Home-like end-of-life care

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As family and friends gather near a loved one in the closing days, a warm and comfortable environment can do wonders for soothing frayed nerves and troubled minds. Attention to detail and an appreciation for the peaceful respites of home can help create a “good death” experience and improve reputation, experts advise.

1. Focus on soothing visual and tactile elements that emote a sense of calm and comfort. “One of the most important elements of an end-of-life suite is lighting,” says Lauren Stewart, a Direct Supply design consultant. “Warm-in temperature and lower-than-normal wattage can create a soothing environment.” Color is another critical element. Jamie Thorn, national sales manager for Forbo Flooring, suggests neutral colors, while Stewart prefers warm grays and blues, and even soft greens. “The room should almost disappear,” she says. Nick Alexandropoulos, marketing communications specialist for Altro, says color choice affects both mood and way finding, and believes the most calming colors for hospice units are pink, green, blue and turquoise. Still, few design elements can top nature, whether it's a room bathed in sunlight, soft and healthy live plants or nature sounds like running water. “When I placed my beloved father in hospice care, I had to find a place that brought the outside in for him,” recalls Marcia Ludgood, marketing account executive for Kwalu. “He, like many others, had severe respiratory problems and could not spend a lot of time outdoors.” If feasible, sunrooms can provide a soothing and calming respite from frayed emotions. “Sunlight lifts the spirits and triggers pleasant memories,” she adds. Other positives are healing gardens “that are great for quiet conversation and meditation.”

2. Home-like ambience is a plus. “Aesthetics play a key role in providing comfort to the family members and caregivers and can make a positive association between the hospice and home,” says Michael Zusman, CEO of Kwalu. Large and roomy spaces that help mitigate clutter and noise are encouraged by Lee Penner, owner of Penner Bathing Spas.

3. Furnishings should imbue a residential aesthetic. Think “rich wood tones, cozy textures and plush pillows,” Stewart says. Replace any cold or clinical elements with residential-looking finishes to give their residences the appearance of home,” Alexandropoulos adds. Zusman encourages facilities to consider hospitality-like furniture in waiting, patient and reception areas to create a soothing environment with a more familiar setting for the patient. Anna Chaney, lead contract designer at Flexsteel Healthcare, advocates “supportive but soft” foams that provide physical comfort. Some overlook the value of “motion furniture” in providing mental comfort. Items like recliners can provide an almost meditative experience. “Motion is a soothing and calming thing,” observes Andrew Christmann, marketing manager for Hekman Contract. Consider the calming effects of rockers and gliders, for example.

4. Creature comforts can give a family a welcome break from emotional moments, whether it's a kitchen well stocked with healthy snacks and gourmet coffee or an intimate room with a stereo or television. “The hospice must also be designed to be supportive of family and caregivers, as they know what's best for their loved ones,” says Ludgood, who's even seen tables for cards and board games to pass the time as a helpful distraction. Bookcases filled with children's books can be another plus. Stewart says aromatherapy and soothing music are an important way to “engage the senses with familiar elements that can ease stress for residents and visitors.” Other thoughtful elements like lumbar pillows, wingback chairs and overstuffed seating with built-in USB ports are other popular creature comforts, adds Christmann.

5. When space is at a premium, there are plenty of furnishings that do double duty in hospice units, particularly for tired and weary loved ones. Zusman encourages facilities to provide plush pullout sleepers and extra chairs for family, data grommets on bedside cabinets, and sleeper recliner sofas. “Often a lounge chair can double as a bed for a visiting loved one,” notes Stewart, “so it's important to consider comfort.”