their four walls.

Ensuring that care facilities are modernised and appropriate requires careful and thoughtful design and consideration. An effective care home environment must strike the proper balance between providing comfortable living space whilst also being a practical area that can accommodate specific needs, such as wider corridors for wheelchair users.

At The Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society, we specialise in providing tailored care to retired seafarers and their dependents, including those living with dementia, at our care home Belvedere House. To provide the best possible care, it is important to always be forward thinking and innovative. We recently completed a programme of modernisation at the Society that includes an extension – allowing us to increase the size of 68 bedrooms to accommodate equipment that is needed day to day, such as hoists. Each renovated room will now be equipped with a wet room, air conditioning, USB ports, Smart TVs, and mood lighting. Helping to ensure our facilities are up-to-date, suitable, and comfortable for our residents now and in the future.

Physical care home design

The design of a care home is vital to ensuring the differing needs of residents are met and that they feel safe and secure. It is important that residents feel at ease and are comfortable enough that they recognise it as their home.

The decor and furnishings must be both inviting as well as practical. For instance, many of the carpets in Belvedere House are made of Flotex, a material that, while retaining a warm and cosy appearance, makes it much simpler to handle wheelchairs and other equipment.

At the Society, we care for many residents living with dementia, so this must be considered when choosing materials for soft furnishing, wallpaper, and flooring. Advice from the Alzheimer’s Society states that flooring shouldn’t be excessively reflective or slippery since these features can be confusing. Instead, plain, or mottled surfaces are preferable because patterns can impair perception and the floor, particularly on stairs, should contrast with the walls, to help with navigation.

As a specialised maritime care home, we have lots of maritime memorabilia and décor on site that resonates with our residents and can help trigger memories. Previous research has suggested that using familiar elements in the environment can improve the memory of older people and help them navigate around the care home.

Importance of community

It is not just the physical environment that can impact wellbeing, it is also important to consider the value of fostering community and building meaningful relationships with peers.

Care homes must have communal spaces where residents can engage in social activities and spend time with friends and family. At Belvedere House, our seafaring residents frequently enjoy reminiscing about tales of their time at sea, so making sure there are areas in the care facility for this is crucial for their wellbeing. Reminiscence can be even more beneficial for people with dementia, as it can give them a sense of independence  and confidence through using a skill they still have.

As well as communal spaces it is crucial to have areas to facilitate activities and events. During our renovation we made the decision to create a new, larger activity room to allow for more space for hobbies and planned events. Any mind will function best when it is stimulated, engaged, and active, providing residents with a variety of beneficial activities and encouraging them to partake in many of them each day is vital.

Offering a space where residents can partake in activities they enjoy and find meaningful can prompt positive emotions and supports, physical and mental health. Research suggests that participating in meaningful social activities, may help older people maintain their thinking skills better in later life and slow down cognitive decline.

Ultimately, it is our responsibility as care givers to support residents’ independence and happiness whilst providing a comfortable and safe space. A key part of this is creating a familiar, welcoming environment that helps the residents feel at home, together these factors will enable happy, joyful lives in the retirement years.


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