How to design space that enables tender caregiving?
08/08/2013 - 00:48

In caregiving work of all kinds – nursing, teaching and counselling – the primary mission is to provide care for those who seek healing, support or learning. To do this kind of work successfully, attention must be paid to the quality of interaction between the caregiver and the cared for. Naturally, there are the purely transactional aspects of the interaction: the nurse has to provide certain medicines, the teacher has to teach certain mathematical equations, and so on. But beyond that, what is important in this kind of work is what takes place in the face-to-face interaction between the two (or more) people in the caring situation.

Having high-quality interaction in caregiving is not only rewarding, but actually crucial from a medical point of view. We are social animals, and our health is highly dependent on our interaction with others. Loneliness has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and a weakened immune system, and is generally considered as lethal as tobacco smoking[1]. Nurses who engage attentively with their patients are thus not only making the patients happier, they are actually providing an essential ingredient for the healing process.

This gives rise to an important design issue. In designing nursing homes, hospitals and similar institutions, we give a great deal of thought to physical safety. Innovations like floors with electric sensors[2] make it possible to better monitor the patients’ physical health. But are we giving any thought to the degree to which the environment supports or hinders high-quality connections between the caregivers and cared for?

In office design, creating spaces for meetings and encounters is already commonplace. By strategic placement of the water cooler one can enable serendipitous meetings in the office space. We also know that subtle environmental cues can influence people’s behaviour. For instance, the presence of business-related objects or pictures of weapons make people more competitive and aggressive in their interaction with each other. But the same knowledge could be applied in the opposite direction as well. Pictures that trigger positive feelings and spaces that invite active engagement could increase the opportunity for caregivers to provide what is at the heart of their work: giving care attentively to those in need.

Thus, my question for caregiving institution design of the future is this: What kind of environment would encourage positive, high-quality encounters between caregivers and those being cared for?





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VP, Customer Supply Management
Martela Oyj
Director, Education
Vice President, Innovation to Market
Interior Architect, Physiotherapist, Physical Training Instructor, 11/2016 - 06/2019, Martela

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