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Environments for Aging Conference Report

by Louis on April 22, 2015

This was the first time I attended the Environments for Aging Conference. I saw some long time colleagues and friends from the aging in place world but most who attend this conference work in the the facilities/multi-unit/purpose built side of housing and care. Of course there are contrasts between these two spheres but we share much more. These professionals care a great deal about what they are doing and are passionate about improve long term care and other senior living environments.

 Jane Rohde of JSR associates received The Center for Health Design‘s Changemaker Award and gave The Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award to Betsy Brawley.  I have known Jane for years. I have worked with her a bit lately to my benefit. But I had not known the breadth and depth of her passion, commitment and vision.

Jane’s keynote address summed the conference up well. I was impressed. As with so many people I meet in this field, Jane’s work is inspired by personal experience with the people who live in the residences she designs. So, though her story is not really atypical, her simple, clear tale was a powerful telling.

Jane spent time early in her career with a woman for whom she had a great deal of respect who was living not miserably in a senior housing facility. This woman, grateful for Jane’s company, asked for helping getting into the courtyard for some fresh air. One of her friends asked to be taken outside too. Jane got permission to help with this request, though the staff could not help.

Jane did not conclude, as so many of us might have, that management and operations or the staff was uncaring, oblivious or understaffed. Jane perceived that the courtyard- access, sight lines- the design  – made it, reasonably too difficult for the staff. Jane saw the potential of better design and was inspired to make it her life’s work. Her vision, hard work and success is the reason she deserved the award.

She described some of her work current work in China where the rules have not been written. This means her work there is free of the familiar frustration when regulations keep us from exploring good ideas because other, often discredited ideas that should have been abandoned long ago, drive the rules. These opportunities are opening her mind, and challenging her to do better.

Jane’s message was a good summary for pretty much every session I attended. There is more than one client. Person centered care, a current buzz phrase, will not take hold if it overlooks the needs and capabilities of staff and management. Good design must account for the client’s lifestyle, health and desires but must also work for the staff, management and operations.  Design that recognizes and accommodates both leads to better experiences for both clients. Happy residents who feel heard and respected and staff given the spaces- the tools – to do their job well.

The same holds true in design for individual residents. Aging in Place/Long Term Care @Home is preferred because people know and love their homes but also feel they can control the timing and process of their lives even when they need assistance. Well designed spaces avoid injury, make rehab at home easier and safer and account for caregiver safety and convenience as well.

Jane’s lesson, mirroring so many of the fine speakers and sessions, is clear if not easy: Design must account for resident needs and wishes at the same time that it makes staff and management roles safe, easy and convenient. With these dedicated designers, managers and advocates leading us, the vision for senior housing and care is brighter than I may have thought.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jane Rohde May 19, 2015 at 9:21 pm

Dear Louis-
Thank you so much for your kind words – coming from you mean so much! Our passions are matched for wanting the best for elders and all people!


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