Those who lives in smaller towns and rural areas are the happiest people in society, research shows. And so it follows that smaller, more intimate, aged care facilities also have happier residents.

“In smaller units the wellbeing is better. It’s been well established,” said Colin McDonnell, Dementia Excellence Practice Lead with not-for-profit aged care provider, Scalabrini.

Units of 12-15 beds, even if they make up a larger overall facility, are the design standard in aged care, said Mr McDonnell.

A study by the Vancouver School of Economics and McGill University founds there is a close association between population density and happiness. The 20 per cent of unhappiest communities in Canada had a population density eight times higher than the happiest 20 per cent of communities.

“Life is significantly less happy in urban areas,” the paper concluded.

And is seems lower populations are also desirable in aged care.

Smaller units, with fewer beds, have a more “villagey” feel that make it easier for residents to think of the facility as their “home”, said Mr McDonnell.

Designated staff in smaller residences also boosts happiness

The other element to the success of smaller residences is having designated staff, said Mr McDonnell. Having lower turnover of staff, and the familiarity that develops with having regular carers, means social bonds are more easily created, reducing residents’ feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

Mr McDonnell said Scalabrini’s Drummoyne facility, which recently won Best Aged Care Facility Award, has 126 beds, but is divided up into units of 6-15 beds. Each unit is a different type of house, he said, and each has its own designated staff.

Dementia: Larger facilities “increase agitation and are confusing”

The latest guidelines for dementia care design by Richard Fleming and Kirsty A Bennett, outlined in their Environmental Design Resource, says that for people with dementia, providing care on a smaller “human” scale is desirable.

The Resource says people living with dementia experience scale through the number of people they encounter and the overall size of the building.

“A person should not be intimidated by the size of the surroundings or confronted with a multitude of interactions and choices,” the Resource says.

“Rather the scale should encourage a sense of wellbeing and enhance the competence of a person,” the Resource says.

“Larger facilities increase agitation and are confusing for residents.”

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