ASK THE EXPERT: Choosing the correct care home floor

There is no single solution to the perfect care home floor. Bedrooms, corridors, kitchens and bathrooms all have their own unique challenges and, thankfully, each can be given a safe and stylish foundation with the correct surface, material and design. Care Home Professional spoke to industry expert John Mellor, marketing manager from Polyflor, to learn more.

Care Home Professional: In what ways can the choice of flooring, and how it is used, improve the lives of frail elderly people, particularly dementia-sufferers?

John Mellor: The flooring chosen for care home interiors can play a significant role in creating a safe, comfortable and dementia-friendly environment with a harmonious feel which residents will feel at home in.

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Flooring as well as other interior aspects, such as lighting and signage, is a key surface finish that can help promote a more positive and inclusive environment to those living with dementia and encourage reduced stress and anxiety levels. Flooring is an integral part of an interior space that can provide a homely, welcoming and non-institutional feel and if products are used that are matt in appearance without too many differing patterns or textures for example, this can help reduce potential agitation for those living with dementia. If someone living with dementia feels more relaxed and comfortable because of the interior environment surrounding them, they are also less likely to be disorientated and potentially suffer a fall or accident.

Vinyl flooring is well recognised as a flooring type used regularly within the healthcare sector due to its easy clean properties and realistic reproductions of natural materials such as wood and stone etc.

The chosen flooring in a care environment needs to be seen and experienced as one continuous surface.  This can be achieved by using flooring with similar tones and light reflectance values (LRVs) in adjacent areas, as a strong contrast in colour can be perceived as a step. However, a strong contrast (a difference in LRV of 30 points) is required between the colour of walls, skirting boards and floors, as well as between floors, furniture and sanitary ware as this can help those who are visually impaired navigate around a room.

CHP: What sort of specialist knowledge, products and services does your company bring to this market?

John Mellor

John Mellor, marketing manager from Polyflor.

John Mellor: Recently, Polyflor has worked closely with The University of Salford to develop some new dementia-friendly flooring principles to assist specifiers working on dementia care projects. These principles cross reference with The Department of Health HBN 08-02 (2015) document and have been discussed and agreed with The Salford Dementia Associates, a group of people who are living with or caring for someone with dementia. These principles are explained in detail in Polyflor’s Specialist Care brochure.

Polyflor’s link with the University of Salford extends further with our partner status in their International Dementia Design Network, which seeks to provide a forum for collaboration in global dementia design research, innovation and education. Polyflor is also a local member of the Dementia Action Alliance which is committed to transforming the lives of people with dementia and their carers.

Polyflor’s research into dementia-friendly flooring and development of products suited to the care sector has been recognised by our invitation to join the Society of British and International Design (SBID) Healthcare Design Advisory Council. As a Council member, Polyflor joins a collaboration of designers and educators, alongside healthcare and industry professionals looking at how healthcare design can be used to meet the needs of our growing ageing community.

The detailed involvement that Polyflor has in the care sector ensures that the company can offer a range of dementia-friendly designs that are suitable for a social care and healthcare environment whether new build or refurbishment.

What specific challenges do operators and their contractors need to consider when choosing floors for different areas of care homes?

CHP: When specifying vinyl flooring for different areas of a dementia-friendly care home, operators and contractors need to choose flooring that meets the right specification for the area which it is being used in and can provide sustainable performance. For example our Polysafe Hydro Evolve safety flooring with a pimple emboss should be used for wet room areas, the enhanced slip resistant Polysafe Apex is designed for kitchen and food preparation areas and the high design Expona range of luxury vinyl tile flooring is ideal for front of house areas.

John Mellor: It is also important to remember that 1 in 3 people diagnosed with dementia will have significant sight loss including reduction of peripheral vision and changes to colour vision, with large proportions of the rest having deteriorating sight through normal ageing. This is why it is incredibly important to consider the appearance of a floorcovering and how this might be perceived by someone with dementia.

Using floors featuring various patterns and textures should be avoided as this can lead to confusion and increased aggravation in those living with dementia. Flooring which contributes to sensory overload can confuse the eye and cause a person with dementia to perceive a false step, an obstacle or a hole. Acoustic flooring is also recommended to absorb noise and reduce impact sound levels between rooms as noise can cause agitation for those with dementia.

CHP: Are there any regulations that they need to be aware of?

John Mellor: The Salford Institute for Dementia at the University of Salford and Polyflor Ltd have developed their dementia-friendly flooring principles to support the implementation of the Department of Health HBN 08-02 Guidance (2015), the British Standard PAS 1365: 2015 and the British Standard 8300 (2009) + A1 (2010).

CHP: How has the market changed in terms of aesthetics and expectations for interior design in recent years?

John Mellor: In terms of flooring, customers now have high expectations of their chosen products, expecting them to be look great, give long-term performance and require minimal maintenance. This is especially true of care home environments where creating a safe, homely ambience is crucial to the wellbeing of residents. Polyflor has developed its wide range of products over the years to deliver on these requirements.

Across Polyflor’s array of versatile vinyl flooring ranges, we offer many authentically reproduced wood and stone effects as well as a spectrum of bright, deep and more subtle hues to suit any interior design scheme. Popular wood and stone effect designs were previously only available in luxury vinyl tile format but now sheet vinyl products and decorative safety flooring ranges featuring sustainable wet slip resistance can now help create the same positive ambience in a care setting.

When it comes to aesthetics, there are certain flooring designs which are more suitable for creating a dementia-friendly environment in areas of a care home which are used by residents. The use of subtle effects that replicate natural outdoor materials such as wood and stone promotes a homely, fresh feel that people living with dementia are more familiar with and can aid reminiscence. Strong colours with more depth and intensity of hue are also better than paler shades for those whose colour vision has deteriorated. However, dark colours should be avoided as these could trigger emotions of imprisonment or might be viewed as a hole in the floor by those living with dementia.

CHP: What are the key questions to ask a supplier, and what are the pitfalls to avoid for care home operators?

John Mellor: A key question to ask a flooring manufacturer regarding care home interior design would be whether the product chosen is fit for purpose – will it give the performance required for that specific area of your care home over the guaranteed life. For example, a risk assessment would need to be undertaken by the care home operator to determine the potential risk of spillage and contaminants across all use areas to determine whether safety flooring is required.  Polyflor can provide the correct advice and guidance on use area suitability through our Customer Technical Services Division.

One of the main pitfalls which care home operators need to avoid is choosing the wrong flooring design as this can potentially cause stress, confusion and anxiety amongst residents.  For example, Polyflor recommends that shiny or glossy surfaces are avoided as they can cause glare and give the illusion of wetness and thus give residents with dementia the feeling that the floor is slippery which could mean a change in gait and a potential slip risk. Therefore a matt flooring design is preferable to something shiny or a product that includes sparkle or shimmer as part of its design.

Polyflor would also recommend choosing a floor without highly contrasting secondary flecks and speckles, as someone with dementia could see these as something to pick up off the ground. Tonal flecks or solid colour designs are preferable. Full details of Polyflor’s guidance on dementia-friendly flooring designs can be found in the Specialist Care brochure.