USF Poly Faculty Offer Expertise to Florida Presbyterian Homes

Residents at Florida Presbyterian Homes near downtown Lakeland will certainly benefit from the expansion to their assisted living facility currently underway.

But residents of the retirement community might not know that the nuances in the building’s plans are meant to appeal to their sensory perception, to better manage their memory decline, and to offer visual cues for pleasure, eating, social interaction and a sense of calm.

These subtle details are the work of three University of South Florida Polytechnic faculty members, who collaborated with FPH administrators, health professionals and project architects to provide input on the new assisted living addition.

Drs. Aryn Bush, Lauri Wright, and Megan Janke are helping FPH administrators integrate activity spaces, choose stimulating colors for the interior, and design the overall look and feel of the space to the benefit of its senior residents. Bush’s expertise is cognitive impairment and dementia, Wright’s is nutrition and dietetics, and Janke’s is gerontology and health promotion.

According to Bush, plenty of research shows that providing visual, tactile and olfactory cues greatly enhances the quality of life for elderly residents, especially those with memory decline.

“There is a decline in depth perception as we age and in Alzheimer’s patients in particular,” she said.

“Contrasting colors help us see specific objects, such as food on a plate or a chair against a floor, thereby reminding us to eat or help us sit safely. In fact, an assisted living facility recently reduced the incidence of incontinence by as much as 50 percent simply by using visual cues to optimize the view of the bathroom. Maximizing contrast between bathroom fixtures and the ground not only serves as an effective visual cue, it has also been shown to diminish the incidence of falls.”

Among the many suggestions the USFP experts offered FPH was the benefit of adding visual depth perception and color coding, and using tactile relationships to help the elderly, especially those with cognitive and memory decline, in their everyday activities.

“It’s important to design the environment to improve the quality of life for these residents,” said Janke, the gerontologist. “This new space, which is more like a home and less clinical, will offer residents flexibility and balance for how they spend their day.”

Additional suggestions from the USFP team went beyond bricks and mortar. Nutrition expert Wright is working with FPH’s kitchen staff and dieticians to develop ways to continue spurring residents to eat.

“We want to optimize residents’ food intake and minimize the distractions that keep them from eating,” Wright said. “There’s a lot you can do, including providing cues for both smell and sight that encourage residents to eat.”

For example, she said, in keeping with the home environment, you can have a pantry area near the dining room for reheating foods in a microwave or a small specialized oven for baking small batches of cookies, which would provide smells that prompt residents to eat. In addition, FPH caregiving staff can provide more finger foods that will incorporate a sense of touch.

For Alzheimer’s patients, who tend to have a higher incidence of malnutrition, you want to minimize distractions so they can concentrate on foods, Wright said. Contrasts in colors between the table and the plates, for example, catch their visual attention, offering a cue to eat. Colors such as oranges and reds with strong contrasts with greens stimulate the brain and tend to prompt us to eat. In addition to offering a colorful selection of food contrasting with the plate, garnishes and condiments can also be used to provide these contrasts, such as a sprinkling of paprika on mashed potatoes.

All of these suggestions were eagerly embraced at FPH.

“The team from USF Polytechnic has been so gracious and knowledgeable and provided us with incredibly valuable advice,” said John Hehn, executive director for FPH, a community of more than 300 residents that offers a variety of retirement housing options, including independent homes, apartments, and assisted living facilities, as well as nursing home amenities.

“The finished project will be based on solid gerontology principles that Polytechnic faculty and researchers brought to the table. We are so very excited about the assisted living expansion, a space that will greatly benefit our residents.”

The three-story assisted living facility expansion is one of several projects on which USFP is helping FPH. Gerontology courses taught at USFP this fall will offer students applied learning opportunities at FPH. A Psychology of Aging course is being developed through FPH. Several research projects are being designed for graduate students and faculty researchers. And USFP’s interdisciplinary social sciences program will feature two concentrations related to FPH as part of its capstone project for students.

“We’re finalizing the details, but it is just wonderful that Florida Presbyterian Homes has offered themselves as a living laboratory, of sorts,” Bush said. “They do care a great deal about both the quality of life of their residents and the teaching element of Polytechnic.”

“They were so eager to use the information we provided,” Wright said. “FPH is ahead of the curve for offering a home environment, and this project is a great way for them to continue to improve. The result will be a wonderful example of the best practices for the elderly, and FPH will be a model for what other facilities should be doing for their senior residents.”