Sleepover Project Provides 24-Hour Look Into Senior Living Design

Those on the cutting edge of senior living architecture and design have long spent hours and days in the spaces they’re looking to revolutionize. But taking that initiative to a new level, one firm’s associates also conduct a series of sleepovers in an effort to truly understand the problems they are looking to solve and the challenges residents are facing.

Six years after its launch, D2’s “Sleepover Project” is proving to be a boon for D2 Architecture team members who experience what it’s like to be a resident in a senior housing community by spending the night through participation in the project.

President David Dillard of the Texas-based firm tells SHN he hopes others will start to adopt similar practices based on the success his company has seen in gaining knowledge about senior living.

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Team members visit project sites and spend 24 hours in the community to experience firsthand what it’s like to be a resident.

Dillard came up with the idea in 2008 while working as the president of a firm in Baltimore, and has continued to implement the Sleepover Project to senior housing developments since.

A sluggish economy and a desire to tap employees’ creativity outside office walls set the wheels in motion for the project, he says, which he today hopes will inspire others to do the same.

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And while D2 Architecture has trademarked the Sleepover Project name, its a concept he hopes will have a “ripple effect,” he says.

“Early on in the project we’ll go stay at the campus that is being renovated or expanded,” says Dillard, adding that project participants become fully immersed in the resident experience by taking on a type of disability. For example, residents may tape their fingers together to get a feel of what it’s like to have arthritis.

Dillard once took on the character of someone who was a stroke victim and had lost the mobility of the right side of his body.

“During the first [Sleepover] I did, a bunch of musicians came out and played musical numbers, and they looked out into the crowd and asked residents to come up and play. I was about to raise my hand, because I can play guitar, when it hit me like a sledgehammer — I couldn’t raise my right arm, or play guitar [because of the disability],” he recalls. “I realized how difficult it must be for the residents around me, and I thought, ‘My staff could appreciate this.’”

For D2 Architecture Project Manager Keith Wilson, the Sleepover Project has proven invaluable to designing spaces that not only fit the needs of the resident, but of support staff as well.

While spending the night at a rehabilitation center, Wilson learned that clinicians use everyday household items and areas to help residents regain maximum mobility — that knowledge has influenced his work since then, Wilson says.

“Two projects now have rehab areas programmed and have proposed mock resident areas, such as mock kitchens and bathrooms, for people to use [while in physical therapy],” Wilson says.

During other Sleepovers Wilson has also identified ways to increase resident independence and comfort.

“In one of the projects we had a therapy pool that did not have a dressing room with it,” Wilson says. “Because of my experience an adjacent dressing room was provided for comfort and for people to maintain dignity.”

With 20 years experience in senior living design, Dillard notes senior housing trends continue to evolve — and the Sleepover Project helps him and his team stay abreast of such trends.

“Technology is huge,” Dillard says. “It’s letting us monitor and care for people with smaller and less physical devices, so the environment design is less like a hospital or institution. We can hide things to create a more residential environment.”

Dillard also notes that as more couples move into senior housing communities properties must adapt to best meet the needs of the couple as a whole and as individuals.

“Couples might come in with different sets of needs [and need to reside in different units],” Dillard says. “So, to create compatibility we’re trying to find shorter distances for residents to traverse from one side of the campus to the other.”

Written by Cassandra Dowell

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