Room with a view: the rising popularity of long-term care TV lounges

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Room with a view: the rising popularity of long-term care TV lounges
Room with a view: the rising popularity of long-term care TV lounges
The most popular room in a typical house is most likely where the television set is located. Whether it's a den, family room or finished basement, the TV lounge is where family members usually congregate to relax, be comfortable and socialize.

It should be no different in long-term care facilities—in fact, professional designers say a home-like TV room atmosphere is essential to resident satisfaction. Though the type of facility—skilled nursing, assisted living or independent living – figures into the degree of modern aesthetics, designers agree that all residents in the long-term care environment deserve an inviting, contemporary TV lounge and relaxation center.

 “Be aware that it matters,” says Paul Young, director of healthcare markets for Cartersville, GA-based Shaw Contract Group. “Uninteresting spaces make for uninterested potential residents. For instance, the best hotels have the best amenities. A great room should have a great high-definition TV. After the front entrance lobby, the entertainment lounge areas are the most public areas in the community. Place a premium on these areas of the community. Make them sing, let them become places of celebration and enjoyment, where the grandkids look forward to visiting.”

Point of focus

Terri Prokop, interior design manager for Joerns Healthcare OneSource, is impressed by the progress facilities have made in recent years with creating a more homelike atmosphere.

“The facilities we have worked with in the past few years have come a long way in accommodating the needs of residents in the most-used commons areas,” she says. “TV rooms and entertainment lounges are now becoming a focal point in the home and are being designed to provide their residents the comforting home-like feel that they and their families are looking for.”

The Stevens Point, WI-based company is focusing on “homey” furniture designs, such as an optional residential wood trim kit for its UltraCare XT bed line. The wood trim bed frame, for example, provides the warmth of wood while still allowing long-term care facilities to meet healthcare requirements, Prokop says.

“Facilities are continuing to strive for a homelike atmosphere and are doing this well by incorporating current paint colors throughout and updating the flooring and lighting choices,” she says. “We are also finding that new Crypton Woven fabrics complement this newer residential look by supplying not only the properties needed to hold up in these homes, but also the look, feel and variety of more residential-like fabrics.”

The whole picture

Modern TV rooms and entertainment lounges shouldn't be limited to new construction; renovations can easily be applied to existing facilities, says Kathy Taylor, national director of healthcare development for Dalton, GA-based Tandus. Moreover, creating a new space involves a holistic vision and not just piecemeal additions, she adds.

“Renovations need to take more things into consideration than just ‘plopping' a widescreen TV into the space and calling it an entertainment lounge,” she says. “All aspects—lighting, acoustics and versatility of the space—should be considered and addressed to make that space as efficient and satisfying as possible.”

Among the considerations facilities should make, she says, are what the lighting is like during both night and day to assess natural and artificial illumination; how the sounds resonate and how they can be improved; whether the seating arrangements allow for wheelchair inclusions; and how the space will be used—for TV or movie viewing or other uses as well.

“Utilize the services of an audio-visual professional for the proper placement of speakers to give the clearest sound for seniors,” Taylor says. “Avoid rooms that have too many hard surfaces—walls, floors, ceilings, furnishings—that cause the sound to ‘bounce.' Soft flooring is best because it has the added acoustic value of a cushion and its backing protects the subsurface if there are any spills. It also assists with glare.”

A good TV room should have cozy, comfortable seating groups so that even though the residents are engaged in watching TV and not interacting, they will feel like they are in a family setting, Jacksonville, FL-based interior designer Judith Sisler Johnston says.

“What makes a family setting is carpeting, furniture, lamps, accessories, art, plants and window treatments that are commercial in durability and residential in appeal,” she says.

An entertainment lounge usually offers a variety of features, such as game tables and a snack bar, that distinguish it from a TV room, Johnston notes.

“I believe that having a ‘movie' room with reclining chairs with drink holders and a popcorn machine is another strong marketing feature that appeals to residents and families,” she says. “There should be a mix of larger upholstered pieces, such as sofas or loveseats, with upholstered lounge chairs or recliners and some decorative chairs with exposed wood. Tables should look like those we have in our own homes.”

Television eye

Most facilities have adequate TV rooms and sets that offer cable or satellite connection, says Tim Wright, director of commercial healthcare for Englewood Cliffs, NJ-based LG Electronics. Where they need some guidance is on purchasing the best type of television and how to use it properly.

The first consideration is screen size, which ideally should be between 42 and 52 inches, depending on the size and occupancy of the room, he says. The next considerations, according to Wright, are mounting and audio distribution.

“Wall mounting with a comfortable pan and tilt capability make for easy viewing from anywhere in the room,” he says. “It also eliminates the potential for accidental injury to the resident or damage to the product.

“Audio distribution is a relatively easy improvement to the resident entertainment lounge, especially in a larger room,” he continues. “There are many products that can enhance this experience, such as ceiling speakers with individual audio level control. This allows volume control for different areas of the room. There are even parabolic housings for these speakers that focus the audio to a very distinct area, which result in a more comfortable audio level throughout the room without having to turn the volume up all the way for those farther away.”

Other considerations

Culture should be considered when designing TV and entertainment spaces, Jacki Zumsteg, manager of design operations for Elyria, OH-based Invacare, says.

“It is important to create a living space that matches the culture,” she says. “If a facility is in a farming community, we would create a design that is different than in a large city. A facility with a religious affiliation could have areas for reflection with that spiritual influence.

“Tapping into the cultures of the residents and family members can help create spaces for specific activities or rituals which all could enjoy or experience. It helps for residents to feel more connected to each other.”

Smaller congregate units such as Green Houses have made it easier to design homelike spaces, Johnston says. But the interior designer  adds that “even in larger settings it is possible to create open living spaces that are the same as in modern homes where the great room, kitchen and dining areas are adjacent.”

Though many facilities have implemented computer banks for residents, Wright suggests operators nurture this skill in long-term care residents.

“Along with offering access to computers there should be some basic instruction for residents,” he says.
“The ability for a senior to learn basic e-mail skills to communicate with family and friends is becoming more commonplace and can have a positive effect in this environment. Going forward, we'll see a more ‘tech savvy' long-term care population and the forward-thinking facilities are already moving toward this trend.”

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Not one-size-fits-all

When approaching the design of TV and entertainment rooms, designer LuAnn Thoma-Holec recommends a different approach for each type of long-term care facility.

Memory care and skilled nursing communities will typically create a smaller living room atmosphere. These will include a large plasma TV located in a cabinet that can be closed when not in use. Sofas, lounge chairs, cocktail/ottomans and recliners offer a living room atmosphere and comfortable seating.

Assisted living communities can create a theater-type experience. However, the seating may not be fixed, but rather an upholstered “lounge”-type seating with a cup holder within one arm. Most of the AL communities consist of 80 residential units or more, with multiple common areas to accommodate additional activities.

Independent living communities should create a full theater experience, complete with surround sound, large automated screens, fixed theater seating and refreshment center. Special features should be shown throughout the day or evening. Recent installations have incorporated a large plasma TV that remains in place when a movie is not in process.

Source: Thoma-Holec Design, 2009