Most patients would agree they think home is the best place to recover from a debilitating injury or major surgery. That’s why so many rehab therapy providers are trying to mimic all that is good about “home.” Experts here offer advice on how to design for short-term rehab spaces, focusing on how to make them useful and homelike.

1. John Leary, PT, senior director of care advocacy and planning for Genesis Rehab Services, believes there are ample ways to infuse homelike ambience. 

“Today’s customer, a short-term resident in a nursing home, is someone who wants to return and stay in their home,” he says. 

Including familiar surroundings and objects can vividly replace an institutional feel to one’s home experience. Leary advises providers to pay careful attention to clients’ expectations. 

“First impressions are key to a home-like atmosphere, so the decor, color, warmth and light are extremely important.” 

Even durable materials like rubber flooring “can provide a number of performance and design features that contribute to an inviting space and give it personality,” adds Gina Masciantonio, a spokeswoman for nora systems. “The resiliency of premium rubber flooring ensures comfort, while its sound attenuation properties contribute to a quieter environment.”

2. Appeal to the senses. Such “holistic” approaches can include things like aromatherapy options, flexible lighting and soothing images and sounds on video monitors to encourage relaxation, adds Alissa Boroff, BA, COTA/L, CAPS, MN-AS, director of Centrex Rehab’s Access Solutions division. 

“Many times a therapy outdoor space can provide a relaxing environment,” adds Leary. “Incorporating a small koi fish pond, flowers/planters and soothing music can also be relaxing and lead to a path of normalcy.”

3. Homelike touches can encourage positive responses to therapy.

Tammy Althoff, M.S., CCC-SLP, a senior speech-language pathologist for Centrex Rehab, advises rehab spaces that feature finishes and products that are more residential in scale, including wood, warm colors, natural lighting, acoustical-type panels to diminish echoing, and inviting areas for seating and areas for snacks and drinks.

4. Form and function play different, yet important, roles when it comes to resident-centered rehab therapy.

“Form absolutely helps get people through the door up front. But function generates outcomes. And outcomes generate stable business,” says Paul Riccio, vice president of finance and development at Vertis Therapy. 

“Common design theory is that form follows function … meaning the shape of the space really takes shape based on what the function is and needs to be,” says Boroff. “That theory is very important in rehab space, as there are multiple functions — different disciplines, therapists and treatments — sharing the same space.”

Christopher Krause, director of rehab at iN2L, agrees.

“Equipment and space should support functional improvement of the client first and foremost,” Krause says. “There are also important functional demands of the clinical environment that must be met as well.” 

Krause adds that technology-based options can provide a wide range of functionality across all disciplines while meeting clients’ physical and cognitive needs.

Leary believes function, in fact, “should be the main selling point for this type of setting.”

5. Resident-centered is akin to home-focused. Pressures around resident-centered care point toward a more personal approach to rehab.

That could mean emphasizing the comfort and familiarity of home, wherever that may be. “Today, the average knee and hip is going straight home,” Riccio says. “The day and age of us spending $50,000 on anti-gravity treadmills is going to be gone pretty quickly as CMS mandates that people go straight home. The concept that you need a gym to do therapy is completely counterintuitive today.”