Creating a Better Living Environment for Residents

There’s a lot of psychology that goes into the design of marketing products and store layouts. Drawing the consumer’s attention to different products at various shelving levels, or placing cheap, tempting items close to the register creates “impulse buys.” Every product in the store has been designed and marketed to persuade your buying behavior.

A similar approach can be used in assisted living or other facilities which provide services to seniors, especially in memory care. Instead of inspiring residents to make purchases, carefully planned decor can make residents feel more comfortable and safe in their surroundings.

In the past, many facilities had used bland colors, similar to what you would find in a hospital. These neutral colors were thought to be non-offensive and less distracting, which they were, but sometimes tended toward bland. However, recent changes have been implemented in some memory care facilities that move away from mundane decor and create environments that residents enjoy living in.

This doesn’t mean that anything goes; different designers have taken care in their choices of decor, including choosing colors and patterns that are not overly stimulating.

Mindful Designs

Designs for assisted living facilities should keep their main functional goals in mind, but there’s still plenty of room to add custom touches as well.

The design of common rooms should be open to flexibility, to accommodate different activities, gatherings, and special events like holiday parties or guest musicians.  These areas can also help build a bridge between the facility and the community, as an inviting space to bring in volunteers to engage with residents, put on performances, or other unique occasions.

At the same time, while it is nice to be able to rearrange furniture, it is useful for residents if those rearrangements are kept to a minimum, especially for those with cognitive or memory issues. Maintaining a familiar space can help avoid confusion, and even trips or falls.

Less is always more, especially in an assisted living environment. Rooms and common spaces should be clutter-free to help keep clear pathways and also reduce fall risks.

Color Coordinating

Attributes of the actual decor can also evoke positive (or negative) feelings and associations. Natural colors or colors associated with nature (brown/wood, green/foliage, yellow/earthy) are warmer and friendlier, while blues and grays tend to be cooler yet sophisticated.

Another thing to consider in color choice is that color/vision also tends to change as we age. Seniors see more yellow, and gray is often a common color used in institutional settings. It’s suggested that using greens and yellows can help enhance colors in seniors’ vision.

Bold or dramatic patterns are not typically the best for residents in an assisted living situation, as they may be overly stimulating. Subtle patterns, accent colors, and gentle contrasts are useful, however, and can help denote a transition or border from one room to the next.

Natural Lighting Benefits Everyone

When possible, take advantage of natural daylight to brighten a room. Not only is it ‘friendlier,’ but it can physiologically help residents stick to a regular sleep cycle. Exposure to natural light could potentially increase exposure to Vitamin D, which encourages muscle movement, cell growth regulation, and helps the body absorb calcium – a crucial benefit in the fight against osteoporosis.

better environment for seniors

Using more natural light is also a cost-cutter in terms of electricity, a  financial benefit to the facility as well – a benefit everyone can enjoy!

A Home Environment

Sticking to warm or lively colors can make the facility look friendlier and more like home, which can have a positive effect on residents and their families alike. An inviting color palette can help the environment feel less institutionalized and more personal and therefore comforting.

Age-friendly materials like anti-skid flooring, safe stairs, and accessible baths contribute to the ability of residents to feel at ease within their environment. 

For example, furniture should be comfy, but not too comfy; extra cushy chairs can be difficult for residents to climb out of. Firmer, supportive chairs at an appropriate height would be better suited. Armrests should not be too high so the resident can use them comfortably to rise from a seated position.

Connect with the Great Outdoors

Outdoor areas can work in harmony with the rest of the facility. Properly designed outdoor areas will extend functionality and provide a variety of experiences for residents, guests, and staff. The positive effects of outdoor exposure include stress reduction and healthy exposure to natural light and air.  Create outdoor wellness areas that function as their own rooms. Examples include: 

  • Fitness stations to promote exercise
  • Lawn areas for outdoor activities like yoga, Tai Chi, or Bocce ball. A putting green could be incorporated as well. 
  • Outdoor gathering areas with fire pits, comfortable seating, and pleasant landscaping
  • Wide, flat trails for walking and socialization
  • Community gardens for residents to grow their own food or flowers
  • Outdoor amphitheaters create a space for outdoor entertainment like movie nights or plays 

Create Spaces for Staff

Residents benefit from consistent care, especially from people they are familiar with. Additionally, with the onset of Covid, staff shortages are commonplace. Staff retention is more important than ever! 

Invest in making your staff feel comfortable and appreciated. Staff lounges are a great place to start. For example, an outdoor patio for staff use can help people decompress during breaks. Within the staff lounge area, consider adding charging ports for electronics, a recliner, or a snack center in addition to the usual dining table and chairs.

People Also Ask

How can I make my RCFE eco-friendly? There are several green building initiatives for RCFEs that can simultaneously improve the lives of residents and help the environment. 


Assisted Living Education is a premier provider of classroom-based and online coursework for professionals in assisted living. We offer RCFE Administrator Certification Training, RCFE licensing, continuing education, and consulting in specific areas like compliance, staff training and licensing. Please visit our contact page to reach us for any inquiries.


About Assisted Living Education
Assisted Living Education has been operating in and improving the growing senior care industry for over 15 years. Founded by certified RCFE administrators, Jane Van Dyke-Perez and Bill Perez, we have licensed more than 1,100 assisted living facilities and built close relationships with the California Department of Social Services, assisted living managers, owners and industry professionals. As senior living care educators ourselves, we strive to contribute our knowledge and skills to continually improve senior care and the satisfaction of those working in the industry.