Making Buildings Work Better for Senior Living Communities

It’s a story that has become increasingly familiar around the country: A frail parent falls. Adult children are soon sifting through memories while packing up the longtime family home. 

After the difficult decision is made to move Mom or Dad into a senior living facility, they are struggling: The microwave doesn’t work right, or the apartment is too hot or cold. The microwave, the thermostat, or lost hearing aids are suddenly a crisis as everyone tries to get comfortable with new surroundings.

“The sense that you can’t control your environment when you already have lost control of a lot of the things around you – it’s a loss of agency that we hear from a lot of folks,” said Shelby Ruiz, research associate in WSU’s Integrated Design and Construction Laboratory. “They don’t have control over their environment, and if they’re uncomfortable, they don’t really know what to do.”

As part of a seed grant through the Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living (GCISL), Ruiz met with more than 65 seniors living in nine Pacific Northwest assisted living facilities over a two-year period to study their experiences in housing for seniors.