Gone are the retirement communities of old. Today, senior living communities contain as many areas as you would find on a college campus or in a small city: dining rooms (formal, casual, bistros and cafes), gift shops, beauty salons, spas and wellness centers, physical therapy facilities, fitness areas, spaces for activities and often an auditorium or atrium for concerts and speakers. Staff areas are also part of the mix, including nursing offices and stations, administration areas, meeting rooms and training rooms.
Though the abilities and physical needs of senior living residents are varied, the flooring requirements are similar between the residence types. No matter how able-bodied the residents are, safety and accessibility are the primary concerns. Safety encompasses accommodations for visual impairment, slip hazards, transition hazards (between materials) and flammability. Durability, ease of maintenance and sustainability are significant considerations as well.
With greater influence from the hospitality industry rather than the medical model, the materials found in senior living communities have been dramatically changing. The focus in independent living is to create a hospitality feel in corridors and public spaces. Thus, senior living does not just mean one flooring product type. Many flooring products are needed to address all the types of communities and spaces involved. Previously, few suitable products, such as solution-dyed carpet or other moisture-barrier fabrics were available, but now there is a range of flooring installation options. The challenge in assisted living flooring installation is selecting materials with a hospitality aesthetic that is both functional, safe and durable since carts and wheelchairs can do damage over time.
The key aging issues to be considered in any assisted living flooring installation project are mobility, vision and the special requirements of dementia. Mistakes in senior living flooring installation can be dangerous and even deadly for the residents. For example, using wild patterns in flooring installations is asking for hip fractures due to falls.
Also, transitions between flooring materials, thickness and finish need to be addressed where residents move from space to space. Because senior living residents sometimes shuffle, these can pose a tripping hazard due to differences in height or surface friction. Because of this many facilities use carpet installation in the corridors and broadloom carpet in large gathering rooms.
Dining areas may be soft or hard surface, resilient flooring or ceramic tiles. Flooring will vary by dining type. For example, dining rooms tend to have wood look vinyl or carpet, and bistros or cafes may have luxury vinyl tile, ceramic or porcelain installed. Rubber flooring and cushioned sheet vinyl are great options for fitness areas due to underfoot comfort, ease of maintenance and acoustical properties.
In the apartments, carpet installation tends to be loop pile construction, often with a moisture barrier backing. The look and underfoot softness of a tight sisal is one flooring option that can offer a home-like feel. Residents use more assistance devices in these situations, and the carpet generally gets more day-to-day abuse. Bathrooms present challenges for both slip and fall and moisture issues. One option is a safety floor that integrates mineral grains to create a non-slip surface.
Carpet tile is another flooring installation option for senior living. Carpet tile functions well in nursing wings, memory support areas and in assisted living facilities. The benefits of using modular carpeting in nursing areas include the ease of swapping out tiles if an accident should occur, less chance of injury due to slips and falls and the acoustic advantages of sound absorption.
In terms of flooring design, organic patterns are said to be popular. Modern geometrics, which can be used with both classic and modern furniture, are also gaining in popularity. Larger patterns or a variety of pattern sizes is considered attractive. In carpet, subtle, complex combinations of colors offer strong appeal. Carpets with dark borders are terrible for residents with bad depth perception, since they make it appear that there is a step downward.
For all senior living flooring, soft or hard surface, designers suggest choosing products with medium color values and restrict patterns to tone-on-tone designs, which often appear monochromatic to those with poor eyesight, yet provide relief, design-wise, to the healthy eye.
For memory care, the design standards are slightly different, as a soothing environment is the ultimate goal. Contrast between the floor and walls, as well as between flooring materials, is kept to a minimum, since some memory residents fear crossing a distinct line. The use of pattern is reduced as well; organic patterns that can appear to move and look wormy are to be avoided. Ultimately, designers suggest removing anything that is optically confusing in memory care facilities. Vinyl tile and vinyl plank are good choices for these areas.
Sustainability is a key issue in all product selection for senior living. Designers must work with flooring installers to consider the adhesive systems associated with the floor installation systems being considered. They should make certain that both the adhesive and flooring material do not infringe on daily living. This includes understanding how it affects indoor air quality. Off-gassing from flooring is another concern, especially for residents with respiratory difficulties. The issue is compounded by the fact that much of the flooring replacement must be completed while the facility is occupied, so the adhesives and installation process must also produce no noxious gases. Zero or low VOC flooring products are a must for these reasons.