A new audit tool paired with research on the impact of aging can help long-term care communities to create “sense-sensitive” environments for elderly persons experiencing sensory impairment.

Sodexo, a facilities management company, and the University of Ottawa Life Research Institute, have released a comprehensive study of how the five senses impact quality of life for persons in long-term care communities.

The study, “How and Why the Five Senses Matter for Quality of Life: A Guide for Long-Term Care Communities,” reveals the importance of understanding sensory impairments when creating environments for seniors, whether at home or in a long-term care facility.

Research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society shows that despite the rapid growth of the world’s senior population, minimal awareness exists regarding the negative effects sensory impairments have on seniors living in long-term care communities. In fact, 94 percent of people will experience diminishment of at least one of their senses as they age.

The study presents strategies for creating sense-sensitive environments that will facilitate person-centered care for seniors. For example:

  • Seniors may have difficulty distinguishing between similar colors, so the use of high-contrast colors and effective lighting can help them distinguish items and areas.
  • Eliminate and minimize as much noise as possible through the use of sound-absorbing materials such as floor coverings and ceiling panels, establishing quiet areas and proper maintenance of HVAC systems.
  • Consistency in the arrangement of furniture and other items and avoiding clutter can reduce the risk of falls and make it easier to locate things.

“Good care must begin with empathy,” says Marc Plumart, CEO of health care and seniors worldwide, Sodexo, Gaithersburg, Md.

“This study helps senior-care managers put themselves in the shoes of their residents to understand how they experience the world, which is different for those with diminished senses. By understanding their needs, they can design services and environments to improve quality of life,” Plumart says.

In addition to the guide, the research team developed an audit tool to help long-term care communities assess and improve their level of sense-sensitivity. The tool is a way to gauge quality of life through resident perceptions, physical environment, and existing policies and procedures. The audit includes a series of questions focusing on residents and family members, as well as clinical, technical and administrative staff.

“Health care today is complex, but many answers lie in taking care of people’s needs—and how these are affected by their diminishing senses,” said Hélène Perrault, professor and dean of faculty of health sciences, University of Ottawa, Ontario.

“This guide and audit tool will give users benchmarks and a strategy to track the impact of sensory loss on quality of life,” Perrault says.

“The guide and audit tool produced by our research collaboration demonstrate clearly the value of genuine engagement between Sodexo and leading researchers,” says Thomas Jelley, vice president of the Sodexo Institute for Quality of Life.