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Tabor Village's executive director Dan Levitt.

COVID-19 puts focus on architecture, technology

COVID-19 has shone a light on how well retirement villages and care homes are set up to cope with the challenges of such a highly contagious virus. There’s now a fresh focus on how architecture and technology can make disease prevention and containment easier, as well as improving the experience for residents.

Even before COVID-19 came along, some providers were adopting architectural alternatives to the traditional care home model. In Canada, for example, Tabor Village in Abbotsford, British Columbia, has committed to replacing its hospital-style long-term care beds with a new centre for living based on the household model.

Rather than a long corridor with rooms on each side housing dozens of residents, 10 to 14 older adults live in one self-contained home, each with their own private room and ensuite, says Tabor’s executive director, Dan Levitt. The homes have their own front door, living room with fireplace, study, open kitchen, dining space and activity space with access to outside gardens.

This decentralised model allows staff to be assigned to one home, improving continuity of care as they provide personal care, prepare food, do housekeeping and laundry.

Levitt says the design model was first created to ensure meaningful living, individual choice and life-long learning, but the small-home environment also helps to control infections. Staff focusing on one self-contained home are less likely to introduce a virus to other residents in different households.

Echoing these ideas is Gary Mackintosh, associate director of Australian architecture firm Hames Sharley, which has designed several large care complexes. He sees a future in which facility design emphasises the use of separated neighbourhoods, where residents can live, socialise and dine together in smaller groups.

“However, the response to the current pandemic should not be to overreact and design for quarantinable buildings. No one wants to live in a hospital for the last years of their lives,” he says.

Other changes he sees coming include:

  • Architects and designers working with materials that are either antimicrobial or easily cleaned.
  • Better air filtration and purification.
  • More high-tech senior-living communities with virtual socialisation, technology support and clear communication systems so residents can ask questions and feel more comfortable.
  • Technology that allows residents to navigate communities without pressing buttons or grabbing handles.

For Damien Stephens, an associate vice president at Indian telecom giant Tata Communications, the enthusiastic uptake of digital technologies and internet-based communication such as video calling during COVID-19 has broken down the stereotype that older people are technology-averse and disproved the assumption that technology plays a diminishing role in our lives as we grow older.

  • How can architecture and technology be used in New Zealand’s aged care sector to keep older people safe and improve their daily lives? We would love to hear your ideas, whether you are an older person, a family member, a provider or a tech visionary. Email us on media@eldernet.co.nz

About Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson
Mark Wilson is Content Creator and Publication Lead at Eldernet and Care Publications. Mark has been a senior journalist and editor for several publishers, notably The Press and its then parent company, Fairfax Media. He has a wide range of experience in newspapers, magazines and online publishing. When not at work, he enjoys walking Olive the dog along New Brighton beach and exploring Te Wai Pounamu/South Island with his partner, Lee, in their trusty 4WD.

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