The Argument for Designated Spaces

We addressed this briefly in an earlier post last year, but I think it’s worth bringing up again. Many senior living communities will feature one room as the main “activity” space. Unfortunately, this “activity” space is also where everyone eats, watches TV, naps, and engages with the staff.

What will often happen is that the staff gets into a bad habit of bringing everyone to the same room. It seems easier, at first, because each resident will be nearby and easy for the staff to look after. But, of course, what happens? People are people, and people get up, trickle out, and end up in other spaces. The staff stays in the main space. Throughout the day, everyone seems to filter in and out of the same room.

I don’t think this really gives anyone an opportunity to explore and actually live in the community. Sometimes administrators believe that one room is easiest; the argument being that, “Everyone can have breakfast here, and then we’ll just move that right into the next activity.”

Why doesn’t this—truly—work in senior living communities?

1. It’s not normal: at home, we have designated rooms.

Rachael says, “When you live in a house, you have rooms designated for each thing that you do. You have a living room for entertaining guests. You have a dining room for eating. You have an office or spare bedroom you use for working on your computer. Each room has a designated ‘reason’ for existing.”

2. Activities get muddled together. 

I remember learning in college that, if you study tired, you should take the test tired. The same thing goes for where we learn something: if you study on your bed, you’re probably going to start associating your bed with studying, not with sleeping. What happens when we designate ONE room for all of these activities is that all of these activities get muddled. Amanda notes, “People living with dementia do better when they know what is expected of them in a certain space.  You’re eating breakfast, but then they’re rushing you to finish so they can start arts and crafts, and so on.” Cueing for everything in one spot means that things are going to get confusing: what’s happening when? It’s also helpful for families, coming in to see loved ones, that they see the space that they’re paying for a loved one to live in actually being used!

3. It doesn’t allow for much physical activity. 

Most older adults don’t get (or need) a ton of physical activity, but they do need SOME exercise. Being able to move from one space to another, even just for a meal, is better than staying in one chair, practically all day!

4. How can we keep these spaces clean? And when would it happen?

This is a really big problem. Wiping down the tables between each activity doesn’t really get the job done. And what about keeping the floor free of debris? If there isn’t much time between events, when can the cleaning crew get in to spruce up the space? Yuck!


We also want to be mindful of smaller communities that only have a couple spaces to work with. In these situations, I really recommend room dividers—and not just physical ones! Use color, furniture, and objects in the environment to show that even one room can have multiple uses.

What I’m suggesting is that you find ways to break up your space. Designate certain areas for certain activities. In earlier posts, we talk often about life skills stations and activity spaces. These can go a long way in making your community unique and spacious.